John Hadley's Career Accelerator Blog
Seek Answers to Your Career / Career Search Challenges

February 2009
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Former Boss Sabotages Reference Checks
Filed under: Networking, Interview, Performance
Posted by: John Hadley @ 1:45 pm

“I have one documented reference check on my most recent former boss, which shows that she talked in detail responding to questions about items in my resume with the caller.  This is totally against company policy, which I drafted while I worked there and implemented with our department, which is to only verify dates of employment and titles on telephone requests for information on former employees, and not provide any other information on an employee without a written authorization from the employee to do so. She said things like this: 

- when asked if I provided full scope recruiting assistance as stated in my resume, she “clarified” that I did not recruit employees, just did recruiting coordination. 

This is false, because I had full involvement in recruiting from administering the employee requisition system through placing employment ads to drug screening and employment reference checking to interviewing to preparing job offers to performing new hire orientations. 

Why my former boss is doing this is a mystery to me.  We did not part on bad terms, and I was specifically told that I was not being cut due to any performance or personal issues.  I had seven years of good to excellent performance evaluations and various recognition awards on a regular basis.

Whatever the reason, it really worries and bothers me.  It is more and more apparent that I am losing financially by losing opportunities because of what someone is saying about me.  I know it is defamation and I know I could go to a lawyer but I’m much more interested in other more creative, positive ways to gain a new career opportunity beyond the reach of this person’s bad intentions. 

I don’t know if being proactive and saying that my most recent boss is not giving me a truthful reference and I don’t know why and I don’t want employers contacting her would be something that will cripple my job prospects as much as letting them call and talk to her.

It is looking like the best thing to do at this point is to contact her and ask her not to give any information about me other than verifying my employment, per company policy, possibly through my lawyer.  I think it will be better not to have a real reference from her than to have her giving out false information that is costing me job offers.  Someone suggested I ask her for a written reference to give employers instead of a call, and I guess I could try that, but I’m afraid she’ll say no because I got a (weak) letter of reference with my severance agreement. I have been more focused on finding ways to tell prospective employers verbally that they do not have my permission to talk to her and explain it in a positive way.  I do have plenty of other references from people who know my skills, experience, abilities, interests, character and work ethics, but she is a key, being my most recent direct supervisor for the last seven years.”

That’s a very frustrating position to be in!

First thought - what evidence do you have that it is your former boss’s bad reference that is the problem?  Have you been told that by the company after their reference check?  Are you certain there isn’t more to it than that, and whatever feedback from the boss is just the easy excuse they use for turning you down?

Assuming it truly is the boss, examine carefully what the boss would be saying about you and why.  What, if anything, did you contribute to the situation that might lead him / her to give negative feedback?

Next, think about what you have done or can do to ensure that whatever led to the negative feedback will never happen again.  Construct your confident story about the situation, what you learned from it, and how you will deal with these situations in the future.  No one expects perfection, and everyone has made mistakes in the past.  The key is to show that you’ve learned from it and won’t make the same mistake in the future.

Finally, at the point where you need to share info about past bosses, and there is a possibility of a reference check, share the bad news yourself.  If the hiring manager finds this out first from your past boss, he/she is going to feel you were hiding something, and your credibility is shot.  Be very up front.  Tell them that you didn’t separate from your past employer on the best of terms, and this is why.  And most importantly, this is what you’ve learned from it. Convince me that this is a problem in the past that won’t be a problem in the future.

You might also try reaching out to your past boss, very professionally, requesting that he/she not comment on your work (either positively or negatively) to prospective employers.  And seek positive references you can get from others that can counterbalance whatever the employer might say.

Dealing With An Unfair Termination
Filed under: General, Networking, Interview
Posted by: John Hadley @ 2:55 pm

“I was recently terminated from my employer of twelve years due to a company infraction of which I am innocent. I was fired for allegedly taking some training notes from a co-worker, which had no value to me. I am innocent but now I find myself in a situation where I have no idea how to approach a perspective employer.”

You should think about this as two separate (but linked) issues:
1. What to do about the bad mark on my employment record.
2. How to answer “Why did you leave your last employer?”

Difficult as this can be emotionally, you need to work at putting your natural anger at the unfair treatment behind you before you can really deal with #2 effectively. If networking contacts and potential hiring managers see the anger, it will interfere with making strong connections to them, and greatly diminish their interest in connecting you to possible opportunities or influential referrals. You need to come across as the consummate professional, who can talk about unfortunate occurrences without badmouthing past employers. When you are successful in doing this, people will be very impressed. You are defined much more by how you deal with your challenges than by the challenges themselves.

Regarding #1, you should see what you can do to get your record cleared. It might be worthwhile to have a consultation with an attorney well-versed in employment issues. I wouldn’t recommend suing your past employer, except as a last resort, but it may be that a letter or other contact from an attorney can result in a change in the official record to show that you left due to, say, a staff redundancy instead of “for cause.”

You will also want to spend a little time thinking about the personal issues you had with your supervisor. Be brutally honest with yourself in exploring what piece, however small, you might have contributed to those issues, and how you might have reacted differently to create a more positive response. You may want to talk through this with a trusted advisor to help you see it from a third party perspective. The key is to uncover any blind spot that could haunt you in the future, and to make sure that you are better prepared to deal with any future situation that touches on this. This could also be the making of a great story to tell in an interview about a past weakness and what you have done to work on it.

Now, let’s move on to the 2nd issue, “Why did you leave your last employer?”

Whatever the result is of attempts to clear your record, you need to be as honest as you can be without openly badmouthing your past employer. Think carefully about your answer and practice it with others, asking them to be brutally honest in their feedback. Work on it until you can deliver your message professionally and without negative emotions.

Obviously, this will be much easier for you to do if you have managed to clear your record. If you haven’t, think about answering the question in stages, depending on how deeply the other person insists on probing, and what stage in the hiring process you are in. For example, here’s one possible scenario for addressing this.

At the earliest stage, your answer could be as simple as:
“There was a misunderstanding that led to a parting of the ways.”

If the person inquires further, then you might share:
“My supervisor mistakenly thought I had taken some training notes from a co-worker, and let me go.”

If pressed further, you might say:
“Frankly, I’m disappointed that I was not afforded the opportunity to defend myself, but I’ve moved on. If you don’t mind, I would prefer to focus on why I would be an outstanding candidate for this opportunity.”

Keep in mind that if you don’t get through at least the first two stages (above) with your interviewer by the end of the conversation and it looks like they might do some fact or reference checking, you would be better off revealing the situation before they find out on their own. You don’t want them to think you were dishonest with them because you didn’t share it. To avoid that, you could volunteer the second stage yourself, and be prepared to answer any questions that arise as a result.

Finally, you should think about who you could come up with as a reference to your character and honesty, and make sure to include that person in every reference list you give out. You could even work that into your answer above, adding something like, “I pride myself on my honesty, and would encourage you to address that with any of my references.”

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Misconceptions About An Effective Job Search Campaign
Filed under: General, Networking, Career
Posted by: John Hadley @ 4:05 pm

Posted to a job board:

“So you lost your job or maybe you just quit, or maybe you are thinking of quiting. The best thing you can do for yourself is get right into an aggressive job search campaign where you can re-direct the energies, the frustration, the emotion and the creativity that you normally channeled into your regular job.

Here are the ways people are finding new jobs today. You will use most if not all of these methods:
1) Resume posting on internet Job Boards
2) Resume submission to employer web sites
3) Resume mass mailing - sending out hundreds of resumes to recruiters
4) Networking - cold calling everyone you know and everyone they know
5) Newspaper classified ads
6) Targeting selected companies”

I agree with the sentiment about re-directing energy, etc. into an aggressive job search campaign.  However, I take strong exception to the items listed, or at least their relative priorities.

Resume postings, submissions to websites, and classified ads are methods upon which many job seekers rely heavily, and are generally a trap.  It is easy to get sucked into spending many hours a day scouring places where you can submit, putting together your submissions, following up and monitoring all of your activity. 

I’m not advocating you never do these, just that you severely limit the time you spend on them, since they have a very low hit rate.  These are attempts to go through the front door, where you are in direct competition with the hundreds and hundreds of others who are seeing those same postings or ads.  I advise my clients they should spend no more than an hour a day on average dealing with everything associated with ‘internet searching.’

As to #3 (mass mailing), I have heard people (most often those selling the service) swear by this, figuring it’s the law of large numbers, but frankly, I don’t see a great deal of value.  As someone who has been on the receiving end of such campaigns, I can tell you that I almost always throw those applications away, AND I think less of the candidate from who I receive them.  Unless you make those tailored letters that have no scent of mass mailing, they simply suggest you are (1) lazy, and (2) unfocused in your search.

On the other hand, I had a client who was trying to make a change to a different role and a different industry.  She compiled a list of 20 hiring managers at target companies (#6 on the list) for the role she wanted.  We talked about what exactly she was going to do to create the strongest chance of interviews, and she wrote to the 1st 9 on her list, with the idea the next wave would go out a week later.  She never sent the 2nd wave, as the 1st 9 letters and follow-up calls secured her 3 formal and 3 informational interviews, and one resulted in the job offer she soughts.

#6 (Targeting companies), definitely you should do this…the question is, now that you’ve established your targets, what are you going to do about it?

This leads us to #3 (Networking).  Networking has the highest hit rate of all methods you can use - if you do it right - many times the hit rate of postings to company websites and job portals.  Every job I have ever accepted ultimately came through well as a very lucrative systems consulting practice.

The problem with what was said above is the link to ‘cold calling’, which feeds into most people’s fear and misconceptions of what effective networking is all about.  Don’t think of it as ‘cold calling’, as that will hold you back.  Networking is about building on the relationships you already have to build new relationships. It’s about describing to everyone you can the target you seek, and exactly why you would be a great asset to that target. It’s not about asking people about openings and handing them your resume, it’s about brainstorming with them and equipping them with a simple message that expresses the results you might bring to the right situation.

Here are 2 articles that lay out exactly what to do, and what not to do, to make your networking a huge success: 

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My Own Distractions
Filed under: General
Posted by: John Hadley @ 4:48 pm

I apologize for not posting for a few weeks.  I was out of town on business for a week with long meetings each day, prepping for much of the week before, and then prepping this past week for Your Career Forum 2009, where I had the opportunity to present to 225 people.  It was a blast!  And I’m proud of this testimonial I received on LinkedIn:

“I attended a Career Forum in New York City on the evening of February 5th, 2009. John was one of the featured speakers at the forum. I found his presentations to be excellent. He is an exceptional public speaker. His topics were resume writing and interviewing. His knowledge of the subject matters was thorough and indepth, and he presented the topics in a clear and concise manner. If you are organizing a career forum, and are looking for speakers, John is one of the best you will find. I would also like to add that in the course of the past year, I have called upon John for questions and issues that have come up in my career. He is always ready to provide advice that is quite insightful and helpful.” February 6, 2009

I promise to be more diligent in my postings, and ask in return that you comment on some of my postings.  Let’s get some good dialogue going!

And by the way, if you haven’t signed up yet, my next free tele-class “5 Secrets to Getting a Job You’ll Love!” is coming up in about a week and a half.  Get the details at:


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