First, here’s my kitchen, day four. It’s feeling very … white. Maybe too white. I’m freaking out a little.
In any case … A reader writes:
I am looking for a job right now. I left my last job for a number of reasons. I was burned out, and recovering from some health issues. I was planning on taking a year off of work, because I’d been working for 10 years with little more than long weekend vacations and needed the time off to rest and recover. However, the main reason that I left my job when I did was because my boss went from being an awesome, nurturing person to a terrible, hypocritical bully who used me as her personal punching bag (I’d have left a bit later if she’d have been a good boss, but I was planning on leaving either way. I am SURE she didn’t know I was planning on leaving though – I never discussed it at work). Before I left, she had me demoted, and really did a number on my self-esteem. (For the record, my coworkers were horrified about what was happening, and many of them repeatedly told me that I didn’t deserve what she was doing, that my skills were excellent, and to not let her get to me.)
When asked why I left my job, I cite the “good reasons,” needed time off, recovering from health issues, wanted to freelance awhile. I don’t mention the nasty boss, and I don’t use her as a reference. Now that I know that hiring managers may call anybody that I previously worked with, not just the people I give as references, how do I handle the possibility that they will call the nasty boss? At what point should I bring her up, without sounding duplicitous for not bringing her up in the first place? And how do I handle the fact that, though I trained multiple people and took on multiple projects to much praise (at the time that I did them), my boss later told me that I did a terrible job at all those things and is likely to say that I did a poor job at all of them?
I’m considering having a friend call pretending to be a hiring manager to see what she says about me, but I honestly have no idea what hiring managers ask, so I’m not sure what to have my friend say.
When I give references, I currently use 2 people that I worked with (coworkers) within the company that nasty boss was at, plus my previous boss. I worked with my previous boss at two different companies -she pushed to get me hired at the second company I worked with her for, because she knew how good I was. I know these people (and many others) would give me glowing reviews, but I’m really scared about what my most previous boss would say about me.
Okay, a few things:
1. First, does your old company have an HR department? If so, one option to call them and explain that you have reason to worry that your former boss won’t give an accurate reference for you. Say these words: “I’m concerned this will prevent me from getting work. Can I find out what kind of reference the company will give me?” Even if HR thinks that your boss’s assessment of your work is accurate (which they might, because they generally — although not always — believe managers on that stuff), they’re likely to be more concerned with minimizing any possible legal exposure for the company. It is legal to give an honest reference, but HR tends not to want to open the door to legal hassles, justifiable or not. So there’s a good chance they’ll help you solve this.
2. Second, while employers can call references outside of the list you provide, the fact is that most of them don’t. So there’s a decent chance that this won’t even come up.
3. However, some hiring managers (far fewer than you think) will find it notable that you’re not including your most recent boss on your reference list and might ask to be put in touch with her. If this happens, and if your conversation with HR didn’t set you at ease, then you’d simply explain to the employer that you and your boss didn’t see eye-to-eye and/or that your relationship went from strong to strained by the time you left, but that you have lots of other references from that company and others who will give you glowing reviews. (And they won’t see it as duplicitous that you didn’t mention her earlier; they’ll see you as professional and discreet for not badmouthing a former boss.)
Keep in mind, plenty of people have a boss in their past who things just didn’t go well with; if you have a sea of positive references and this one negative one, which you’re able to explain — and especially since you can provide other references from that same company — most employers are likely to overlook it.
And again, it may never even come up, so don’t get too anxious about it. I think you’ll be just fine either way.
P.S. I’m planning to do a post soon on what questions reference-checkers typically ask. So that may give your reference-checking friend some fodder if you want to go that route…