Manage work relationships to avoid bad references

By Eve Nicholas

Question: My career focus has been sales but I need to land a job quickly so I’m thinking of applying for a few recruiting positions as well. Early in my career, I worked for one year as a recruiter in the high-tech field.

I’m concerned that a new employer will ask for references in the recruiting industry and I don’t think my former supervisor and colleagues would speak very highly of me. I worked really hard in my position and ranked as the second-highest producer in the company in just a couple of months. I’m afraid that my performance made everyone else look bad, and my boss didn’t appreciate it.

Recently, I ran into my old boss and realized that her feathers were still ruffled. I’m not sure if I can trust her to give me a good reference. How should I handle this situation? — S.G., Atlanta, Ga.

Answer: In every job hunt, there are some factors that you — the job seeker — can control. For instance, you have full control over the presentation of your resume and how you use it. You have complete authority over researching companies, reaching out to potential employers and presenting yourself during interviews.

You also have some influence (but not control) over other people. For example, your personality and attitude can encourage people to like you. The language in your cover letter may persuade people to call you and ask about your achievements. Your responses to interview questions could prompt hiring managers to hire you.

Yes, you have a bit of influence. But your power stops there.

As I mentioned in a recent column, you have absolutely no control over what other people say. This is why all job hunters, even the most sought-after candidates, must carefully manage relationships throughout their careers. For the moment, consider the time and energy that you invest in opening doors to a new career. Meeting people. Setting up interviews. Practicing for tricky interviews. A single bad reference may slam those doors closed.

Luckily, your reference sheet — the actual document that lists three to five professional references — is completely under your control. You choose the people on your list. You stay in touch with them and continue to enrich your relationships over time. You even decide how to submit their contact information to hiring managers.

It’s time for you to take control of the reins. Don’t give up the controls. Instead of risking an unfavorable reference, listen to your instincts. Drop this person from your reference list.

If a potential employer asks for a reference from your recruiting days, grab hold of the conversation for a moment. Seize the opportunity to talk about your achievements as a recruiter. Tell the employer that you worked hard and exceeded everyone’s expectations within only two months. Because of this experience, you already have the skills to deliver the same kind of performance just as quickly as you did in the past.

Then, without further hesitation, present a clean, well-formatted reference sheet that lists several honest, respected professionals from other aspects of your work life. If you manage your relationships right, these helpful people will open doors, not close them. You can trust them to give the distinctly positive references that you deserve.

Eve Nicholas: