The Trouble with Job References

If you’re unemployed and looking for a job, then you know that it can be an extremely daunting task.

However, applying to potential employers while still employed tends to come with its own variation of challenges. One of the most painstaking circumstances is trying to secure a strong reference from your current employer without your direct superior finding out that you’re considering moving on.

In this instance, my dream job was around the corner. I had gone through an extremely difficult process of cloak and dagger job-hunting and several phases of recruitment and I was informed that I was the front-runner for the position. Finally, I was about to land a job that I felt I deserved!

The final step for the recruitment team was to contact my references and I confidently provided the names and contacts of my verified and trusted contacts which included a senior manager and partner at my current employer. Maintaining the stealth-mode, I checked in with my reference for an update. She sat me down and slowly began with, “I really don’t think I should provide a reference, you know. I informed them that I am not the best person to do so and….” My jaw hit the floor.

Disappointment and shock consumed me. I could not understand why someone I trusted, who understood the importance of my job search, would withdraw from being a reference for a job that I wanted so badly. To add salt to the wound, she followed up with an official e-mail to my prospective employer, noting all the reasons why she was “not qualified to provide a reference” for me, boldly copying me in on the e-mail.

Increasingly, many recruiters are asking for references from your current employer and whether you have a good or a bad relationship with your boss, at some point you have to contemplate your reference choices at work. People mistakenly believe that your friend/colleague/boss/supervisor won’t give you a bad reference. The fact is, when your reference is contacted, you are no longer in control of the situation. You can hope that your reference will sing your praises and do his or her best to help you land the new job.

Getting a reference from your current workplace is a tricky task. You can risk victimisation or an unfair assessment of your capabilities, making your job search even more difficult. If you’re not able to use a co-worker or your boss, consider asking for an external reference who can speak to your efforts and business relationship. When you are seeking references, choose people who will speak highly of your qualifications, accomplishments, and perhaps, most importantly, your character.

Regardless of your connection to your references, always ensure that they are people who genuinely have your best interests at heart and want you to succeed. You are exactly where you are meant to be so don’t give up and treat every obstacle as a learning opportunity.

As for that job offer, I am still waiting for a call.

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