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How to Deal With a Previous Negative Employer

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You have good reason to be concerned about a former bad boss or negative employer. While you may think leaving a company has ended your relationship, that may be far from the truth. If you are seeking employment, you may find that your former employer has something to say about your work, and it may not represent your actual ability, particularly if there are still negative feelings. For this reason, it is a good idea to settle affairs as far as possible to improve the odds that a negative former employer will not hurt your future job prospects.

Keep Communication Open

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Most job candidates have to undergo a reference check with their former employer. One of the best things you can do if you have had a negative former boss is to keep the lines of communication open. Speaking with your former supervisor is a good first step toward improving a potentially negative reference. This is particularly the case if you were fired. If so, contact your former boss and let him know that you are looking for new employment. Find out what he will say if asked for a job reference. Try to make sure that your boss will be truthful during a reference check. This is required by law, but that doesn’t mean that all employers will honestly assess your work history.

Go to HR

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The human resources department at your former employer may be able to provide you with a better idea of what will and will not be included in your reference check. Tell HR you are looking for a new job and you would like them to stick to the facts regarding your job performance. If you have a good work history apart from your experience with a bad boss, let them know you would like to highlight any positive aspects of your work. If you can acquire a copy of a positive performance review to use as an example, get one -- you can ask for one. Typically the HR department will not provide any information apart from your dates of employment, job title and compensation. Most HR departments have policies and procedures in place that prohibit them from providing much more than this. Still, it is a good idea to check in with them, as they may assist you in the circumstances.

Find Another Reference

Although you had a bad experience with a negative boss, the odds are that you can find a reference with another individual at your former employer. You probably had good experiences with other individuals at the company -- find one you trust and ask her to be a reference -- this may be an associate or team leader. Provide her with some information about the type of job you are looking for and the types of questions the job prospect may ask. That way your reference is not caught off guard when called by a potential employer. You may also ask a client you worked with for a reference; remember, it doesn’t have to be your former boss. If you provide a name, a job prospect might call that person rather than, or as well as, your previous boss.

Be Truthful

You should always be honest about your former employers and your relationship with them. If you were fired from a previous job, let a job prospect know the reasons, and let them know what you are doing to improve your working relationships if necessary. If you have positive references and have made strides in your training and business networks, highlight your achievements and make them known to recruiters. Many people have had negative employers and poor working experiences in the past, only to come out ahead and find a better job with a good new employer.


Aanya Rose has been writing since 1998. Her work has appeared in "ADDitude," "Curl," "Diabetes Alternatives," "Fitness," the "Healing Path" and more. She has served as a channel manager for various websites and worked in consultation and training. Rose holds a B.S. and Ph.D.

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