How To Warn About Bad Reference

Question to Ask the Workplace Doctors about a potentially bad reference:

How do I warn a potential employer that my current work may not give a great reference?”


I work in a very small field and my company has a high turnover rate. I have a job interview with a similar company. I KNOW that this new company will want some sort of reference from my current company (whether it be supervisor, coworker), but no one will do so because now they are closely watching and people recently got in trouble for referring former employees.

I don’t want to air out any bad laundry during a job interview. But, my prospective job company’s director knows my company’s director and a sort of informal call will take place regarding my candidacy. What can I say at the interview to warn/give a heads up that my reference might not be glowing and I might get a bad reference,┬ábecause the company is trying to prevent employees from leaving?




Dear Concerned:

If you have the opportunity to make a general statement in your interview or if you are asked about what kind of reference you think you will receive, you can say that you are confident that if the person giving the reference is aware of your work, you will get a great reference. Then, give the reason for that.

For example: “Sometimes my current company just gives basic information about someone’s employment there. But, if they give an accurate reference about my work, it will be excellent. In my last three performance appraisals I was rated Outstanding in every category. My immediate boss,Judith Green, has complimented me dozens of times for the quality of my work and my ability to get along with others.” That way a bad reference will at least be enough of a surprise to the potential employer that they may question further.

Even if you aren’t asked directly, you should look for specific ways to show that you are considered an excellent employee. The best way is to give examples, especially if you can refer to performance appraisals.

Best wishes to you with this. If you have the time and wish to do so, let us know what happens.

Tina Lewis Rowe

Tina Lewis Rowe

Tina had a thirty-three year career in law enforcement, serving with the Denver Police Department from 1969-1994 and was the Presidential United States Marshal for Colorado from 1994-2002. She provides training to law enforcement organizations and private sector groups and does conference presentations related to leadership, workplace communications and customized topics. Her style is inspirational with humor.