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The most recent job I worked at things didn't go so well. I always tried my best but for a number of reasons my productivity and relationship with other coworkers were strained. I believe it was a very toxic work environment and I'm prepared to explain why. On my last day I thought I would have until the end of the usual day to talk to my manager about leaving, but suddenly he came over and said he's going to an appointment and needs my badge (so I had to leave right away). When applying for jobs I don't want to have a blank in my work history but if I can't get a reference how can I prove I worked here?

The company I worked for was IBM. One of my managers said "it is company policy not to give references and we can only say yes or no that you worked here". The person who told me this couldn't be trusted to give accurate information, and even if this was true people may not follow the policy anyways.

I'm afraid they will bad mouth me and I won't have a chance to defend myself. What should I do to prevent my past employers from discouraging new employers from hiring me? Should I mention to potential employers that there were issues?

  • If you use your manager as a refernece one of two things will happen. They will give you a good reference which begs the question "what is the catch and why are you not currently working there" or they will provide an honest reference about your work history there which explains why you are not there. If you use them as a reference they will in theory tell you the truth, which begs the question, if you left on good terms minus the toxic work nvironment why are you worried about a bad reference – Donald Oct 24 '13 at 14:30
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    Cofirming employment is different from giving a reference. The former is verifying facts, which they will very likely do; the latter is giving an opinion about you, which large companies tend to shy away from as Justin's answer notes. (And when I worked for IBM this was their policy.) – Monica Cellio Oct 24 '13 at 20:12
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    Even if you had a glowing excellent reference, IBM staff are only allowed to say that you worked there from X to Y. For legal reasons. They will not bad mouth you for the same reason. (I work for IBM). – Simon O'Doherty Nov 8 '13 at 14:56
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You don't specify where you are. In the United States, it is very common for large companies to have a policy against giving references (other parts of the world may have different customs) because they fear it exposes them to liability. If an employee gives a bad reference, the company is theoretically vulnerable to a libel lawsuit. If an employee gives a good reference, the company is theoretically vulnerable to a lawsuit for failing to disclose some material fact. It is possible that a manager would violate that policy, of course. But it would be unlikely that they would do so in order to badmouth a former employee. A manager would have to have a major grudge to be willing to risk their job in order to violate a company policy in order to spite a former employee particularly when a negative reference gives the candidate much more incentive to contact HR and get the manager in hot water. It's more likely that a manager would skirt the policy to give a good reference for someone they really liked since that is much less likely to get reported to HR but even that is pretty rare.

If you are really paranoid and think you manager really has it out for you, you could always have a friend call your former company posing as HR from some company looking to hire you to see what sort of reference they'll give you. If you were planning on having a conversation about the reference on your last day, though, that would strongly imply that things were cordial enough that no one would be likely to violate company policy on references just to torpedo you.

  • Interesting. Why would a company have a policy against giving references? – user10483 Oct 24 '13 at 2:59
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    @Renan - Expanded my answer but it generally has to do with liability concerns. How big the risk is pretty debatable but in general but it's something that has no potential upside to the company providing the reference so they often aren't willing to incur even a trivial risk. – Justin Cave Oct 24 '13 at 3:27
  • Company I interviewed had this policy, but wouldn't accept other references in the exact same format that they themselves would give out. – Ryaner Feb 3 '14 at 15:24
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When applying for jobs I don't want to have a blank in my work history but if I can't get a reference how can I prove I worked here?

You must never have an unexplained "blank" in your work history, but you don't need a reference for every company you have ever worked for.

On your resume, include the job as usual.

When supplying references, if you cannot find a friendly co-worker to be a favorable reference, simply don't supply one for this job.

The interviewer may ask why you omitted this company from your list of references. At that point, you can explain why. Most likely, you will have already explained why you aren't working there anyway.

It's not unusual to omit references from your current company on the grounds that "I don't want anyone there to know I'm planning on leaving." In your case you either quit or were fired, so that is a bit more difficult to apply.

I'm afraid they will bad mouth me and I won't have a chance to defend myself. What should I do to prevent my past employers from discouraging new employers from hiring me? Should I mention to potential employers that there were issues?

Omitting them as a reference may well avoid having them "bad-mouth you". Or not. When I'm interviewing candidates and they omit a well-known company from their references, I often have a friend or friend-of-a-friend who works there and can be a back-door reference. Thus, don't lie about the situation, or fudge the facts about why you left if asked. You don't necessarily need to volunteer any information, but be honest if questions come up.

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    I don't agree with "you must never have a blank in your work history", especially in this economy. A large number of people have been laid off over the last several years. – Adam V Nov 8 '13 at 15:09
  • @AdamV, I believe he probably meant an unexplained gap. – HLGEM Jul 6 '15 at 17:25
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Many US companies only give the most basic information for employment checks: yes they worked here, this was their title and this was their date of employment. Unless you were fired for a crime they generally will not get into specifics as to why you left. They only provide salary information if it is part of a financial check for loan. Many time the information is provided by an outside service, and the new employer never gets close to your manager or HR.

Why? risk of lawsuit. Also if you are currently employed, they might say you are great so you will leave; or a poor performer so you can't leave.

The references you provide to a potential employer should be from recent employer/coworker who will provide truthful but positive information.

Yes, don't leave a hole in your resume. It make you look like you were/are unemployed, plus they might find out, and then they know you have lied.

The only exception to this policy of minimal information is for a background investigation, like one that the US government may require for some positions. There they are looking for the quality of the individual not the quality of your work skills.

  • For those background investigation its very important to provide a complete work history. The smallest amount of information that isn't present can delay the investigation or even raise some very serious red flags. – Donald Oct 24 '13 at 14:34
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If an employment environment is 'toxic' (particularly a large employer) other employers tend to figure that out. Maybe it was 'just you', but probably not. I've worked in such environments and heard stories from others in the same situation.

Since all they're going to say is whether you worked there, all you need to say is that you worked for them. If someone asks what you did, you can say 'IT work', or 'programming' or whatever. The general hint is that you and they met up, didn't work out, and parted company. If the less said the better, say as little as possible.

If you're next job opportunity is with a company that wouldn't probably understand this, you might elaborate with something like 'C++ coding on Linux database' or 'JavaScript frontend to DB2'. In a person to person interview you can say it was toxic and you'll leave it at that, particularly if that's why you left. If they call the employer and the employer's answer is 'Yes' without further elaboration they'll kind of get the point.

If you have an employment history with some successes, dwell on those.

This makes a particularly persuasive case for meet ups with people that share your skills but don't work for the same employer. What should I believe when an employee of a company tells me they're using a 15 year old C complier? Is this his fault? Is the employer nearly comatose? If he goes and works for another company and that company is trying to implement agile while following corporate project management policies, should I believe he's screwing up? If I know that particular company has behaved this way since the 1930s, why should I doubt him?

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