Here’s what to do if you need a reference letter from an employer that dislikes you

Your resume gets you in the door, and a good reference letter can often seal the deal. Professional vouches are so important so here’s a roundup of tips.

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Whether or not you’re the reason it didn’t work between you and your last job, you’re gonna need a reference letter to help you land the next one. In an ideal situation, a letter of recommendation from a previous employer is the perfect way to advertise your assets via a third party source.

Your resume gets you in the door, and a good reference letter can often seal the deal. Because professional vouches are so important here’s a roundup of tips on how to acquire a reference letter from a scorned employer from some experts and a noted incompetent.


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Get em’ before you need em’

Before we attempt to assist those that have already turned in their key cards, it might be good to share some sage advice to those that are both actively employed and ambivalent.

After you’ve worked at a place long enough to prove your worth, it doesn’t hurt to request a letter of recommendation before you’ve set your eye on a new gig for safety. This is prudent for several reasons. The first and most relevant: this gives you a safety net in case of unexpected termination. It also gives you the freedom to accept potentially better opportunities completely on your own terms, without worrying about the effect of jumping ship. Moreover, who needs the headache of chasing down reference letters when you’re in between jobs-no need you have one (maybe a couple even) locked and loaded.

Strike while they’re still feeling guilty

Even Vader got a guilt headache after dismissing Admiral Ozzel, so chances are your last boss will too; make sure you capitalize on it.

Author Beth Winston of Chron.com writes, “The person firing you probably is experiencing some guilt or emotional reaction to the turmoil that you are about to face. Remain polite and professional when you get the news of your firing, but ask immediately for a recommendation as a way to ease your transition into the job search. Some employers are concerned enough about the possibility of legal action that they’ll do what they can to help.”

Along as you yourself are not in fear of the possibility of malicious comments, or accusations of illegal activity, you should certainly request referral information,  as soon as possible, even if it’s crystal clear that your former employer hates you with a passion. It takes maybe five minutes to write up a perfunctory, whatta guy employee reference letter.

When they go low, you go high..or lower depending

If playing to your firee’s humanity doesn’t work, remember that you can always go higher or lower even. Unless you were an absolute incompetent menace, there will always be someone at your company that will have a good word to say about you. Of course, in a perfect scenario this said person is either in a position that is higher above, or in a potion comparable to the person that gave you the boot, but if not, take what you can get.

Ashley Putnam of Idealist Careers adds, “In any company you interact with multiple levels of people: clients, co-workers, colleagues from another department.  List someone who can speak to your virtues and strengths.  You choose your references, and we anticipate you will choose someone who will speak about your strong points.”

If nothing can be done, address concerns immediately

In the instance where you can’t secure a positive word from your employer, or anyone that would hold weight at your former firm, your only method of recourse is to defuse whatever spawned the rift as early as possible while being speaking to your next recruiter.  Ralph Heibutzki of Career Trend, suggests the following: “Admit the problems, but stress that they’re not relevant anymore, and refrain from going into detail. Don’t try to explain, or make excuses, which only digs the hole deeper.”

Repudiate any and all false claims, deflate any scornful attempts of career stultification, and ensure you admirably represent the professional intimated in your resume.


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CW Headley|is a reporter for Ladders and can be reached at cheadley@theladders.com.