Receiving a bad reference can be a real blow both in practical terms and mentally too. They can result in a job offer being withdrawn, or make the process of landing a new job stressful.
If you have lost a job offer due to a bad reference or are worried about it happening, then we’re here to help. Although it feels devastating, there are things you can do to try and respond to the situation.
Our guide helps you come to terms with a bad reference, deal with the fallout from this and also how to protect your mental health too.
Are Employers Allowed to Give a Bad Reference?
Despite many reports to the contrary, UK employers can give a bad reference. However, the contents of the reference must be an accurate and fair reflection of the employees performance.
Employers need to be very careful when providing a negative reference about an employee. Giving a bad reference which is untruthful can leave the business open to legal action.
This means if something bad is written about an employee’s performance, there should be data to back this up. For example, excessive sick days or a history of disciplinary action against the employee.
Sometimes, employers refuse to provide references because of concerns about legal action. They have a “no reference” policy in place and make this known to the staff.
Bearing in mind that a reference must be factual, here are some common things that might be mentioned in a bad reference.
- Poor absence rate.
- Consistently late
- Failing to meet deadlines regularly.
- Causing conflict
- Details of any disciplinaries that have taken place.
- Evidence of not being a suitable candidate for the job role.
- Any skill sets that are lacking.
Understand the Reasons for the Bad Reference
If you have been given a bad reference, it’s important to gain some perspective before doing anything else.
Most of the time, a bad reference will not be complete shock. By this, we mean that there may have been issues while you were employed there. Whether this was warnings for being late, trigger points for sickness, or any disciplinary action that took place.
If getting a bad reference was unexpected, or you suspect it’s been provided dishonestly – this will cause some distress. In this case, it’s important to try and remain calm and work your way through the situation.
In both cases, there are things you can do to try to salvage a lost job offer or at least avoid a repeat of the situation in future job applications.
How to Deal With a Job Offer Being Withdrawn Due to a Poor Reference
The worst outcome for receiving a bad reference is for it to cost you the job you had been offered.
If you find yourself in this position, it will be hugely disappointing and stressful. However, it is important to try not to let it get to you too much.
If this has happened to you, there’s a few steps you can take to try and remedy the situation.
Approach Your Potential Employer for Feedback
First things first have an open and honest chat with your potential employer. They are not legally obligated to go into specifics about what the reference says. But they may be able to give a summary of their concerns.
If you can get an idea of the nature of the adverse information they’ve been given, you can make a plan about how to deal with it.
Ask the potential employer for specific feedback on why they decided to revoke your job offer. This will be valuable information and will help you deal with the situaiton.
Speak With Your Former Employer
If you feel able to, speaking with your former employer might help you understand what has happened during the referencing process.
Again, they aren’t obligated to show you the contents of the reference but you can still ask some questions about it. If you feel unable to have a face to face conversation, then you could try emailing instead.
Having a chat with your old manager might be enough to get them to rewrite a reference or, at least add some balance. Stay polite, and make it clear to them that the reference they’ve provided has had an adverse impact on your career.
If you believe false or incorrect information has been added to your reference, tackle this head on with your former manager. If your former employer has an HR department it may also be worth contacting them to raise your concerns.
See Also: Job Offer Withdrawn – an overview of different types of job offer, and when legal action may be taken against an employer who rescinds an employment offer.
Get Alternative References
Your next option is to try and find some alternative references. Ideally, a reference is at its most useful when it comes from your most recent employer.
However, you could approach a former employer and this can be a positive in some ways. It will show your potential employer that your track record is more than one reference.
You could also approach some colleagues instead. While these won’t hold as much merit as a reference from your boss, they will give them a different perspective. At the end of the day, not every employer has a good relationship with their employees.
Try to Salvage Your Job Offer
Actions speak louder than words. Show your new employer that you are serious about getting the job offer back on track.
If they have shared their reasons to revoke the job offer, try to provide additional information or references that support your strengths in that area.
You can also provide your perspective on the bad reference. Remember to remain calm and professional when engaging in this. Losing your composure will not support your attempts to salvage the job offer.
You could show a willingness to be put on a trial period if your potential new employer still seems unsure about employing you. This gives everyone a get out clause should things end up not working out.
Taking Legal Action
If you feel your reference was in no way representative of your time there, you can pursue legal action.
You should note, however, that this is in no way a quick, cheap or stress free path to take. It can be lengthy, expensive and often cause a lot of stress. You would need to be able to demonstrate that the information within the reference is misleading and false.
This can be difficult to do, although not impossible. Your best bet is to take legal advice first. They will assess if you have a claim or not and can talk you through the entire legal process.
It may be worth speaking to Citizens Advice in the first instance. They can often provide free legal advice;
Moving Forward with Your Job Search
Sometimes, it is easier all around to simply accept that wasn’t the job offer for you and move on.
Dwelling on the situation will negatively impact your overall state of mind, it can knock your confidence and cause undue stress. Sometimes, the best way to deal with a negative situation is by taking stock and then moving quickly on.
If possible, get your former employer to agree not to provide a bad reference in future due to the impact on your job prospects.
You could also simply ask them to provide the very basic information going forward. A reference only has to contain, at a minimum, your start and finish dates with the company. You should also take some time to consider the possibilities of obtaining alternate references.
Using a Referencing Service
If you’re unable to get information about the nature of the bad reference which has cost you the job opportunity, consider using a referencing service.
Although there will be a cost attached, this will allow you to get copies of references from your former employers. This will give you visibility of the adverse information, and who has provided it.
If you can’t afford a referencing service, you could get a friend to pretend to be a potential employer and request information from your listed employment references.
This might seem impossible when you first hear about a rubbish reference but in time, try and put a positive spin on it.
If you were fortunate enough to obtain a copy of the bad reference, then make some notes. For every bad thing written, add some steps you can take to better yourself. This might be doing some training courses, working on punctuality or people skills. Any employer who sees that you are trying to learn from a negative situation will respect that.
It is important to not let one bad reference knock your self worth. This doesn’t mean you aren’t a suitable candidate for future roles. It is one person’s perspective based on formality and objectivity.
If the job wasn’t the best environment going, then the reference was never going to be spectacular. Do not let one bad experience live rent free in your head.