I went to school for tech but have had a lot of trouble getting permanent work in the industry. I know that may sound surprising given what I read on sites like this but where I live the economy isn't doing the greatest.

I've had several short term contracts, some of them were with companies that went out of business. I've had experience doing e.g. retail and I have positive references from the management at these companies.

I recently applied to a job where they seem very interested in hiring me. I have already provided the recruiter with 4 references, 3 of which are from management. She keeps asking for one from a company I worked for 4 years ago. Things didn't go well with this company and I was part of a mass firing. I have one coworker who still works there that I could use as a reference, and another who was also fired that I could use as a reference. But the recruiter said she wanted someone who was a manager. It also is a problem that the company was internally locked down so emails from outside of the company couldn't get in, also I think it was the same with the phones. Also the company was organized in such a way that I rarely worked with the same people and my manager was very hands off. The recruiter is asking for my managers name so she can look her up on LinkedIn. I was able to find my managers profile and could ask, but I doubt she would give me a positive reference. I don't want to get into it too much but one thing they did was kept track of so many different metrics it wasn't possible to do well in all of them then management would just fire (or promote) based on the ones that weren't good (which may have been fair if they made clear which were more important than others).

I have more recent experience in a tech contract but I don't think I can get a management reference from it either.

Other experience I've had in tech roles have only been for a couple week long contracts so I didn't even bother asking for a reference.

This "recruiter" seems a lot different than recruiters I've had experience with. I had my first round interview her, the second round with the people I would be working with, now I'm in contact with her again. She's not internal to the company, but she also isn't giving me a sales pitch like all other recruiter have. Maybe she's not paid on commission?

How should I reply to the recruiter? Should I go ahead and ask the managers if I can get a positive reference from them even though I suspect they would say no? Should I push back and say she already has 3 management references? The company I had applied for is small and I could easily go around the recruiter to the people actually making the decision.


2 Answers 2


I would just say that manager doesn't exist at the company any more, got laid off, etc. Or even just say i'm not comfortable doing that as it's been so long, or whatever.

The details don't matter so much as the general idea that "i can't give you that".

To me the idea of a recruiter not being able to get a reference 4 years ago, holding up a job offer sounds ridiculous. I have seen some companies dig far back trying to accomplish a background check, and I've been in the position where a reference couldn't be reached.

This ended up delaying things a little bit while they waited for a response / kept trying, and eventually they just noted on their report back to the hiring manager a little flag that they couldn't verify that reference. It was a lot of wasted time, for what ended up being a hire either way.

If you're a good candidate for the job, and you're able to present yourself in a manner that demonstrates your confidence in the skill and ability to do the job / get along with your manager without causing conflict or issues..... and there's not some other more qualified-but-less-expensive candidate... There's a good chance you'll get the job.

Unless there's some bureaucratic nightmare of a terrible policy at the organization enforcing strictly that you need referrals from every job... you'll probably be fine.

If that doesn't make sense, companies have a very difficult time (especially in tech) finding good candidates with skills and retaining them.

If it seems like you're a good fit for the job, a manager would be very motivated to find a way to hire you. At organizations I've seen where a candidate is found, but can't be hired directly because of corporate policies, and no other good candidates have been found, I have sometimes seen someone offered a new position temporarily as a contractor instead, as the same companies typically don't have that stringent of policies for 'vendors' and therefore as long as there's money in the budget they can get around all sorts of things... but that one's more rare.

Anyways, long-winded way of saying... If you're not comfortable giving a reference, I would just say no. There is a chance that they're bull-headed and move to the next candidate, but if it's a bad reference and you give it, you have that same chance. Sticking up for yourself on what you will / won't do is a useful skill that you'll need later on as you progress through the ranks anyway, and recruiters are a great place to practice as they're often not at the company itself , but rather an external company

  • Thanks! Not to get too of topic but I find I have trouble knowing when it's good to stick up for myself vs not rocking the boat. IMHO a lot of people don't stick up for themselves and that sort of sets the expectations everyone would be OK with something unfair. (e.g. they did say there would be the possibility to work from home but they went back on that - but arguing they can't change their mind would get me know where). Commented Feb 16, 2021 at 17:32
  • Things like whether they can let someone work remote are likely more set in stone; some managers have difficulty managing someone's performance and supervising them when they're not there in person, and it also is a bit of a barrier to communication vs being able to walk up to the desk. As far as when to stick up for yourself, a big part of it is recognizing when other people are intentionally creating conflict and realizing you're not actually the bad guy, they're just trying to make you feel that way to manipulate you (assuming you're being polite when stating that you can't do x)
    – schizoid04
    Commented Feb 17, 2021 at 18:17

Yes, I might push back a little and would probably explain exactly what you said here. Although, with a bit more positive spin. Be genuine and nice. She will probably give more leeway if you are likeable.

Do you have your future boss' contact? Maybe CC them on your email to the recruiter because they probably care more about you starting than her.

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