My former employer gives me bad references


(MoneyWatch) Dear Evil HR Lady,

Let's suppose an employer ask you to resign. You left peacefully for whatever reason. You later find out they are saying "No we would not rehire," when a new employer inquires about you. They already said no to unemployment benefits. You want to move on in life. Even the unit manger is bad mouthing you. It's really that bad.

What do you put down on a new application? Some application say 'Can we contact your past employer?' Should you say no and hope to still get an interview? The old job is the only one you have worked at in the last 20 years. Should you just throw in the towel, so to speak?

Under no circumstances should you just give up. You've made some bad choices and your former employer has made some underhanded and sneaky moves, but your life is not over.

Let's start with how you messed up. You should never resign without another job lined up. When an employer asks you to resign, know that it's for their benefit, not yours. Unless they are offering you substantial severance or something similar, it's almost always better to be fired. Unless you've done something tremendously wrong (violence, stealing, etc) you'll be eligible for unemployment. When you resign, even if it's at the employer's request, you're not.

Now, let's go on to what your employer did wrong. They wanted to get rid of you but they didn't want their unemployment insurance to increase. Logical, and you fell for it. But it's sleazy and underhanded. If they want someone gone, they should fire.

All of this is water under the bridge, though. (However, did you appeal the unemployment? If you have proof that you resigned at their request, you may be granted unemployment anyway. It's worth trying.) Now you need to find a new job, and your only experience in the last 20 years is this company, and they say bad things about you. What to do?

First of all, unless it's very small company, in that last 20 years, you've had coworkers, and probably bosses, come and go. There's no law that says you need to use your last boss as a reference. I suspect that you were a pretty good worker (at minimum) since you lasted there for 20 years. Call up your boss from three years ago and ask her to be a reference. Or, if a former boss isn't positive, try a former coworker. Ask them before you put their names down, though!

As for applications, you can check yes, but warn them about the situation first. Now, here is the time for some true introspection: Why did they ask you to resign? There's a reason, and I suspect you know it. You need to be able to address the problem and explain what you are doing to fix it.

The real solution, though, is going to be finding a job through your network of friends, former coworkers, and families. Neighbors, too! People who know you and know what you are capable of doing are great sources for finding a new job. If you walk in the door as being personally recommended by your former coworker, the problems of a bad reference from you last company will not be as great.

All that said, having had only one job in the past 20 years, and leaving on bad terms is not an easy thing to overcome. But, it is possible. Don't give up. Gather your references. Network as much as possible and good luck.

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