Throughout your personal and professional life, you’ve likely encountered several people that you got along well with, who can attest to your character. When you list your references, you aren’t going to put down the name of someone that isn’t going to give you a glowing review.

Unfortunately, many potential employers look to your last boss to give them insight on what it’s like to have you work for them. If you and your previous supervisor didn’t get along well, you might find yourself on the wrong end of a bad reference – something that can easily prevent you from pursuing your new career.

Here are some things you can do to overcome a negative reference and land yourself a job.

Be Honest and Up-Front

If you know that you’re probably going to receive a bad reference from your previous employer, let the potential new employer know ahead of time. In some cases, a negative reference can stem simply from the fact that you quit your job suddenly and left your old boss in a bind.

If there is a simple explanation for why they might expect to hear some less-than-stellar things about your performance, let them know before they reach out.

Offer Other References

If you have the opportunity or if you had several levels of supervision, consider putting down the list of another supervisor that you worked under, even if they weren’t your direct supervisor. If you have to put down the name of the boss you didn’t get along well with, explain your difficulties briefly, and then offer a list of several other team members from your previous position that your new potential employer could contact for better references.

Take a Break

If you have the means, consider taking a break before heading straight into a job search. You might decide to shirk some responsibility and take some part-time work doing something fun for a while before getting back into the grind. This can put some time and space between you and the previous boss, which might tone down some of the negativity, as well as give you a new “previous employer” that they can contact instead of the old boss.

Do Some Freelancing

In the contract economy, you might decide to take some time to work for yourself a bit. Being able to provide references from clients, instead of a previous boss, can be a great way to avoid having to deal with the potential negative reference. If you can stick it out long enough, there may be no reason for your potential employer to reach out to your old boss. You can consider supplementing your income in the short term through online trading or investing, or through taking small odd jobs through a community sharing site.

Check the Reference

You can have a friend or another colleague reach out to your old boss to see exactly what kind of review is being peddled to your potential employers, or even hire a service that will do it for you. Many people don’t even realize that they are losing out on jobs because of poor references. If you find out that your old boss is giving false or misleading information, you may even have a legal case.

Consider having your friend record the conversation. If there are blatant lies in the information, you can send a letter to your previous boss informing them that if they continue to spread untrue information about you, you might take legal action.

Contact the Previous Company

Remember that in most cases, there are restrictions on what a previous employer can or cannot say about you to a potential new employer, unless you listed the person as a personal reference. If you find that your old boss is violating any company policies, you can reach out to the HR department at your previous job. Let them know that you are struggling with this problem and find out if there is another person you can list as a reference. They might be able to put a stop to the negative references themselves, or give you other options, especially if you did leave the company on good terms.


A bad reference can be a frustrating problem to deal with , but it doesn’t have to be a career-stopper. With some creative thinking and some other references to counter the bad one, you can ease the transition to a new company.

This post first appeared on the Blog

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