TLDR: After a long reputable career, I have seen two workplaces that I have not been comfortable in. Now after leaving one, I believe I have been smear campaigned, can't get in contact with my references and no one will hire me.
- Is there anyone who has been through this before that might have advice for coming through a professional smear campaign?
- Do I mention any of this to potential employers during the recruitment process?
- How do I go about finding references I can trust? And how do I avoid contacts that are smearing?
- What is an appropriate way to limit the 'shadow reference' checking?
(to limit any smear campaigning that could be happening)
- Any and all thoughts on this appreciated
I work in an industry that is fairly small and many people know each other.
I have had a couple of long tenures in companies that have seen me with a good respectful reputation over the course of 20 years.
Due to interstate moves (and side-stepping in my industry), I have had a couple of shorter stays in companies as well.
One of these ended up having a toxic staff member, who was jealous I entered the company at the position I was in, instead of him being promoted to it. This resulted in me being dumped his workload, and having surrounding issues with staff members "on his side", and instead of complaining and raising with management, I just moved jobs instead. (The company was too small for HR department, so it was quite rough) --- unsure if any of this back story matters?
I guess this is somewhat normal though I then went into a contract role and I got sick with Covid leaving me unable to perform my job properly.
I changed roles during the long-Covid haul to a role I had been doing previously quite easily. However the new company was also very toxic. The manager was narcissistic, and manipulative to his employees. There was a very unhealthy dynamic between departments which he would use to pit staff against each-other for competitiveness, and the culture spread through the rest of the staff. This manager however is very well connected throughout the industry.
This role was junior to my previous roles - so it should have been easy. But they saw this role as the 'whipping boy' role, which meant taking on more work from staff members who had been given their roles due to nepotism.
I raised concerns with the most senior management and handed in my resignation with thoughts that I'll heal for a few months before committing to another role.
I failed to mention I had overheard management say 'he'll never work in this industry again' - but I didn't really put this together, until later - I guess because of shock?
This same culture and overall vibe was shown through all of my colleagues there, asking questions like "where are you going? Do you have work lined up?" "Are you staying in the same industry?"
I will add here - my work ethic has always been strong, and I am quite introverted. I made sure to complete all open projects and then some, prior to leaving.
Time went by, I worked at getting my health back on track, and started looking for work.
However, aside from a couple of references, most of my management references from all previous employment will not return my calls.
Those in the industry I do still speak to, have not let on that they are aware of the circumstances and won't say anything but have also said "are you thinking of staying in the industry still?"
I have had possibly 8-10 very promising interviews, even with responses like "that's an impressive CV", or "we'd be happy to have you onboard".
For clarity, I have not been mentioning my experiences with these two workplaces, the stays were so short that they aren't even on my resume, and luckily the only two gaps in the CV are explainable from the interstate move and the time off during covid. Which are both perfectly reasonable and acceptable explanations. I obviously do not tell this story in interviews, and if I mention anything, it remains tactful and broad.
Shortly after the successful interviews, employers either ghost my follow up calls, or respond with generic unsuccessful application responses like "oh the department has chosen to go a different way". Then the ads are reposted for new candidates.
This even happens before I have sent through any references, as this is usually the last thing I would do depending on what I wanted to showcase for the next role I was applying for.
It's fairly common knowledge that recruiters and potential employers will use back-channel reference checking, (with LinkedIn and other tools). I feel like this has happened and I have been smear-campaigned throughout my industry, and I am unsure about laws against this method of reference checking.
Given there are two occasions of a bad work environments, I am wary that these can be manipulated to discredit me further and re-enforce that I am the one in the wrong. I also don't see any ability to fight these, even on a legal level.
I have never had trouble getting work before, but it's now been 6 months of applying for work without any reasonable 'unsuccessful application' response.
I have thought of changing industries, though anything close to this would result in severe financial difficulty to up-skill.