Monday, September 21, 2009

I Quit My Job. Can I Erase a Bad Job Reference?

The job market is turbulent. Employers and employees are stressed, and it's showing in their professional -- and unprofessional -- behaviors. Unfortunately, it's often the job seeker who suffers the most, ending up with a bad job reference when employer and employee part company. Can you erase bad job references from your record? That's what the following job seeker would like to do.
Dear Susan,
I just read your post about Bob's short-term job. I have the same problem. Last year I worked for a small company for two months. It was a very hostile and unprofessional working environment. The owner was crazy, yelling all the time and cursing. The employees were stressed and fighting with each other. I walked out without giving notice because I just couldn't stand it any longer.

Should I put this job on my resume and application? I don't want them to contact my last employer. How do I discourage that from happening without putting up a red flag? I know a reference from that job will not be good. I have never walked out on a job in my career.

Here's my work history:
I worked from June 2003 to February 2006. I stopped working in Feb. 2006 to take care of my husband who had cancer. He passed in May 2008. After his passing I wanted a change, so in July 2008 I moved to Las Vegas. The two-month job in question took place in Las Vegas, October 2008 to December 2008.

I have been attending job workshops and keeping up with my computer skills. I'm ready to go back into the workforce to do something productive with my life. I live in a mobile home park and for the last seven months, I've been helping my neighbor with his 96-year-old mother while job searching.
-- Ready-to-Work

Dear Ready-to-Work,
You have been through a lot, and you really need a good job to help get your new life going. Right now, the biggest stress seems to be around what your former Las Vegas employer is going to say to your potential employer when verifying your work history. There are two possibilities: The two-month employer will either say only that you worked there; or he'll give you a bad job reference. So before going any further in your job search, let's find out which of these two possibilities is most likely.

Ask a friend to call your former employer, as if your friend were a hiring manager.
  1. Your friend should say only that he's calling to verify your employment at the company. See what the employer says. He may simply acknowledge that you worked there October through December of 2008, without saying anything negative about you.
  2. If the employer doesn't volunteer any more information, your friend should ask something like, "Can you tell me about her work at the company?"
  3. If the answer is simply your job title, then your friend should probe a little more, "Would you recommend her has a good employee?"
Nothing to Worry About
Hopefully the employer will say the company has a policy of not speaking about a former employee's performance. In that case, you can relax, knowing that you don't have to worry about having a bad reference.

Dealing with a bad job reference
If your friend gets any kind of negative response to the question about your employment at the two-month job, you need a strategy to reduce its negative impact on your job search.

In your question to me, you said you'd never before walked out on a job without giving notice. That means you realize it's good employment etiquette to give one or two weeks notice before resigning. So, why didn't you give notice this time? Here's my guess:
  • The situation was so bad you snapped and disregarded normal protocol of giving notice.
  • Perhaps you were afraid that if you gave notice, you would have suffered more verbal abuse or even retribution during your final days on the job.
  • You were under unusual (and understandable) personal stress, having just lost your husband.
  • You were not your usual professional self because of the move to a new city where you had no friends, family, or support system.
  • Although quiting might have felt like the right thing to do in the moment, you regret having walked out on the spot.
It would be good to talk to a career counselor about your job search and the traumatic experiences that have surrounded it. Your work with the counselor should include:
  1. What type of work and employer is right for you. You need an organization that is professional, doesn't condone unprofessional behavior, and has a culture that's compatible with your personality. This is a sensitive time in your life and you deserve to be in a healthy work environment.
  2. How to speak to an employer about the two-month position before he conducts your job verification (if you suspect it's going to be negative). Perhaps a subtle (not elaborate) mention of your husband's passing and your subsequent move to Las Vegas, which led to a short transitional job that didn't work out. Don't bad mouth that employer. Speak about how you've found your footing now and are ready to settle into a new position.
On your resume, don't list the two-month job. Use years, not months, when listing your experience, and fill in your employment gaps with the care giving you provided your husband and neighbor. You could even mention your move to Las Vegas. In that case your work history will look something like this:
2009-present, Caregiver, Las Vegas, NV
2008, Move to Las Vegas
2006-2008, Caregiver, City, California
2003-2006, Job Title, ABC Company, City, California

Your job application is expected to be more detailed and inclusive. State all jobs and include months along with the years at each job. Something like this:
February 2009-present - Caregiver
October 28, 2008 to December 15, 2008, Company, Las Vegas
February xx, 2006 to May xx, 2008 - Caregiver, City, California
June xx, 2003 to February xx, 2006 - Job Title, ABC Company, City, California

You may not be able to erase bad job references, but you can rise above them. I hope that in a short time you'll have positive solid work experience on your resume that will dwarf this most recent unpleasant job.

Here are related posts that you might find helpful:
Mom with Bad Job Reference
Leaving Things Off Your Resume
Stressed Out by Bad Reference


Anonymous said...

You should understand the Las Vegas job market before you decide not list this employer. I can almost guess who the company is that you worked for. If it's the company which I believe you are referring to, they will only verify that you worked there, but if the potential employer knows the owner of the company, he may get a direct call. In which case, he is known to give a bad reference to former employers.

Anonymous said...

People have to stop to relay their lives on references. This is unethical.

- I never give reference to people, if asked my answer is: "aren't you able to create your own opinion?"

- If they want references, I show them my payslips, if they said is not enough I reply "Don't you believe me?" And I ask myself whether is worth working there.