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The question for our sixth installment focused on one of the many dreaded situations that may come up during the job search: “Dear Paul, I quit my last job because I couldn't stand my boss and it ended badly. When I apply for a new job and they ask to contact my previous employer, I freeze up. I'm afraid my previous boss will sabotage my chances to get a new job. What should I do?”
It is important to remember that when you quit a job with an employer, be professional about it. Make sure that you do it in a way that it doesn't come back to hurt you in the future. That means not burning any bridges on your way out. This includes giving two weeks of notice or offering to help train your replacement. Otherwise, what may make you feel better in the moment may hold you back in the long run.
However, if the act is already done, that's not the end. There's still another way to work through it.
When the question comes up, say yes. Not allowing your recruiter, interviewer or the hiring manager to contact your previous employer will raise red flags. That is definitely something that may work against you. If it looks like you are hiding something, it will give the hiring personnel who is viewing your file a reason to pause. Additionally, we won’t reach out to your previous employer to randomly seek someone that may know you. You will be contacted first to help get us those references.
Talk about it in your interview with the recruiter or the hiring manager. Be short and simple about it. For example, you can say, "I left this company and it didn't go so well. I'm not really proud of the way it ended." Your interviewer will ask you to explain if they want more information. If you do elaborate, don't give excuses or dwell on it. Keep what happened impersonal and to the point as your professionalism at this stage is important and will be judged.
Be sure to round off by demonstrating that you have learned from your experience. Explain what you would have done differently and would not do again. Although being honest won't give your interviewer the best impression about you, it is still the best policy to follow. Also, owning up to it will only help in the long run. We know what a professional reference should sound like. If your previous employer says a lot of bad stuff about you, it may give credence to your testimony.
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