You find a job that is exactly what you’re looking for. It has great benefits, is within your industry, is a great match with your experience and has potential for growth within the company.
They even pay well.
You apply for the job and a few days later get a call for an interview that feels as good as receiving a college acceptance letter.
You do all of the right things – dress appropriately for the culture of the company, arrive on time, know everything there is to know about the company, and, used LinkedIn and Google to research the name of the person who will be interviewing you.
You are prepped and ready to tackle any interview question they throw at you.
As you sit in the lobby waiting to be called, the HR Coordinator brings you paperwork to complete. This is when you break out in a cold sweat because this is the moment you remember there is always a section asking for references and for your permission for HR to call your prior employers. You pause, remind
yourself that an employer (via its employees) cannot bad mouth you, breathe a sigh of relief and complete the application.
The interview goes well, you are called back for a second and you begin to hope. You start picturing yourself working at this wonderful company and are excited at the prospect of being able to kiss your current employer goodbye.
Then it happens. You get a call or an email that states you are no longer under consideration for the position but they appreciate your interest in the company and encourage you to apply again in the future.
If you have ever had a rocky relationship with a coworker, supervisor or even a vendor, this is the time it may come back to haunt you.
While it is true that companies can only divulge factual information, industries are small and people talk. The person who disliked you, but left the company two years before, may now be the buddy of your prospective supervisor. The person you fired last month may now be on the team of people providing input about which candidates to invite to the final round of interviews.
It doesn’t even have to be that serious. All it takes is a word, a comment or private side conversation at an industry conference or a chance encounter for your hopes of a new job to go down the drain.
There are no barriers to prevent your former employer from providing factual information regarding your work duties and the reasons for your separation from their employ. However, some states, like California, have laws that penalize employers for making misrepresentations that prevent you from obtaining employment. These potential legal repercussions have caused many companies to institute polices that only allow its employees to confirm dates of employment, titles held and whether you are eligible for rehire in response to a reference check.
But answering “no” to “Is this person eligible for rehire?” can be interpreted as a for-cause termination.
How do you mitigate the damage?
The really obvious way is to never make anyone angry at you. Short of that, there are a few tips:
1) When you know you have had a bad professional relationship in your past regardless of who is at fault, remain professional. Don’t exclude the person from meetings, gossip about the person behind their back and or take opportunities to sabotage or make them look bad (even when they make it so
easy). Back-biting makes you the bad actor.
2) Meet the issue head-on. Have a private conversation with your office-antagonist. Let them know you realize you may have gotten off to a bad start, but you have to work together and you would like to keep the relationship professional.
3) When asked for a reference or the name of a coworker, avoid naming someone with whom you’ve had a rocky relationship. Obvious, I know, but if the issue wasn’t that big to you, you may think an ill-tempered colleague has gotten over it by now. Don’t chance it.
4) When none of the above has worked, and even if it has (to the best of your knowledge), inform the interviewer that you had a difficult relationship with one person at your previous workplace, explain the circumstances and don’t try to paint yourself as blameless – your potential new employer will appreciate your candor and your willingness to be accountable for your part in it.
It’s standard advice to never bad mouth a prior employer during an interview for a new job. The same is true for coworkers and other employees at the company. Show that you were able to overcome a difficult situation with professionalism. This way, should you be the recipient of a malicious remark, they look bad, not you.
If you find yourself working with a third-party recruiter, this kind of situation is easier to handle.
As long as you are forthcoming, your recruiter will serve as a neutral sounding board about prior work relationships that could tarnish your reputation. If you are ultimately rejected for a position, your recruiter will usually be given an explanation for choosing another – information all recruiters are happy to share with prospective employees to help them land the next job.