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Recently I recieved a verbal job offer and now the new employer is checking off references. There is one job on my resume I worked several years ago at a small company from which I can not get a reference. I spoke with my previous boss and he asked not to be used, I believe this is because he was quite upset when I quit.

I have explained this to the new potential employer and he pushed me to get a reference from a previous co-worker at the company (also not possible - I have tried - it is a very small tight-knit work place).

I have not been on the other end of an interview (hiring someone) before and am not sure how they may see this. I'm worried this makes me look bad and they may renege the offer. Is there anything I can do or say so that doesn't happen?

Also in the future would it be a good idea to remove this company from my resume entirely? If so, I worked there for roughly a year, how would I explain the gap? If not, how could I handle a similar situation in the future?

Other details:

  • This is in Canada
  • it's a software engineering position
  • I have several other good references from other companies that I have already provided
  • they countered my salary range request with a larger amount so it sounds like they are very interested in hiring me
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    Hello mustardman, welcome to the workplace. Do you know why they need the reference? Just for confirmation that you actually have the work experience you claimed, or to ask your reference questions about how good you did while you worked there? Also, could you specify your location? These details will help you get a more useful answer. – Masked Man May 12 '18 at 15:53
  • They did not specify why. If I had to guess it would be a combination of character reference and proof that my resume was correct. I went through a long interview process of a combination of take home coding assignments and in person white boarding and feel they have a pretty good handle on my skillset. This is in Canada, I'll edit my original post as well – mustardman May 12 '18 at 16:02
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    This seems somewhat strange. If they are doing a background check and just want to confirm you did indeed work there (and maybe your title/role), they can contact the company HR. If they want a personal or professional reference, you should be giving them people of your choosing and they shouldn't dictate who you can choose - people leave organizations on bad terms often and a good reference from these situations shouldn't be expected. No one should be pushing you to get references from certain employers at all. – Thomas Owens May 12 '18 at 16:18
  • Just ask them what sort of reference they want. If they just want to prove you worked there, i would suspect you're legally entitled to that confirmation from the company. This new company probably only wants confirmation you worked there, although as @Thomas notes, it is odd they are getting you to do it and not just checking in themselves. – bharal May 12 '18 at 16:37
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    @mustardman Just give the company offering you a job a way to contact HR of your old company. Sounds like they might be happy with an employment verification. – jcmack May 29 '18 at 19:41
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You want to behave with integrity, transparency, and equanimity. Every company that might hire you is also looking at the way you speak about places you used to work. It sounds as though you have done the right thing so far. So where to go from here?

Hold the line. It is sufficient to explain, as you already have, that the previous employer in fact asked not to be used as a reference. You must keep the faith with that previous employer especially in the face of a new prospective employer.

I have been on the other end of the interview desk, and I want your integrity more than a past reference. Finally, a verbal job offer is nothing. Think of it as a way to keep you coming back. A written job offer is something. If you are not hired, you need to be able to walk away knowing that you have done the right thing, and that you would do the same thing next time.

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I understand the concept of references, but references by definition is something voluntary that the previous colleagues are willing to give, they aren't forced to give, the same applies to, just because you weren't a "friend" of your previous manager doesn't means that you were a bad worker. In my opinion mustardman, I would turn the table with the company and play a all in, explain that you left the previous company because of your manager, be honest with the reasons why you left, the reason number one of changing job is because of your manager. In my previous job I have accomplished X, y and z, but I never had the support of my manager. Then say, look I am not giving the reference of my previous manager, I gave already the references of other persons that I worked with. I have more companies interested in my profile, so if you would like to keep going please be fast. Because if you don't it I will accept other offers.

Do you want to work with people that don't trust in your word?

The most important thing is to sell that you are a unique person/profile and they are the lucky ones to get you, not the opposite.

  • Not directly relevant to Question, but: this actually, as I learned when moving to Germany, is Country specific. In Germany the law requires that you get a positive reference letter, (doesnt mean the spirit is positive, e.g. "always strived to complete the work given" = but never did...) In fact, I know a colegue who his boss would not let him leave his university position because he needed him, then he sued the boss to let him go and the court had him write his own recomendation letter... Completely crazy story Btw, anyone in your chain of command of your old company who has by now left it? – nick Jun 8 '18 at 23:13
  • @nick, Germany is even more crazy in this respect than the US. You get a reference letter, which needs to be positive but which has a secret code in it to provide negative feedback. And even if you did a great job and got excellent feedback during your work at the company, your boss can provide you a positive-but-negative letter like this and you have no way of winning against them in court. – BigMadAndy Jun 9 '18 at 8:05
  • @385703: Crazy indeed. I am pretty sure (having seen a bit of the system, and not being German) that I cannot win in court :) The aforementioned guy did though, his boss even got a small fine. The guy wrote his own recomendation letter (basically a list of what he did) and court had the boss sign this - the boss could not change it, only sign... – nick Jun 10 '18 at 14:40
  • @nick. That's interesting. Because I actually sued my former company for the same reason. I was praised very strongly while working there, then quit and received a horrible work certificate. The judge didn't even want to listen to me. – BigMadAndy Jun 10 '18 at 14:55
  • @385703: Unfortunately dont know many details. The guy was the most German guy I know, keeping a log for everything and organized, also knew the law. He was workng as a researcher, managing a/the(?) lab of his PhD Prof. His Boss/Prof was keeping both him and the second in command (similar case) without a PhD because they basically run his lab. They both sued the guy in order to let them defend, not sure what happened with comeetees, obligations, or if they had passed them beforehand. I know the guy got his PhD and wrote his recomendation letter, I think so did the other. – nick Jun 10 '18 at 15:12
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I'm worried this makes me look bad and they may renege the offer. Is there anything I can do or say so that doesn't happen?

My advice is to not fall into the trap of basing your decision to proceed on the sunk costs and find another company. The company should be out to impress you enough to want to work there as much as you should be out to impress them, but this situation should raise a few red flags:

  • Despite having done an extensive interview, the company is unable to make a decision about hiring you without outside help. References are nice to have on both sides of the table, but they're to be taken with a grain of salt because they're selected by the candidate. Only a fool would list a reference that isn't going to give positive feedback.

  • The company is unable to to adapt to situations that don't match its preconceived ideal. This may be because they were burned by a by a previous hire where they didn't check references, but it also might be a harbinger of how it deals with non-hiring-related problems in its business that require reasoning.

  • The company is demanding to contact and waste the time of someone (or a group of people) who has specifically said they do not wish to be contacted. This is rude on their part and, indirectly, on yours if you give them the information and the okay.

    Also in the future would it be a good idea to remove this company from my resume entirely?

No, absolutely not. Your resume tells the story of your career and what you've accomplished. If you're ten years into yours, why would you throw away 10% of those accomplishments?

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