Was I slandered, or am I just paranoid?
December 6, 2013 12:03 PM   Subscribe

I recently got the opportunity to apply for a cherry job that would have solved a lot of my current problems, but I seem to have blown it. I'm wondering if a bad employer reference might have done me in?

Recently my husband, who works in the same industry as me, found out that a certain gig was going to come open at his company. I applied and sent my materials to the hiring manager, Hurd (not his real name). I got a super nice note from Hurd saying he really wanted to talk to me - he loved my demo tape (this is an audio-related gig), and he just sounded like he couldn't wait to get me in for an interview. Terrific!

The opening was a managerial position, and the first or second thing I said to Hurd after sitting down was that I had never been a manager. Hurd laughed and told me sometimes it was a good thing never to have trod those managerial corridors, when you think about who's done that before. It was an inside joke - my hubby, who works for Hurd, had told him a few stories about the nightmare bosses that had come before Hurd. So we kind of chuckled, and I thought it was a relaxed start to the thing, and a nice vibe was established.

The interview went well - he kind of soft-balled his questions. "What would be your ideal place to work?" I'm thinking, either he's just going through the motions, or he likes me and this whole thing is just a formality. (Wouldn't that be nice.)

As we were wrapping up he said, "The only thing that matters to me is how you sound," [this is a radio gig], and I was blown away by your tape. Just wanted you to know."

Before cutting me lose, Hurd mentioned that he knew one of my former employers, let's call him Zeke. I worked with Zeke for a few months in 2006 and had never really gotten along too well with him. I didn't write him down as a reference, so hearing his name kind of threw me for a loop. Hurd said, "Yeah, Zeke's in Dallas now!"

Good, I hope he stays there! So my heart is sinking, because radio folk are big yakkers, and I figured the first thing Hurd will do is call up Zeke and find out what kind of employee I had been.

Hurd says he's making a decision in two weeks. So two weeks come and go, and meanwhile my hubby says he's been trying to get anything from Hurd as to whether I'm still in the running. Hurd tells him I am.

More waiting, and then one day Hurd mentions to hubby that they found someone else to fill the position I had applied for. Just kind of casual-like, and meantime I've had no email correspondence from Hurd. Hubby pressed him for more info, and Hurd apparently said that this one guy they interviewed had actually done the exact same job at a different company (he had been a manager), etc. etc. So, you know, it was kind of a slam dunk.

So I'm feeling annoyed that Hurd, after telling me how much he loved my tape and how impressed he was and how it didn't matter that I had no managerial experience, and how this and how that, doesn't even bother to tell me I didn't get the job. A bit rude.

I'm also peeved that what he told me in the interview has turned out not to be true - the only thing that mattered WASN'T how I sounded. My lack of managerial experience actually DID matter, apparently. So why didn't he mention that? I mean, if that was the requirement, why waste my time?

I think it's possible that Hurd actually liked me and recommended me to his managers, and they were the ones who put the kibosh on me for whatever reason. And that reason could be anything - my field is insanely competitive.

But I also have a sick feeling that my former boss, Zeke, from 2006, said something negative about me to Hurd. I have no idea what it would be, I just don't know the guy well - hated working for him, and wouldn't trust him to give me a good reference.

I suppose I just need to get over this crap and move on. But I'm worried about the possibility that I was somehow slandered. I've scoured employee-related sites about this. Some people insist that a former employer can't give a negative reference because it's illegal. But according to Ask a Manager, it's NOT illegal to say something negative about a former employee, as long as it's true!

Ha. I love how she just leaves it at that, like it's black and white. Of course I would maintain that anything negative Zeke said about me would be false. But Zeke would counter with, Well, this is my opinion. It's a gray area, in other words.

It's also possible that Hurd, liking my hubby and wanting to do right by him, agreed to interview me as a kind of charity move. But it didn't feel like that.

Okay, Green, I need your reality checks here. Am I slowly becoming crazy and paranoid, like other unemployed people I know? I don't want to get all pathetic, but ever since my previous job dumped me out of the wheelbarrow a few months ago, I've been walking around feeling like hazardous waste. I'm an over-40 woman, if that makes any difference. I know it's harder to find stuff at my age, yada yada. Anyway, any words of wisdom, encouragement or insight would really help me right now.
posted by cartoonella to Work & Money (26 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
 
You're not giving Zeke as a reference at other jobs, and there's nothing you can do to make them change their decision about this job. What answer could anyone give that would change your situation? What action could you possibly take, other than not obsessing over this particular rejection, that would have a positive outcome?
posted by animalrainbow at 12:06 PM on December 6, 2013 [3 favorites]


Thanks animalrainbow - I guess my point is that Zeke has worked around a lot, and radio is an inbred industry. Everybody knows everybody. I'm quaking at the thought that other people I may interview with could also know the guy, and that this nightmare will continue. He's on my resume because he's a former manager - though not my most recent one.
posted by cartoonella at 12:11 PM on December 6, 2013 [1 favorite]


What difference does it make, really? It's a done deal, and you're probably never going to know what happened behind the scenes.

Anyway, focusing your resentment on Hurd, or on Zeke for that matter, is just a waste of energy that could be better spent finding the next thing.

I mean, sure, take the weekend to feel disappointed and lick your wounds. But next week? FISHDO: fuck it, shit happens, drive on.
posted by ottereroticist at 12:12 PM on December 6, 2013 [3 favorites]


Hurd said that the only thing that mattered to him was how you sounded. It wasn't the only thing that mattered. Even though he's the hiring manager, the decision wasn't his alone.

Also, you don't know how the other guy sounded.

You're not being crazy or paranoid, but there are a million more likely explanations - you're worrying yourself sick over a lot of uncertainties (you don't know if he talked to Zeke - and bear in mind that Zeke was your boss seven years ago, so wouldn't be the first person Hurd would talk to, you don't know what kind of reference Zeke would give you if called upon to do so) and ignoring a lot of hard facts (the other guy did this exact job, your field is competitive, the decision wasn't solely Hurd's to make). Zeke probably didn't cost you this job, and as animalrainbow says, even if he did (unlikely), it's not like there's actually anything you can do about it besides be classy and take the high road.
posted by FAMOUS MONSTER at 12:13 PM on December 6, 2013 [1 favorite]


But according to Ask a Manager, it's NOT illegal to say something negative about a former employee, as long as it's true!

Of course! Why wouldn't this be the case? What would be the point of checking references, if they were barred from saying anything negative about you?

I'm sorry you didn't get the job, but I would not dwell on this. Maybe it was Zeke, maybe they really did find somebody else, maybe you stepped on a butterfly and it caused dinosaurs to become the dominant life on the planet.
posted by Sticherbeast at 12:13 PM on December 6, 2013 [5 favorites]


Hurd sounds like he has an over-developed need to be liked, which is not your problem. The excessively chummy interview, praising you a lot in the interview and placating your worries when they were in fact valid, softball questions, avoiding calling you directly to tell you that you were not getting the job...

I wouldn't worry too much about Zeke. Though Hurd was spineless, it sounds like he picked the person with more applicable experience.
posted by cecic at 12:14 PM on December 6, 2013 [21 favorites]


Unfortunately this is one of those situations where you just don't know and likely will never know the true workings behind the outcome. The best and friendliest thing you can do for yourself and (your husband) is to accept that someone more qualified was the successful applicant, everything you have done was correct and true to yourself and there is no point worrying over things which are out of your control.
posted by Under the Sea at 12:15 PM on December 6, 2013


If you are worried about Zeke potentially torpedoing future opportunities you should reach out to him. LinkedIn, email, whatever. Just establish contact, congratulate him on a new position or whatever. Blow a little smoke about something positive that you took out of your time working for him (there must be something?), wish him happy holidays and move on. Next time someone reaches out to him it won't be about "that person who I didn't really get on with 7 years ago" it will be "that person who I last chatted with a couple of months ago, whose career I had a positive effect on"
posted by IanMorr at 12:18 PM on December 6, 2013 [6 favorites]


You didn't get the job. That sucks.

However I think you are winding yourself up into a conspiracy tizzy about it.

Maybe your ex-coworker talked some smack, and maybe your interviewer is card-carrying member of the old boy's club. That could all be true, but it will not change the outcome of the situation.

What is your goal here? Do you want the job where it was decided they don't want you? How long you figure you want to work there if you get it?

Just move on and do something cooler. Don't let this perceived injustice poison your soul as it relates to your work.

As a former radio/voiceover guy? I promise you it is very hard to sound happy for a commercial, when you hate the people you work for.
posted by timsteil at 12:21 PM on December 6, 2013


Of course! Why wouldn't this be the case? What would be the point of checking references, if they were barred from saying anything negative about you?

To elaborate on this, let me tell you how reference checks are actually done:

1) You list references for your new potential employer. You pick people yo expect will give you *good* references, for obvious reasons. These people can be *anyone*!

2) Someone at your new employer calls those references. When they answer the phone, they hear something like, "Hi, I'm Blah Blah from Company X, we're considering hiring Person Y, who says they formerly worked with you. Would you mind if we talked for a few minutes?" Then a short discussion happens.

3) At no point in this process does anyone get any legal counsel .There are no lawyers. The "references" are usually *not* in HR with lots of training about what can and can't be said in certain situations. So, even if it were illegal to give a "bad reference" (which is ridiculous), the people on the phone wouldn't necessarily know that. Imagine what yo would do if you got a phone call asking about a former co-worker? What would you say? That's exactly how this process works.

And more directly on the topic in the question? Is it possible that Hurd called Zeke? Sure! It's also possible he called his mother, or your mother, or his fortune teller. He can consult with anybody he wants in the whole world before hiring you. If he happens to know the King of Brunei, he can call him up and ask about this potential job candidate he's considering hiring.

He can also *really, really like you* and still decide to hire someone else. One time I considered going on a vacation in Croatia. It seemed like it'd be a ton of fun and an awesome trip. And then I decided to go to Greece instead. It wasn't because I wouldn't have had a good time in Croatia. It was just because I decided to go to Greece instead.
posted by tylerkaraszewski at 12:26 PM on December 6, 2013 [7 favorites]


Even if Zeke did say something negative which I highly doubt, there is not much of anything to do from a practical sense other than take his name off your resume. I do not know what a resume should look like in the radio biz, but if you can, just list the station, the job and the responsibilities and don't list the name of the person who may or may not have said something negative.
posted by JohnnyGunn at 12:33 PM on December 6, 2013


I've

I'd also consider sending a pleasant and professional note to Hurd. You got on well, he liked your voice, and other positions may come along.
posted by tardigrade at 12:34 PM on December 6, 2013 [6 favorites]


I like the idea of reaching out to Zeke. You can use social media or even call him up if you feel like it wouldn't be too out there to do so. Bring him back into the fold, you never know how that could go.

And you should follow up with a nice note to Hurd: "Hey, I heard that you found a different candidate for the position, just wanted to thank you again for the opportunity to interview and I hope all goes well for you. Keep your ear out for any leads for me!"

Again, you never know what could happen there. Maybe the person they hired flames out and Hurd calls you up again -- if you've sent the message out there that you're professional and likeable, that can only be positive for you.
posted by amanda at 12:39 PM on December 6, 2013 [7 favorites]


there are services available out there now which will pretend to be your prospective employer while calling zeke and taking his temperature regarding negative references about you. if he says he didn't like you, nothing you can do, if he says you were a crackhead, yes, you could sue him for slander.
posted by bruce at 12:45 PM on December 6, 2013 [1 favorite]


Get someone you know to call in a fake reference request to Zeke. Are you close enough to anyone in any HR or managerial position that you could ask to do this for you? They would simply call up Zeke and tell him they're considering you for a position and you put him down as a reference. Then they report back to you on what Zeke says about you.
posted by ZabeLeeZoo at 12:47 PM on December 6, 2013 [2 favorites]


I'd also consider sending a pleasant and professional note to Hurd. You got on well, he liked your voice, and other positions may come along.

This for the win. A upbeat but honest note saying thanks to him for passing the news on via hubby, and that although you're disappointed this time you enjoyed meeting with him and will continue to work on your skills and look out for opportunities with org/in sector.

It really will help you to get unstuck and move on.

I've done this before and have twice been directly contacted by the hiring manager later, once with a contact for a job in another org, and once to offer me a different (better!) job than the one I originally went for. Solid experience and likeability in the interview coupled with graceful follow up can go a long way. Good luck!
posted by freya_lamb at 12:51 PM on December 6, 2013 [8 favorites]


This is a common scenario in every industry.

You'll get the glad hand from a hiring manager, they'll bring you in to meet for an entire afternoon with 5 different people. Each one will make you feel like their hope of heaven, and in the end, you don't even get a "thanks, but no thanks" email.

This isn't personal. It FEELS personal though.

Zeke probably did slag you, but then there are tons of folks out there who think Zeke is an ass.

Move on, and make them wish they picked you by doing well elsewhere.

Do send a short thank you. You never know, the guy they hired might not work out.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 1:08 PM on December 6, 2013 [5 favorites]


He's on my resume because he's a former manager - though not my most recent one.

I don't think I've ever seen a resume that listed former managers exhaustively (or even a most recent manager) except in a references section, which is itself not as common as "References available upon request." So unless this is just the done thing in your industry, one way to mitigate Zeke's impact is to remove those other people from your resume completely.

If there's a formal application that asks for your employment history, including the name of a manager or contact, it's legitimate to give the phone number of the HR office that can verify your employment since your manager has moved on. People very often lose contact with former managers who leave their roles. For many purposes, listing an HR contact is actually the most pertinent, helpful information you can give.
posted by Monsieur Caution at 1:25 PM on December 6, 2013 [4 favorites]


I think it sounds like you got edged out by someone with narrowly better qualifications. I wouldn't let 'was I slandered?' take up real estate in your brain. First, it's unlikely to be true -- the reason given is the most likely reason you weren't hired. Secondly, it will feel exactly like you are drinking spoonfuls of poison.
posted by A Terrible Llama at 1:38 PM on December 6, 2013


Also, about Hurd's enthusiasm...keep in mind all your friends and acquaintances who say you look AMAZING!!!

And then they try a new kind of beer that you HAVE TO TRY OMG IT'S AMAZING!!!!
posted by nevercalm at 1:40 PM on December 6, 2013


"The opening was a managerial position, and the first or second thing I said to Hurd after sitting down was that I had never been a manager."

Nooooo!!! Say it isn't so! Zeke didn't slander you. *You* slandered you when you voluntarily opened the interview in an "insanely competitive field" with a unnecessary, totally unsolicited statement about Why You Feel You Were Unqualified For The Job. Who needs "enemies" like Zeke when you voluntarily undermine yourself like that?

Please take @freya_lamb's advice upthread and pen an "upbeat but honest note saying thanks for passing the news on via hubby, and that although you're disappointed this time you enjoyed meeting with him and will continue to work on your skills and look out for opportunities with org/in sector."
posted by hush at 2:08 PM on December 6, 2013 [7 favorites]


Eh, I've had this happen recently. I was a total shoe in for a position outside of my area but within my capabilities, but I was the first interview. And better people were interviewed after me who had essentially done the exact same job before (and had insider knowledge). HR sounded really sorry when she told me. But, what are you going to do? Turn it into a win - I got another opportunity to do something in my exact area instead - if you haven't managed before, think of all the stress you've just saved yourself. :o)
posted by heyjude at 2:38 PM on December 6, 2013 [1 favorite]


You can't do anything about situations in which your potential future employer knows someone you would never give as a reference, but if you want to find out what the references you are giving are actually saying about you to potential employers who contact them, this is a service I've used myself and was quite happy with: http://www.allisontaylor.com/
posted by Jacqueline at 2:48 PM on December 6, 2013 [1 favorite]


So I'm feeling annoyed that Hurd, after telling me how much he loved my tape and how impressed he was and how it didn't matter that I had no managerial experience, and how this and how that, doesn't even bother to tell me I didn't get the job. A bit rude.

I'm also peeved that what he told me in the interview has turned out not to be true - the only thing that mattered WASN'T how I sounded. My lack of managerial experience actually DID matter, apparently. So why didn't he mention that? I mean, if that was the requirement, why waste my time?

You need to let this go. Have you looked for work recently? This is how it works.

I'm an actor. I audition a lot, and ninety-nine percent of the time I hear, "Good work. I really liked [blah blah blah]. Are you available to work such and such date?" And that has no bearing on whether or not I get a callback. I've had job interviews in which the interviewer has bent over backwards to tell me how awesome I am, and didn't get the job. But the job interview in which I thought I blew it? Got that one.

You need to toughen up and stop fixating on how other people in this situation have wronged you. It would have been nice for Hurd to tell you right away that you didn't get the job, but other than, he didn't do anything wrong. You got edged out by someone with better qualifications, and that's, unfortunately, how the cookie crumbles. This time. There will be other jobs, and this wasn't you last chance. Chin up!
posted by ablazingsaddle at 3:59 PM on December 6, 2013 [3 favorites]


Of course it's not illegal for a company to give a bad reference, but a lot of companies won't do it as a matter of policy, out of fear of being sued (not that such a suit would be on very solid ground, but anyone can sue over anything, and defending against even a frivolous suit is an expensive time-waster). The only reference they'll give is to confirm that so and so worked there between such and such dates.
posted by adamrice at 4:21 PM on December 6, 2013 [1 favorite]


Don't worry so much about one dude ruining your reputation; even if he did talk shit, realize that's happening to everyone else applying to every other job ever and most if not all hiring managers know to take it with a grain of salt. Unless you actually did something seriously bad (like not showing up for weeks or stealing stuff), a bad reference is not that big of a deal.

I agree with a PP that you undersold yourself in the interview, so definitely work on that for the future.

But one thing is jumping out at me — this guy is also your husband's manager? That would make it very hard to get an actual read on what they think of you; if they like your husband and want to keep him happy, of course they'll bring you in and of course they'll be super nice to you, even if you aren't actually what they're looking for.

I don't think it was very professional of them to deal with you through your husband rather than talking to you directly, but it's also not surprising to me. Some managers can be really weird about couples because they fear the fallout of marital drama in the workplace.

Anyway, as others have said, it's unfortunately pretty common for conflict-averse hiring managers to talk to you like you're the greatest thing ever and then just fade away. It sucks but is part of the job hunt.
posted by annekate at 4:48 PM on December 6, 2013 [3 favorites]


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