So the long and short of it is that I fell out of the job market due to illness in my previous job. Unfortunately, there was certainly a component of mental illness to it (i.e. stress and health-induced anxiety). This was a personally traumatizing and gruesome experience that I'm still processing.

I hadn't been working there for long before falling out, and due to my physical and mental state at the time, I wasn't able to leave on the best of terms. I feel that, at least from my manager and from HR, there is a deep feeling of resentment. I regret not communicating better at the time, but alas the damage is done.

Physically and mentally, I'm feeling better now, so I'm in the process of getting back into the job market and I've been applying for jobs. I got a call back from one of the companies, and the person in question was trying to vet my cv, pressing me to account for the gap in my resumé.

I was unprepared for hardball questions, and in the spirit of honesty I divulged in the moment that I had been out due to illness. They kept digging, wanting a more detailed explanation, which I didn't feel comfortable providing at the time. It's their prerogative to do so of course, but the feeling of being grilled made me less inclined to do so.

Anyhow, I think the person in question got a little suspicious or spooked, so they told me they'd get back to me with some feedback. Today I received an e-mail for them where they state they'd like to continue to interview process but not before I provide them with a reference, specifically at my last place of work, supposedly for ISO compliance.

I'm not at all inclined to go and ask for a reference at my last place of work, and I'm pretty sure I wouldn't even find anyone there who'd write me one.

So is this is it? Should I politely decline? Should I give them more detail? I'm trying to exhaust my options here, but I don't want this episodic lapse to be a permanent blemish on my career.

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    Which country are you in? "References" in many countries these days are just "are they telling the truth?", and your former employer may not say much more than "vsthesquares worked here from Month X until Month Y; they left due to health issues". Commented Jul 6, 2021 at 9:52
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    Just as an FYI - you are not obligated to talk about your illness in certain countries, so depending on where you live, the new employer wasn't behaving very professionally in my opinion.
    – Jeroen
    Commented Jul 6, 2021 at 11:14
  • Thanks! I'm talking about Belgium specifically. All employers here are required by law to provide you with such a statement (attestation of employment) post employment. In my case, it was (automatically) filled out and provided to me by the external agency in charge of payroll administration. Commented Jul 6, 2021 at 11:18
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    It would be handy if you could elaborate specifically how providing a reference helps with ISO compliance. Do they need to verify you worked a particular role for a period of time? Commented Jul 7, 2021 at 9:49
  • Recruiters are a dime a dozen... Take the job description they sent you and google it - it's likely there's 5-30 other recruiter firms hawking the same job posting, one of them will take your application more professionally
    – schizoid04
    Commented Jul 7, 2021 at 15:34

3 Answers 3


I would tell the truth and provide references.

Because I would want to work in a place, where my past is no issue.

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    Thanks @sascha. I concur with the sentiment. Two things that cross my mind though. Having been through the process of interviewing before, I have come to experience it as a delicate ceremony where such behaviour might be considered abrasive. Also, I guess what I'm trying to do here is find a balance between my privacy without crippling my chances of employment. Commented Jul 6, 2021 at 11:33
  • Just be open to people and new things, find joy in talking to others and sharing your story honestly if asked for. We are all humans, we all get sick some day. There is no weakness in that and nothing to be embarrassed of.
    – Sascha
    Commented Jul 6, 2021 at 12:02
  • It seems there is basically no other way, you either provide the truth or you move on to the next job that may or may not end up the same. Whats done is done, but obviously trying to hide it won't make it better for you.
    – Chapz
    Commented Jul 7, 2021 at 5:44
  • honestly, if I had to hide the fact that I had health issues because I'm afraid that the company is not going to take it well, not believe in recovery, etc. I'd be reconsidering my decision of pursuing a position with them as it is a good sign that they wouldn't treat me correctly if I have a health problem Commented Jul 8, 2021 at 9:18

Is there really no one? As a reference you don't need manager or HR, you also can name a peer who you worked with. If you can't name a positive reference, be honest about it. Tell them you didn't leave on good terms, name reasons and why this won't happen again.

If they only want to verify your time there, to see if you lied in your resume, you can contact HR at your old workplace and ask for a confirmation of your employment there. No reference or letter of recommendation, just "vsthesquares worked at xy corp from date x to y.".


A reference like this is not supposed to be a letter of recommendation that says you're a wonderful person and great employee, it's just proof that you really did work in the role you claim for the dates you claim.

This company is just doing a routine check that you're not lying about your experience. They probably have a process that says they'll do this for everyone they employ, and it's entirely possible that it's part of some ISO quality certification.

Your old company will have records of their payroll going back many years. Partly for references and partly for tax records. Call the receptionist, tell them what you want and ask for the name/number/email of the HR person who handles these things, then give that to the new company. It's actually ideal if this is someone you have never met.

Even if your old boss hates you and would try to sabotage your future, their HR department won't say anything that could lead to you suing them for libel. HR's job is to protect the company from law suits, not to be vindictive about past employees.

Also, your new employer knows that people don't often leave jobs where everyone was happy.

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