“I only have 3 references from my previous job. That’s all the guys who worked there. My 2 coworkers will tell you how well I worked. The owner will only bad mouth me. He’s mad that I am leaving after 3 years.”
I called, and the owner was a terrible reference. Since I checked all the references I was able to prepare the hiring company for what I heard. They wanted to call to verify what I said. I cautioned them to find out what really ticked off the old boss. It was things like, “He only gave me 6 weeks notice before he left. I may not have given him a raise in 3 years, but he’s essential to the project. He knows that, and he is leaving. He’s a quitter. I hate him and would never recommend him to anybody.”
I had them really dig into performance. I gave them specific questions to ask. The boss couldn’t deny the candidate’s accomplishments. His answers were, “Yes, he did that well, but you don’t understand. I hate the guy because…”
That candidate was hired.
The easiest way to deal with a bad reference is not to give out that name. In some cases the company insists on a specific reference, and you know it will be bad. Tell them in advance what the complaints will be. Tell them what to ask that the bad reference has to confirm you did well. It’s an uphill climb, but you can often overcome a bad reference you can’t avoid.