The City of London is a small place, even factoring in Canary Wharf. Although the CEBR estimates ‘City’ employment at 305,000, this includes all manner of people in industries like accounting and law, plus everyone in support roles. Genuine front office bankers are but a small subset, and in areas like high yield that subset is minute.
If a former boss decides to badmouth you, it can therefore be disastrous for your career. Even worse, you may not initially realize that it’s going on.
“Sometimes people will find out when they’re going for a particular job that’s suddenly withheld that their ex-boss has taken it upon himself to say negative things to a prospective employer,” says employment lawyer Elaine Aarons.
“In other cases, they only realize what’s happening when a pattern emerges over time,” Aarons adds.
Some of the unofficial blacklisting is more insidious than a simple telephone call. One headhunter says he was offered a bottle of champagne by an individual’s current employer if he’d take that person off their hands. Another recalls how one banker’s former colleagues sent his new employer a bouquet of flowers as a token of their thanks for getting rid of him.
“Some people are just difficult characters,” says one headhunter. “People don’t like to have them around.”
Equally, however, agencies like Robert Walters operate official blacklists in which individuals found guilty of transgressions like CV exaggeration or falsehoods are given an indelible black mark. “We pride ourselves on the standard of our candidates,” says director Oliver Harris. “If we feel someone has let us down, we will think very hard before working with them again in future.”
If you feel you’ve been blacklisted unfairly, you may be able to seek recourse in law. Aarons points out that compromise agreements signed at the time of departure often preclude previous employers from providing oral references that deviate from the agreed written reference.
If that fails, she says it may be possible to bring cases based on reputational damage such as defamation or malicious falsehood.