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Many people who feel as though they were excellent employees receive less than favourable references when they move forward with their careers. If the bad reference from your boss has come to you as a surprise, you need to find the possible reasons behind it. Perhaps you have recently made some serious mistakes your boss wasn’t too happy about. Maybe you had felt burned out and treated unfairly long time ago, unsurprisingly leading you to stop caring about your job. Or perhaps your work has truly been an outstanding one and your boss is just mad that you left and acting petty about your departure.

There’s no shortage of scenarios under which you might have received an unfavorable reference. The good news is that it isn’t the end of the world, and if you develop a plan and act accordingly you can overcome that bad reference and still get a good job.

Talk to Your Old Boss Before You Apply

If you have a feeling your boss is going to give you a less than stellar reference, talk about it first. If there’s something you did that you need to make amends for, do it now. If your boss is upset with you about something irrational, try to work things out. You might be able to turn a bad reference into a neutral reference, which is the best possible outcome when there’s bad blood between you.

This is only helpful if you’re anticipating a bad reference or if you know your boss has a history of giving bad references. If it’s too late or the conversation doesn’t go anywhere, you still have options to help you deal with the situation.

Escalate Concerns of Unfairness

If you feel as though your boss holds an irrational position surrounding the bad reference, you might want to escalate the situation. This is especially true if your boss has a history of giving bad references to people who don’t deserve them. File a formal complaintif you feel like your boss is bullying, belittling, or sabotaging people without cause.

Emphasize your Accolades

Think about your workplace achievements. Did your previous career have any employee recognition programs? Did you receive special bonuses or awards of any kind for the work you performed? Does your work history show a history of promotions or simultaneous educational undertakings? Did you receive additional certifications, new qualifications, or further education while you were working at your previous job? If the paper trail shows you were great at what you do, it might call your old boss’s bad reference into question.

Find Alternative References

If your old boss doesn’t have many great things to say, see what other higher ups and coworkers around the office have to say. Ask if they’d be willing to write you a short letter of referenceor a testimony. You can forward that information along with your resume or deliver it to a potential employer with the individuals’ contact information at the bottom. They may choose to verify the accuracy of the letter of reference. If everyone other than your boss says you were a joy and a strong addition to the team, a future employer will inevitably realize that your old boss’s opinion doesn’t have much of a basis in reality.

Tell Future Employers Why the Reference is Bad

It never hurts to include a note with your boss’s information. Explain the situation briefly. If you had a falling out with your boss because he or she was angry that you quit before a large project or that your ambition and desire to succeed wasn’t fulfilled and that created tension, be honest. If a potential employer has this information before they talk to your boss, they’ll have a proper lens through which to view the situation.

You May Need to Consider Legal Action

Legal action is a last resort, and it won’t apply to everyone. If your boss has a personal vendetta against you and is creating opportunities to slander you and make your life more complicated, you need to regain control over the situation. If talks with other members of your former company don’t help, you need to preserve your reputation. This only applies if the things your former boss is saying are patently untrue and can easily be proven as falsehoods.

Start by speaking with a lawyer and drawing up the appropriate paperwork. A legal professional will be able to guide you through the process of making the harassment stop. No bad boss wants to be sued simply for being angry and petty.

A terrible former boss is certainly something awful to contend with, but don’t feel hopeless. You have plenty of workarounds, and even a sense of recourse if you need one. Communication and honesty will always be the key to success in any career – even if you have a bad reference under your belt.

About Michelle

Michelle Arios is a careers and HR blogger, who often writes on topics connected with job hunting, employee satisfaction and productivity. An avid traveler and a self-proclaimed coffee addict. Feel free to  visit Michelle’s Twitter @MichelleArios and say “hello”.

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