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I was recently made redundant and at the formal redundancy meeting, I was told that my previous employer would be happy to give me a reference. I have recently been offered a job in a company which is in competition with my previous employer and when my ex employer was asked for a reference for me, she refused to give one. My new position is now under threat. Am I able to do anything about this?

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    Do you have any other references? – Lawrence Aiello Aug 26 '15 at 13:35
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    What do you mean by "able to do anything"? If you are looking for legal recourse, that is not a question we can answer here. – David K Aug 26 '15 at 13:41
  • Did they give you any paperwork to that effect at the redundancy meeting? If so, provide your new employer with a copy. In the future, get the reference in writing before you leave if at all possible and before you apply for new jobs. Also send any emails where your boss told you that you were doing a good job to your home email address, so you have them available after a redundancy to prove that you did well at that job. And take home printed copies of evaluations. – HLGEM Aug 26 '15 at 15:51
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when my ex employer was asked for a reference for me, she refused to give one. My new position is now under threat. Am I able to do anything about this?

You aren't able to force an ex-employer (or anyone for that matter) to provide a reference for you in my part of the world (US).

And it's not completely unreasonable to me that an ex-employer would not want to refer someone to a competitor - it would be awkward to talk to them.

What you should do is provide an alternate reference in place of your ex-employer. Perhaps a co-worker who was also made redundant, or an earlier employer would suffice. Talk to your potential hiring manager, explain the situation and offer the alternative(s).

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Your new position should not be under threat. It's very uncommon for hiring managers to contact your current employer so people who are searching for a job while still employed at their first one out of college routinely lack useful references. Since you are not currently employed it's normal for them to ask for references but the fact that your manager is refusing to give one says more about him and/or your former company than about you.

In your situation you have a few options:

  • Talk to your former manager and try to get him to reconsider. Especially given that you were laid off it's very unreasonable for him to refuse a reference just because you're going to be working for a competitor. Keep things neutral and professional and try to appeal to some basic human decency. Preferably do this in person. If your former company has a policy prohibiting giving references to competitors this won't work.
  • Get a reference from former colleagues. Talk to people you worked with closely and ask them if they're comfortable giving you a strong reference. Be prepared to hear no. Again, a company policy might prevent them from giving a reference as long as they're employed there. Note that these have less weight than a reference from a manager but they're better than nothing.
  • Find references outside your former company. If you're active in volunteer work your contact there might be able to offer useful input. Note that you should ask for a work reference, not a character reference. The company is interested in your work ethic and behaviour in workplace-like environment, not what a generous person you are.
  • Explain the situation to your prospective employer and demonstrate your competence in other ways: performance reviews, significant raises or bonuses you received, proof of employment, ... Also offer to talk more in-depth about your roles and work history. Sadly, the effectiveness of this fall-back strategy will largely depend on whether you interview well.

Now, it's possible that this won't help and your new company is not willing to proceed without a reference as a matter of policy or because you're unable to convince them of your strength as a candidate. That plain sucks but there isn't much you can do about it if it comes to that.

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It seems unreasonable to me that your potential new employer would expect a reference from one of their competitors. Unfortunately there isn't much you can do about your former employer's attitude.

Explain to the recruiter that you did not expect this reaction, and try to find another reference. It doesn't have to be an employer, it could be anyone you've worked with for a longer period of time. What matters is that they have a certain level of credibility.

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There is more than one kind of reference:

Does the new company require a 'reference' in terms of a personal and professional recommendation? I can understand why your boss feels uncomfortable providing this reference, and there is likely little you can do other than discuss it with your boss and see if you can get to the cause of the issue or some kind of compromise.

Or do they simply require confirmation that you held the position you claimed, for the time you have stated? Most companies only require the latter, and your boss may be willing do give you this type of reference. This type of reference is much more formal, does not act as a recommendation, and is really just a way for companies to ensure their candidates are not lying on their application.

Check with both companies, and once you have that clearer position you can take it from there. Generally, though, I would expect both companies to be able to compromise on the latter option.

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