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How can I ensure my boss gives me a fair reference when she is unhappy I am leaving?

  • Publish Date: Posted over 6 years ago

Question: I’ve been working in the marketing and sales department of an engineering firm for the last three years. I meet all my quarterly targets; I am a good team worker and have exceeded the expectations required of me. My pay is substantially below the market average, so recently I asked for a pay raise and a promotion.

I was turned down and my manager also refused to review my salary further down the line. Since then I have started to look for a new job and have been open about my search with my boss who was not happy. I had an interview with a firm which went great. However, I am worried my boss will give me a bad and unfair reference. How can I prevent this?

Answer: There appears to be a ceiling in your organisation preventing you from advancing further and from receiving a salary increase. This may or may not be down to your manager’s influence. Strategic plans, budget or established processes may also have an impact.

According to your outline above, your approach to date has been quite positive and open. Although your situation at your organisation is becoming increasingly difficult, it is in your best interest for your future career to continue this approach and leave the organisation on a positive note, or without burning any bridges.

However, making the transition from one organisation to another can be difficult; balancing the move away from your employer with your move to a new role requires a sensitive and professional approach.

Hopefully, any concerns regarding your manager providing a negative reference are unfounded but you should work to manage the situation to the best of your ability.

  1. Research your organisation’s policy on providing references. If you have not already done so, ascertain your organisation’s policy regarding the provision of references.

Many organisations no longer provide detailed telephone or written references and instruct all managers to direct such requests to human resources departments. Basic details around your length of service and job titles may be all that is shared with a potential new employer.

If this is the case, your concerns are automatically void. If your assertions regarding your performance are true, there is a much larger ethical and legal concern in your manager providing an untrue negative reference.

There may be grounds for legal recourse should your manager lie when asked to give an honest account of your performance.

  1. Consider a different referee. In supplying referee details, you are in control of the information you share. Is there another individual who would be better placed to provide a reference for you? If there is a more senior manager or indirect manager with whom you have frequent interactions, this might be a better choice.

However, you must then be prepared for the question of why you have not chosen your current manager as a referee. Keep the message as positive as possible and outline the reasons why an alternative referee is a better choice.

  1. Keep the narrative around your reasons for leaving the organisation positive. Don’t “bad-mouth” your manager or organisation during the interview process or in outlining your referee details.

Employers will naturally identify with your current manager or organisation and may become fearful that a similar situation may arise when you are in their employment.

  1. Maintain positive lines of communication with your manager. Although your relationship with your manager appears to have deteriorated somewhat, keep the lines of communication open.

Try to discuss your reasons for leaving in more detail; outlining the opportunity to develop and access a higher salary level.

You may find that your manager is simply disappointed that she was unable to retain and is taking that disappointment with the organisation or the market out on you.

This article was originally published in the business section of The Sunday Independent, on 24th of September 2017, and the original version can be found here.