Afraid to list your former boss as a reference?

Here's what to know
Alina Dizik, Special to CareerBuilder

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If you didn't have the best working relationship with your previous manager, deciding whether to list him as a job reference can be tough. It's especially difficult because "former bosses are generally the first reference employers look for from job applicants," says Chris Posti, president of outplacement firm Posti & Associates. "If you don't provide your former boss as a reference, it will cause concern, unless you can give a solid explanation." Since reference checks are often one of the last steps to getting hired, it's even more important to not raise any red flags.

Not sure whether to list your former boss? Here, human resources experts weigh in on what to do if you think you'll get a less than stellar reference:

Check it out

Knowing your company's policy about the kind of things a reference can include is important. There's a chance that your boss or the human resources department will only be able to verify your title and dates of employment, but won't be able to speak to the quality of your work, says Ann Dunkin, the operations manager at Attorney Resource Inc. On the other hand, if you've heard your boss give a negative reference before, it's definitely a good idea to skip him as a reference. Whatever your hunch, it may be worth digging deeper into the kind of reference you'll actually get. "Listing your former boss as a reference gives you points right off the bat, even before anyone makes a single reference call," Posti says.

Have a 'closure' conversation

Even if you didn't see eye to eye, speaking to your ex-boss ahead of time can help you get favorable results, Posti says. "Start the conversation by saying that you realize that you two did not always agree, but that it was business, nothing personal, and you hope you can both put it behind you," he says. "Having a closure conversation like that frees you up to ask your former boss what he or she plans to say about you in reference checks." Casually using this time to hint at the kinds of questions he may be asked about your candidacy is important. Remember, even if you weren't a fit for your former position, you can still be a fit for your future position.

Find a replacement

Some companies require a reference from your most recent employer. And even at companies that don't have this requirement, having someone from your last job can create a sense of transparency that could set you apart from the competition. You can circumvent your former boss by asking a peer or another manager to weigh in on your behalf, Dunkin says. Check to see "if there is someone else in your former employer's organization who observed you and your work product; perhaps they would be willing to serve as a reference," says Dunkin, who often deals with personnel issues. A peer who observed you on the job can also provide a reference.

Provide other high-quality references

If you really can't use your boss as a reference, be sure that the other references provided are of high caliber and can speak about you as an outstanding candidate. "Provide several other notable references, which would make it less apparent you have skipped over your last boss," Posti says. Since many companies ask for two or three references, this can be a simple solution and help you avoid listing your previous manager.

Alina Dizik researches and writes about job search strategy, career management, hiring trends and workplace issues for CareerBuilder.com. Follow @CareerBuilder on Twitter.



Last Updated: 03/05/2011 - 2:40 PM


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