If you’ve just been fired, then you might be worried about what type of references people at your previous employer will give you.
As you get your job search fired up, and the initial sting of being back in the job market softens, it’s a good idea to check in with Human Resources at your last company to talk references.
First, remember that good relationships with former employees matter to employers. They probably want to preserve their brand and reputation just as much as you do yours. Smart companies want to make you happy.
Next, contact your former manager’s HR business partner. Explain that you’ve started your search and that you want to discuss why you left the company to see if your stories align.
Do this in a friendly manner:
Can we set up a call to talk about my references from you and Paula?
I’ve scheduled some job interviews and realize that people will be asking me why I left XYZ Co. When they start checking my references, you’ll likely be getting some calls with the same question.
I’m open this Friday morning if that’s good for you.
Thanks in advance,
Anticipate What Human Resources Might Say
HR might respond in a number of ways:
- Happy to talk! Does 10:00 a.m. on Friday work for you?
- We have a company policy of not providing references.
- I’ll ask Paula to write you a letter of recommendation.
Talking with HR
If HR will talk with you, they will probably take care of you.
When Your Former Company Doesn’t Provide References
If HR puts you off, see if your former boss or any of your former colleagues will agree to give you “personal references.”
Be sure to align your departure story with each of those people. While they’ll probably put a personal slant on it in a reference call, you should be fine if you’re in agreement on the basics.
When recruiters and hiring managers ask for your references, tell them your former company doesn’t provide references.
Next, offer to put them in touch with former colleagues who will provide personal references. They can take it from there; pros know how to turn “personal references” into professional references.
BTW, this is a common situation. Don’t worry about it.
Reference letters are a relic of the last century.
Thank HR for the offer and ask if your former manager will write you a LinkedIn recommendation instead. Or ask that person yourself.
If it’s a good recommendation, you can accept it. If not, you don’t have to let it post on your profile.
Good News: Former Employers Have a Leniency Bias
It might comfort you to know that employers have been found to have a leniency bias when giving references for former employees.
They do this because they:
- Don’t want you to sue them.
- Want you to get a new job.
- Are more loyal to people they know than people they don’t.
Thus, your odds of a positive reference are better than you think.
A Possible Silver Lining
Now for the fun part:
I’ve seen a COO recommend a director-level employee fired from their company to another company for a VP role.
The person who got let go ended up fitting in at their new employer, doing a great job, and making more money than the VP who fired them (which drove that VP nuts).
Thus, don’t hesitate to ask for a reference after being fired. Your request might actually turn into the best job lead ever!
Getting fired, good luck or bad luck? Who knows?
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Updated February 2021
© 2014 – 2021, Donna Svei. All rights reserved.
Donna Svei, an executive resume writer and former C-level executive, retained search consultant, and CPA, authors all of AvidCareerist’s posts. She has written for and been quoted by 100+ business and general media outlets, including Forbes, Mashable, Fast Company, Inc., Entrepreneur, CNBC, the New York Times, USA Today, Time, CBS, the BBC, Lifehacker, Social Media Today, IT World, SmartBrief, and Business News Daily.
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