How to spin a bad reference

Q. During an interview, how do you handle it if your last supervisor will give you a less than glowing reference? Am I doomed?

A. You are not doomed, but you will need to consider other referral sources within your last organization or contemplate deleting this job from your resume.

Employers are keenly interested in how you've performed in the past. The most important reference is always the last job you had. Before you make any assumptions about what your supervisor will say, have a friend call and request a "reference" for a potential job. Find out how the supervisor will respond.

Many organizations will only give out the dates of employment and position title to protect themselves from lawsuits. Even if your supervisor was your worst enemy, he or she may say nearly nothing about your performance.

If your supervisor does give you a negative evaluation, then you have two choices: Delete this job from your resume and explain the gap as a time period you had family commitments, traveled or took classes. Or offer another person within the organization as a reference because he or she was in the best position to evaluate your work.

You need to be aware that this strategy will only work if the problems you had on your last job are limited to your last job. If you've had the same difficulties repeatedly, you need to take a hard look in the mirror.

Whatever you do, make sure you do not defend past problems. If you are asked about any negative feedback from former employers, take responsibility. Admitting you are not perfect but always learn from your mistakes can land you a job. Blaming your last manager just makes your potential manager scared to hire you.

If you aspire to a long career, sooner or later you will run into a manager where you can do nothing right. One of the most important decisions we should evaluate is how we will get along with a new manager before we take a job. A great manager can turn into a mentor and set our career on fire. A bad manager can extinguish our professional passion and reputation.

The last word(s)

Q. I haven't been able to find a career I enjoy. When I talk about what I'd really like to do, my family tells me I'm crazy. Should I even explore my options?

A. Yes, if at first you don't succeed, there's nothing wrong with exploring left field.

(Daneen Skube, Ph.D., executive coach, trainer, therapist and speaker, also appears as the FOX Channel's "Workplace Guru" each Monday morning. She's the author of "Interpersonal Edge: Breakthrough Tools for Talking to Anyone, Anywhere, About Anything" (Hay House, 2006). You can contact Dr. Skube at http://www.interpersonaledge.com or 1420 NW Gilman Blvd., #2845, Issaquah, WA 98027. Sorry, no personal replies.)

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