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How to stop a bad reference from hurting your job prospects in science

An image of test tubes to depicts how to clean a water bath.

In my recruitment agency, we have seen many instances where a candidate was fired from his last job and knows that his manager is not going to say nice things during a reference. Often he had a great experience at that company until this manager took over his department and the two never saw eye-to-eye.

Has this happened to you?  Will it cost you your next job? You can take several steps to minimize the impact of a potential “bad reference”.

1. Talk to your former manager and ask her what she will say to future reference inquiries. You might be surprised at what you hear. Believe it or not, she may even write you a letter of recommendation if you ask!

2. Speak with other managers at your former company – both those you directly reported to and those who were senior to you, but not your direct boss. These people are often advocates for your work and their ability to speak from a managerial position will often suffice during the reference checking process. Be proactive and ask these people for a letter of recommendation.

3. Talk to co-workers both in and out of your department who can vouch for your work. Ask for a letter of recommendation when it’s appropriate.

Being proactive is your most effective tool when dealing with a situation that could lead to a bad reference. While you cannot change what happened, you can control the flow of information and do your best to ensure that your strengths are highlighted through the interview and reference process.

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