Help me help my dad
March 21, 2006 12:28 PM   Subscribe

How much of an effect does a bad reference have on getting a job?

My dad is an incredibly hard-working and competent man who has worked in his field for over 25 years and has been in a management position for over ten of those years. He is a Service Manager at a diesel truck repair shop and loves what he does. However, he hates his boss and the company he works for, for valid reasons including the fact that he is paid 20K less than his predecessor despite marked increases in productivity and profitability since he started.

What he wants more than anything is to leave his current job and work as the regional Service Manager (or similar position) for a large truck and engine company. He applied for the position and was invited for an interview. As a part of the interview process, the company called his references and his boss (who was not listed as a reference). Although his references are great, his boss admits to saying some very negative things about my dad.

The rejection letter arrived today. My dad is devastated. How likely is it that the comments his boss made affected the outcome? What are his options at this point? How do I encourage him to get out there and try again? Thank you.
posted by chicken nuglet to Work & Money (22 answers total)
They called his boss, even though he wasn't listed as a reference?

That's very uncool.

Anyway, the answer to your question is Yes, it did affect his chances. Or most likely anyhow. I really don't think most employers would do such a thing, though. Maybe if he could explain the situation in a positive way as part of the interview process?
posted by selfnoise at 12:36 PM on March 21, 2006

I'm sure that had an effect.

But they should not have called his boss. In fact, it's not unreasonable to specifically ask them not to (if you don't want your boss knowing you're looking for a new job.)
posted by Count Ziggurat at 12:41 PM on March 21, 2006

How likely is it that the comments his boss made affected the outcome?

How is anyone going to know except the person who made the decision?

What are his options at this point?

To keep at a job he hates or to get back up and keep looking until he is satisfied. This is the piece of useful advice I have: make it clear to future potential employers that they are NOT to contact his present employer. Reasonable employers understand that it can be awkward to do that. Your dad just needs to say "Please don't contact my current boss. He doesn't know that I'm looking." (Even if that's not true. This is a luxury that you get when looking for a new job while currently employed.)

How do I encourage him to get out there and try again?

By letting him know that he doesn't have to be worried about his current boss's opinion.
posted by Mayor Curley at 12:41 PM on March 21, 2006

"How likely is it that the comments his boss made affected the outcome?"


But he should just keep trying. Not every potential employer will want or need to contact his boss.
As a little tale of support, a friend of mine was recently in a similar situation. She didn't get along with her former boss at all, and didn't ask her for references when she applied for jobs. Using two other references she eventually managed to land a job and her boss was never asked for reference.
So it's possible! Keep trying, Chicken Nuglet's dad!
posted by easternblot at 12:44 PM on March 21, 2006

They called his current employer? Calling the current employer of a candidate is way out-of-bounds unless they had explicit permission to do so. It is the kind of thing that should make you second-guess an offer if it had come anyway.

Did his current boss already know he was looking for another job?
posted by mullacc at 12:45 PM on March 21, 2006

Wow, that's very unusual. Saying negative things about a person during a reference check can open up a huge legal liability (I don't know if that's true but lots of people seem to believe it). A lot of companies have rules against even giving references for this reason. In theory, I guess your dad could sue over his bosses' comments.

On of the main investors of a company I worked for once got called on a reference about a former CEO of that company who sucked (apparently, this was before my time). Anyway, the financer guy, who's famous said "Legally, all I can tell you is that he worked from this date to that date..."

Unfortunately, that company decided to actually check the guy's references about a month after they hired him.

So anyway, if I was a Hiring manager, and I heard a bunch of crap from someone's boss it would be a huge red flag. Sure the guy could just have an asshole boss, but I'd worry about hiring someone who could build up so much enmity at his work place.
posted by delmoi at 12:46 PM on March 21, 2006

A friend of mine has been rejected for quite a few jobs. Another friend called his boss pretending to be a prospective employer, and there it was, the previous employer was actually making an effort to make him look as bad as possible. Now my friend simply omits this job in his resume (it's a 2-month job, and he has just graduated, so there isn't any long void...)
posted by qvantamon at 12:49 PM on March 21, 2006

Calling someone's boss without explicit permission is a major no-no in job interview land. Your father really doesn't want to work with that employer anyway. Curley's advice is dead-on for future interviews - say exactly that, "Please don't contact my current boss. He doesn't know that I'm looking."

If the prospective employer still contacts the boss, they're a prick, and you don't want to work for them anyway.

Will the job hunt be easy? I doubt it. There can't be that many companies in the diesel engine field. Try to broaden the search a bit.

Should he continue with the job hunt? Absolutely. Things aren't going to get any better at his current job.

Has he considered opening his own shop? And poaching all the good mechanics from his current job?
posted by jellicle at 12:51 PM on March 21, 2006

Wow, what a shitty thing to do. I'd want to know what specifically was said. If any of it was factually inaccurate, ask the boss to correct those statements promptly. If he refuses, you could ask an attorney whether it's slander. But tread lightly there, since suing your boss makes a much worse impression on future employers.

This jerk will continue to sabotage any attempts to leave, then exploit the fact that he's trapping your dad in this dead-end. To move out/up, your dad is going to need ways to show that he is much better than that reference.

Does your dad have any written work evaluations? Have any of the managers, colleagues, or clients even sent specific compliments that could be shown/quoted? Gather up all the records of professional performance, including anything that shows the extent of his role in increasing the productivity/profitability. If it's too late for the current application, he'll need it for the next one.
posted by nakedcodemonkey at 12:51 PM on March 21, 2006

You can also approach it from the perspective of: would he really want to work for someone that would do that to him?

He may want to also find out what the boss said and listen with an open mind. No one is perfect and perhaps there are some trouble spots or weaknesses. Most people usually get asked the weakness/improvement question, and if he indeed finds that he agrees with the boss on one, and then the interviewer calls the boss, it might not look so bad.

It may also be possible that the boss' comments weren't taken as seriously as you suspect, and there was simply a better candidate. I would think that most people know that unless the candidate has a totally supportive boss, it's going to be hard for the boss to be all "rah rah" when they're in a conversation where they could lose an employee.

That said, I'm pretty shocked the boss did that since I believe there's been a spate of lawsuits filed for exactly what you've described. Here's an article from Inc. magazine that talks all about bad references, legal ramifications, etc.

For the guy to do that was totally bad form, most places will not call your current boss unless you okay it, though not everyone plays by the rules, especially if you're going within the same industry and the interviewer knows your boss.
posted by ml98tu at 12:54 PM on March 21, 2006

I would say that to make sure that he emphasizes the facts about his record in a future interview - it's tough for your dad's current boss to say anything bad about "productivity increased by X."

Is it out of the question to repair the relationships at his current job? It could make looking for a new position easier - the more he and his boss don't get along, the more his boss will look to make life difficult for him.

It's tough to know what might have affected a hiring decision. If it's his reputation he's concerned about, could your dad arrange to have lunch with one of his interviewers, ask them to keep him in mind, and subtly correct any bad impression his boss made?
posted by KAS at 1:09 PM on March 21, 2006

Calling the current employer ... is the kind of thing that should make you second-guess an offer if it had come anyway.

Agreed. You don't want a job with someone that would do that. Regardless of whether you hire someone or not, calling the current employer jeopardizes his current job. He could fail to get the job with the new company AND lose his current job. This is remarkably bad and thankfully quite rare. Keep trying.
posted by frogan at 1:16 PM on March 21, 2006

I don't make hiring decisions, but if I did I wouldn't ever hire anyone who didn't list their current employer as a reference. I understand this would weed out some good people, but on the whole if I'm going to take a chance I'd rather be safe then sorry. My bet is that most companies would rather miss the occasional good worker than hire a bad one.

My guess is this has quiet a substantial effect on his prospects of being hired. Can he acquire written performance reviews and use them in lieu of a verbal reference? Some companies might take those if he says he's worried about repercussions of his boss finding out he's looking for another job. The trick, of course, is getting written performance evals.
posted by tiamat at 1:31 PM on March 21, 2006

It's possible that they called the boss to get verification of employment, and that the boss managed to use this as an opportunity to editorialize on your dad's character.

This happened to me, and it did nearly prevent me from getting my current job. As it was, I'm pretty sure my starting salary was altered because if this, and a certain stigma followed me for awhile. It sucked.

Next interview, he should make it clear that they shouldn't call his boss (because it would harm the working relationship, not because the guy is a jerk.)
posted by desuetude at 1:33 PM on March 21, 2006

You have two problems.

His current boss is now looking for someone new (now that he knows your father is looking for a different job)...

AS WELL as the lossage of the potential for a new one.

Saying something bad about him is defamation. Have someone call, mention that they're recording the phone call (or that they might be recording it) for their own security system, and ask him the same question.

Please see here and here

First link Monster, second missouri law. I'm sure it varies...but not as much as you'd think. Talk to local lawyer of course.
posted by filmgeek at 1:39 PM on March 21, 2006

On the defamation point, I'm under the impression that in Ireland (at least) it's against the law to give a bad reference. They can either be glowing, or not glowing; prospective employers are given enough credit to read between the lines on that one.
posted by macdara at 2:14 PM on March 21, 2006

I don't make hiring decisions, but if I did I wouldn't ever hire anyone who didn't list their current employer as a reference.

If you were in the position to make hiring decisions, you'd understand why yours is an unacceptable attitude.

It sounds as though his current (and potential future) employers both engaged in horribly unethical conduct, some of which is probably actionable.
posted by I Love Tacos at 2:41 PM on March 21, 2006

At my company, the rule is clear: we only verify employment beginning/end dates. The legal risk truly is very high. It goes right to a person's ability to make a living and that can cause people to become litigious in a hurry. Civil suits can kill a company. Frankly, most of these kinds of things, in my state at least, are settled for Cost of Defense plus change. Sound advice to employers is verify - don't clarify. (Good, bad or indifferent.)

Good luck to your dad.
posted by Gerard Sorme at 6:10 PM on March 21, 2006

I wonder if tiamat has ever been involved in an HR situation of any kind, even--looking for a job, vetting a candidate, anything. How is someone expected to look for a job while employed? Are you supposed to tell your current employer that you're looking? What if your search doesn't work out? What happens to your job security then? Jeez.

On topic, though, I used to know several HR people very well, and have talked with them about similar subjects--they're very serious about the possibility of getting sued because of giving a bad reference, and put a great deal of emphasis on this when talking to people that might be called for a reference.

Of course, it would be a good idea to avoid suing someone if possible, but if this boss scuttles anything else for him, it might be something to think about thinking about.
posted by lackutrol at 7:48 PM on March 21, 2006

macdara: I wasn't aware that it was against the law to give a bad reference here. I know that you can ask for a "So and so worked here from dateA to dateB" reference without any editorializing, which I guess is the same thing, really.

As for what your dad's boss did, I agree that it could very well be something that is very much against the law. I would check up with Arizona's labour laws to see. Also, what the prospective employer did is incredibly unethical, and also jeopardized your father's CURRENT job, which could very well put them in a tenuous legal position as well.
posted by antifuse at 3:14 AM on March 22, 2006

I don't know of anyone who lists their current employer as a reference. This is standard in job land. No prospective employer expects your current boss to be encouraging of your moving companies, especially if you're someone worth hiring. Frankly, I would not want to work for a firm that called my current employer without asking me. Tell your dad that he dodged a bullet.
posted by lemur at 6:18 AM on March 22, 2006

What jellicle said. It was poor form for the prospective employer to call the boss.
posted by misanthropicsarah at 7:18 AM on March 22, 2006

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