Getting a reference from an employer who fired you?

Can you use a previous employer as a reference if they terminated your employment? One reader wanted to know.

    Hi CareerBeacon! I worked for my most recent employer for over a year. I was fired in January. Can I still get a reference letter from them, even though I was let go? – Jim.

First off – reference letters are seldom used anymore. Employers don’t pay them a lot of heed, because of course, no candidate would ever submit a negative letter. So, they are prescreened and selected by the applicant, and therefore not an unbiased review of their work ethic or abilities.

So, while references matter, and can be essential to getting hired, reference letters don’t so much.

Secondly, in his query Jim mentions both that he was ‘let go’ and that he was ‘fired’. Those can be very different.

If Jim was let go because of budget cuts or a restructuring that rendered his position obsolete, but the employer otherwise would have kept him on because they valued his contributions, then of course they could still be used as a positive professional reference.

On the other hand, if Jim was fired for cause, behavioural issues, performance problems, or ethical issue, then it would be self-sabotage to use that employer as a reference for future job applications.

However, since Jim worked there for over a year – and this was his most recent employer, future companies may find it suspicious if his professional references don’t include someone related to this job.

One thing he could do is request a reference from a manager that he did have a good working relationship with. They can speak personally- not necessarily on behalf of the company – about his work. Also, references can be your team members, partners and clients. Potential employers are trying to determine what you are really like to work with, so having a selection of credible people who can speak to your work abilities, accomplishments and ethic can go a long way to helping you get that foot in the next door.

Here is how to interview for a job after being fired.

Your references aren’t who you think they are.

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