A contractor contacted us telling us about how he got a bad reference and how he can overcome one.
Anthony’s Question to Dr McLaughlin’s Contractor Surgery
I would like to seek some advice on how to deal with a bad reference.
Four years ago I worked for a high profile city firm and regrettably I ended up getting fired.
I can’t go into too much detail about the circumstances. However, I can say that it was not anything criminal, sexual or directly related to my work.
All I can say is that it was a bizarre situation. I failed to handle it and upset some very senior people.
Despite a very good career with the firm, excellent promotions, bonuses and pay increases, I ended up in this situation.
Thankfully I moved on and after sometime landed contract work without any problem.
I’m now back in the job market. I keep getting agencies wanting me to supply references for the firm that fired me.
I know I can provide excellent references for anywhere else and I do have contacts within the firm that may be able to help me. However, any direct contact with HR will get a terse response saying they dismissed me.
Company policy is that HR must handle all references. Thus I may be asking too much of my contacts to provide a reference.
I know quite a few agencies are just after possible contacts by spamming references from me. However, there is a real possibility that I will land a job and they will expect me to supply references.
I have had at least one instance where I had to back away from a strong contract possibility because they wanted references from the firm.
My approach at the moment is to be optimistic and just deal with any situation as and when it arrives. Thus I do not reveal the negative outcome for the time I had with this firm.
However I feel I should plan to manage this problem and the potential fall out it may cause when I land a job.
Looking for Contract Work
One suggestion I have not yet exercised is to say I left on bad terms and my manager left negative comments on my HR record. I’m not too sure how this would fly.
To be honest, I am not happy having to manufacture a cover story for the problem. Yes I did get fired and I can face that. However, this does not reflect the many hours of good work I did there.
Any suggestions welcome.
I’m currently looking for contract work with permanent positions a loose option.
Dr. McLaughlin’s Contractor Surgery
Having been in this situation myself as an IT contractor, I would say that this is far more common than you think.
You are also probably worrying unnecessarily.
It is against the law to give a bad reference. Employers can only give a good reference or give none at all. If they give a bad reference you could potentially sue them.
I don’t know what the situation would be if it was a contractor operating through a limited company who was given a bad reference.
Perhaps our readers can help out here.
However, you were in a permanent job and the situation is clear.
The HR department are unlikely to bear any grudges against you – and anyway they, more than others, know the laws that pertain to this.
I’m sure you don’t want to take any chances though.
Lawyer’s Letter for Bad Reference
What you need to do is to ascertain what would happen if your previous company were asked for references.
The best thing to do would be to get a friend of yours to actually phone them up saying that he was an agency and he wanted a reference from you.
If they give you a bad reference (highly unlikely) then you could send them a lawyer’s letter explaining that you would take action if this happened again.
Many companies just give a reference anyway as it is no skin off their back.
However, it could well be that they refuse to give a reference without explanation, which they are legally entitled to do.
Therefore you must find someone at the company who WOULD give you a reference.
This doesn’t have to be one of your actual bosses but perhaps a workmate that you got on with. The agency would never know if the person was your old boss or not. They probably wouldn’t care either.
Alternative Strategy for References
Alternatively, you could say that your boss had now left the company but that you had kept in touch and give the agency your old boss’s home phone number.
Of course, this would be the phone number of a friend of yours – preferably one with an IT background.
Agencies mostly don’t give a monkey’s anyway as long as they get their money.
They just want to be able to tell the company that they have obtained references for you.
Writing Your Own References
There have also been recent cases which have shown that some of our current bosses wrote their own references using company notepaper, having asked old colleagues to get some for them.
I was once asked to do this by a guy who worked with us but had gone back to New Zealand and he didn’t want to risk asking the company for a reference.
I won’t say whether I helped him out or not.
So, there may not be a problem at all, and even if there is it is one that you can think your way around.
If you can’t think your way around it perhaps you should go back to being a permie anyway (joke).
See Dealing with Agencies for more advice.