Employee references can be the linchpin of a successful job search. If you nailed the resume, cover letter, phone interview and in-person interview, then it comes down to your references.

There’s no worse feeling than worrying that your references are sub-par, average or even detrimental. When a person’s made it so far in the job process, they don’t want to fret that their references will keep them from that dream job. If you’ve had some bad experiences with jobs and subsequent references, here you’ll find advice on how to get employment reference, even when leaving a job in a less than optimal way.

Reasons for bad or no references

Everybody has jobs they’d rather not list on their resume. It’s not because they did a bad job, but because either an unavoidable conflict with a colleague, miserable working conditions or an incorrigible boss ruined the job. There is no point in regretting these situations, because they’re well in the past. Learn from them and move on. The best way to move on is with a new job.

The reference essentials

When selecting references, always choose people that will say good or great things about you. The ladder is preferred, however. You want the highest marks you can get. For some jobs that may be a challenge. Often times our resumes hinge on the accomplishments we achieved at one or two jobs. If you take these approaches below, you should have success in at least getting a good employment reference despite a bad boss or bad job.

Ask a colleague

Ask a co-worker whom you worked with to recommend your work. This is not the best option, but it’s better than nothing when you need a reference for your top job. The co-worker should be someone you trust, worked closely with and will know your skills. This colleague can even explain how you handled the job well, despite adverse conditions, and answer a question that might have put you on the hot seat about your past job.

Seek a mid-level manager or supervisor

Everybody has worked at a job with a head boss who micromanages, controls and demeans. Bad bosses are everywhere. Often coworkers and other supervisors recognize when a boss is bad. Choose your immediate supervisor or even a manager who knows your work but you did not work with closely. This person should be able to explain your accomplishments and talk about your character.

Seek a former manager or colleague

Before I go forward, make sure the former manager or colleague does not still hold a grudge against the job. Negative Nancy or Debbie Downer will detract from you when being asked reference questions. You can’t afford to have a person with a negative demeanor threaten your job. But yes, a former manager or colleague can be a good reference even if they are no longer at the job. This person should be able to speak of your best work and your success despite adverse conditions.

Choose a client

People often overlook their clients, but a top-tier client that you worked with daily can speak as highly to your success as a manger. A client is not as aesthetically pleasing on a resume, but it will give them an insight into your performance and people skills.

The key nugget of advice to remember about seeking an employment reference from a bad job or bad boss is to be creative. Think outside of the box in searching for people who know your job and can speak for your skills.

Related posts:

  1. Better Check Your References Before the Employer Does
  2. 10 Things You Should Bring with You to an Interview
  3. Top 5 Ways to Increase Your Chances of Finding Employment
  4. 8 Common Sense Interview Tips
  5. 10 Critical Mistakes to Avoid When Writing Your Resume

3 Responses


Great post! You definitely do not want a person with a negative demeanor acting as a professional reference for you!


[...] interviewer is not your only valuable source of information; you can also talk with your friends and family. Some people are reluctant to do [...]

[...] Having many interviews with nothing to show for it can be one of the most frustrating things to have to go through. You’re so close to getting a job offer but it just never materializes. If you can get interviews then there’s probably nothing wrong with your job-hunting strategy, your resume or cover letter. The problem could be related to your interviewing prowess or maybe even your references. [...]

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