Resent Having to Contact a Former Employer for References

CN_Marc_v1_e A reader recently took me to task for suggesting that it’s the job seeker’s responsibility to do their very best to track down key contact info for all their references. That includes former bosses whom they don’t especially want to speak with ever again.

Here’s how I look at it … when you are the one looking for work, it’s your job to make sure you do everything you can to help your chances. But do you really have to go back begging for help from someone you can’t stand — especially if the company doesn’t exist any more?

Reader’s comment about former employers

Let’s start with the reader’s side of things. As someone who did reference checking for many years, I found what he shared with us especially interesting. …

Dear Ronnie Ann,

First of all, I resent having to be the one to contact old employers. I personally do not ever want to speak to them again. But I still have the personal cell phone number but not the email because the company is now out of business.

Is it just me that finds it awkward to revisit an unpleasant situation. I don’t want to reach out to those A holes who laid me off. People are free to call (I don’t see how I could get a bad review from them since I did a very good job for them and I don’t think they are THAT vindictive).

Anyway, this is BS. If a phone number changes or a company goes out of business, it should be up to the person who is doing the background check to track them down because I don’t want any more dealings with those people.

~ Pigbitin Mad

My response to Pigbitin

In my answer, I wanted to be respectful of what the reader was feeling since job search is incredibly frustrating. But I also wanted to help offer a slightly different perspective in case it might help:

I’m not sure what to say. You’ve expressed yourself well, and I bet you are not alone in what you are feeling.

I had an awful boss early on that I never wanted to be in touch with again; I even considered him a friend at one point. As time passed, I got enough good references to never have to deal with him again. In my case, I built up enough other references — co-workers and former bosses who could speak to my abilities.

While it’s still best to provide as much contact info as possible, if you can’t track down the email address of a particular person (or prefer not to), you can at least list their name, company, etc. and explain that the company no longer exists (and you can’t find their contact info) using a reference sheet format like this for your note:

=>    Sample References Sheet

It at least shows you are addressing the situation. Then give them the very strongest other references you can, like a former co-worker who can tell them how good you were to work with. Or someone from a volunteer / freelance job. I often got hired without giving every single former boss as a reference.

The choice is up to you

It’s up to you to decide if you want to reveal you have an old cell phone number, noting that too — but it leaves an awkward explanation about why you didn’t call them and / or why the person is surprised to be hearing from them. Or, it may not work any more. Still, that’s ok too if you prefer it. No one size fits all.

Personally, I’d put myself into a future head (like nothing bad ever happened) and call the person anyway to (1) try to ensure that they are giving you a decent reference (if not, you can leave out the number); and (2) because it shows the new employer you took the time to go the extra step, something that reflects on the kind of employee you will be.

But again, if it’s something you choose not to do, it isn’t necessarily a deal breaker. In the end, you are wise to do what feels right for you after considering all aspects of your decision.

Good luck!

~ Ronnie Ann

A few more thoughts

The thing is, no matter what feels right or fair or what goes against your strongest personal preferences, when you’re looking for a new job you’re the one who needs the reference. It’s a connection to the past that can follow you until you have stronger references to turn to.

Look … I get it. Job search can be really frustrating. All too often, you’re made to feel powerless by things out of your control. And it might feel like a good time to take a stand and decide not to play “their” game. The problem with that is they will simply find someone else. And the only person who loses the game is you.

It helps to remember that job search is a time to show them what you’d be like as an employee — and that means that you respect their processes … and yes, even their rules. Now that doesn’t mean you can’t be yourself … just show them your very best self and, if it’s the right match, everyone wins.

More articles to help

Getting Your Job Search Started Right!

References Guide and Sample Page

How To Stay Sane (and Employable) While Looking for a Job