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Friday Forum – Reference From a Manager You Didn’t Get Along With?

Welcome to the Friday Forum!

Every Friday, we take a question submitted by one of our users and have our professionals field it and provide advice.  We then encourage members of the Need a New Gig community to comment below and give their take!

Here is This Week’s Question:

Brent asks:

“Hi, I’m in the process of interviewing for a new position, and I think that I am getting close to receiving an offer.  I received a call from their HR department today and they asked that I pass along my references.  

They said that they preferred to speak with past managers or supervisors.  I am a little hesitant to pass along my Manager’s name from my previous job, as we didn’t have a great relationship.  While my work product was good, I am a little nervous that he may say something that could cost me the job.  

What do you do if you need a reference from a past manager, but you didn’t get along with the person, and are nervous about what he or she will say?”

Reference checking is a key piece to the hiring process for many organizations.  Employers use this as one way to ensure that you are who you say you are.  Typically they will ask to speak to a previous manager or supervisor, because they want to hear about your experience from someone that you directly worked for.  With that being said, there are ways to get around an old boss that won’t give a strong, positive reference.

Who Can Be On Your List?

The majority of the time, employers will only call the references that you provide.  This gives you the opportunity to avoid that uncertain reference by only giving the good ones.   So who should you have on your list?  When it comes to looking for a new job, we recommend keeping your references professional.  This includes:

  • Past managers/supervisors
  • Past co-workers
  • People who report or reported to you
  • Clients
  • Professors/Teachers

Using a current manager or co-worker is also an option, but it can be risky, so proceed with caution.  If he or she is not aware that you are looking for a new position, it could cause some serious issues!  I also recommend avoiding family members, friends, or anyone else who can’t speak to your work product.

Once you have identified these individuals, you should reach out to them for a few reasons.  First off, you want to confirm that they don’t mind being a reference for you.  Second, you want to ensure that you have their current contact information.  Finally, you want to give them a heads up that you are actively interviewing, and that folks may be reaching out.

Create Your Reference List

Now that you have identified some good options, it is time to create your reference list.  You should craft a document that professionally lists your references, along with their contact information, and your relationship to them.  If you don’t have something to start with, or you aren’t sure how to create the document, use our FREE Reference List Template.  We make it super easy!  The template is pre-formatted so you just need to fill it in, and you are ready to go.  Download it Now for FREE!

We recommend using three to four professional references.  If you have personal references those can be added, but it isn’t recommended to list more then five or six in total.

There is some strategy when it comes to crafting your list.  Typically, you want your best references listed first, in case the employer doesn’t call them all.  We recommend putting your best “manager reference” first, and then go from there.  It is also important to review your references, to see which ones may be the most relevant to the position you are interviewing for.  For example, if you are interviewing for an accounting position, you shouldn’t list your former manager from the college book store first.

As I mentioned above, as long as you can provide a list with professional references to an employer, you should be in good shape.  Make sure that you have at least one previous manager.  This may help avoid the employer from asking to speak with the boss you didn’t get along with.

What if They Still Ask?

Even if you provide a great list of references, there is always the chance that they still may ask to speak directly to the manager that you are concerned about.  If this happens you have a few options.


The first thing that you can do is try to reconnect with your former boss.  Send a friendly e-mail, reach out on LinkedIn, or place a quick call.  You can keep it short and sweet, but make sure that you are pleasant, and let them know that someone may be calling.

Here is an example:

“Hi [Manager’s Name],

I hope you are doing well!  I can’t believe that I have been gone from [company name] for over two years! 

I know that it has been awhile since we have chatted, but I wanted to send a quick note to let you know that I have been interviewing for a position with [company name].  I am really excited about this role, and I think it could be a great opportunity for me.  The Hiring Manager asked if they could reach out to my former employers, so I wanted to give you the heads up in case someone gave you a call.

At any rate, I hope things are going well on your side!



You may be surprised that sometimes this little note may be all you need.  That former boss may take the call and while they might not sing your praises, they will provide enough information that will help you land the job.

Make a Substitution

If you don’t feel like rekindling the flame with your old boss, you can always try to sub in a different reference.  Try to find another contact at the same organization who supervised you at some point, or even someone that you had a dotted line reporting structure to.  This could be your manager’s boss, or even someone that supervised you on a project.  Once you identify that contact and get their approval, you can ask the employer if that reference would suffice.

For example:

“I have been trying to reach my previous manager to see if you could call him, and I haven’t heard back.  I did have a dotted line to the Vice President, and he said that he would be open to a conversation.  Would that work?”

This is another option that has a high success rate!

Say No

If all else fails and you have no other options, you can always turn down the employer’s request to speak with that manager.  Yes, it might raise a few red flags, but if your other references are solid, this may be a better option than having them speak with the previous manager.

For Example:

“At this time I did not get approval to use my past manager as a reference, so I would prefer if you did not reach out to him.  I know that he is very busy, and he typically doesn’t return these types of calls.  Is there any way you can use the references provided, or is there someone else I can try to get for you?”


At the end of the day, references should be a no brainer.  If someone is going to give you a bad reference, you shouldn’t put them on your list.  Wrack your brain and think about those people that you really enjoyed working for, who valued and appreciated your efforts.  Reach out and give them a heads up, and you should be in good shape.  If you still run into a situation where they want to talk to that bad boss, use the pointers above!

What are Your Thoughts? Comment Below!

Dan Metz is the Director of Executive Search and Employee Development at the Resilience Group, LLC, and Co-Founder and Contributing Author for Need a New Gig.  Follow his blog for more great tips like this!

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