Bad references can make it much less likely that you'll land your dream job. Although in some cases you may expect a less-than-stellar reference, a negative report can also come as a completely out of the blue. In any case, the actions you take can make the difference between getting the job you want and staying unemployed.
Analyze your work history to figure out who's giving you a bad job reference. Leaving a job on bad terms can narrow the field to a disgruntled boss, but consider references from other jobs as well. Try to remember if you had any tense interactions or disagreements that could lead someone to give you a negative reference.
Contact your references and explain that you're looking for a new job. Ask them whether they are willing to provide a positive or at least neutral reference. Most of the time people will be honest with you. If you suspect the person you're speaking to is the source of your bad reference, you may need to deal with the issue directly. Tell her that you've learned what you need to do to be a better worker and that you're determined to succeed next time. Try to get her to agree to a neutral reference so you can continue working and growing in the industry.
Eliminate questionable references from the list you provide. Revamp your list and include only those who you know will provide a positive reference. If you have difficulty coming up with someone who can attest to the quality of your work, find people who are willing to be character references and ask them to stress the characteristics that show you are hard-working and a team player.
Research the disclosure policies of your former employers. In view of today's litigious society, many employers are opting to be extremely cautious when providing references. Some places will only confirm dates of employment, yet an offhand "no comment" about a job candidate can sometimes be as damaging as a negative reference. Let prospective employers know about any companies you've worked for that adhere to this policy.
Tell the truth. Let prospective employers know of any situations you know that might arise, but be sure not to badmouth your previous employer. There's nothing wrong with revealing that you left a previous job because of a difference of opinion, but speaking ill of your previous job will raise questions about what you will say about the next company you work for.
By law, a former employer cannot deliberately give false information about you in a job reference. If this is happening to you, you may have the right to pursue legal action for defamation, according to the FindLaw website.