How to get a reference when your boss doesn’t like you

“How can I get a reference from a boss who doesn’t like me?”

That was the question my neighbour asked yesterday. She has just graduated from university and is looking for a new job, one that is closer to her field of study.

I wrote last week about how I was helping her prepare her resume. (She was trying to fit her resume on one page, and that was doing more harm than good.)

She explained that she had worked for the same local business for several years throughout her schooling, and she used to like it. However, a few months ago, she was assigned to a new manager and their relationship has continuously deteriorated. What began as situation of mutual respect and occasional disagreement has descended into passive aggressive criticisms and barely-veiled hostility.

It’s actually one of her main motivations for finding a new job quickly. This is hardly surprising. One of the main reasons people leave their jobs is because of a poor working relationship with their boss.

The trouble is, the hiring manager at a job she had applied for asked her for a reference from her most recent employer specifically. My neighbour didn’t want to tip off her current boss that she was looking for work until she actually had a job offer. As much as she wasn’t happy there anymore, she needed to keep the secure paycheque coming in. Plus, even if that weren’t an issue, she couldn’t be sure that her boss would even give her a good reference.

I told her that there was no way she could use her current boss as a professional reference. Not now or at any time in the future.

You should never consider listing someone who you do not have a good working relationship with as one of your job references. One of the most important questions that employers usually ask is, “Would you hire this person again?” If there is any hesitation about their willingness to work with you once more, you are sunk.

Since my neighbour had worked for that company for several years, she had previous managers, and she had worked with many different people. She could choose one of those who thought highly of her work ethic and abilities to serve as a reference for her for future positions.

But not for this one.

It is unreasonable of a prospective employer to ask for a reference from your current job. Most people try to line up their next opportunity before informing their boss that they are looking to leave. Informing your employer that you are seeking another job can seriously harm your working relationship. They may let you go on the spot or immediately start the hiring process for your replacement.

You could find yourself out of work and without a paycheque. Plus, it is well known to be easier to find a job when you already have a job, so you could be shooting yourself in the foot in more ways than one.

She can explain that to the hiring manager at the job she wants, although she really shouldn’t have to. Then she should choose two or three people that she has worked with in some capacity, either on the job, at volunteer or personal activities, or at school, who would not hesitate to work with her again and who would wholeheartedly recommend her to others.

Bottom line: You can’t get a reference from a boss who doesn’t like you, and don’t have to ask your current employer to speak to your next one. That’s just unfair.

Canadian employers reject one-third of applicants because of their references.

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