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Guest Comment: I can’t get a job because my old boss is unfairly giving me bad references

I am suffering from the unprofessional practice of giving bad references, which has cost me a number of job opportunities over the past few months.

Previously, I worked for a large bank in Hong Kong. After a change in management, I found myself working for a new senior manager, who I will refer to as XXX. She changed my life dramatically, and not for the better.

XXX played computer games and made long private phone calls during the day. As a result, nothing substantial was ever produced during normal hours and she would work late into the night, every night.

I don’t want to know

I had no chemistry with her and I was not used to her working style. I did not appreciate her lack of remorse for her unethical practices. But what really made me annoyed was when she stuck out her tongue at me after telling a joke about her sex life. There are things I do not wish to know about, and the sex life of my boss, who’s about as old as my mum, is definitely one of them.

After that incident, I gave up being friendly to her and chose to keep the relationship as professional as possible. I helped her pick up the business where my previous boss had left it, I introduced her to our corporate clients, and I provided her with strong, continuous support. However, I never got along with her.

Earlier this year, I was abruptly told to leave the firm without explanation or compensation. I was disappointed, yet happy to move on. My job search has been difficult so far and the employment market is now tightening.

Ruinous references

On a few occasions, I have excelled during interviews, but banks have still rejected me. Some have let slip that references from my former employer were not satisfactory. I am not surprised. Another unusual habit of XXX is taking pride in giving horrible references to people she dislikes, after which she casually tells nearby colleagues (without a hint of guilt) that she is still making their lives miserable years after they have left the firm.

I imagine I am now one of those people my ex-boss loves to haunt. I do not wish to make any negative comments about my ex-boss in public, nor to criticise my former company. That would be counterproductive.

Although I have gathered a number of positive references from ex-colleagues, I cannot prevent potential employers from checking with my former manager and I cannot prevent her from spreading her venom.

I believe she is ruining my career. I have thought about suing both her and the firm, but apparently giving undeservedly bad references is not illegal in Hong Kong. I have contacted the regional division head of my previous bank and he has spoken to the firm’s HR department. But nothing has come of that so far.

eFinancialCareers readers: Is there anything else I can do to solve my problem and find a job?

Comments (12)

  1. Find an alternative Referee. Tell your interviewing company that your previous boss got fired for abusing internet facility at work. Select someone who you have worked previously and had a good rapport with. Talk to him/her about the problem you are having with the old witch. This new person may or may not have worked with you directly. This arragnement has previously worked for me. I usually give a old collegue contact as a referee and cut my previous boss from the loop altogether. If you do REALLY well in the interview stage, I think you can work around this reference problem. Good luck.

  2. Asia is very much on face time, office politics, hierarchy (when you know your boss is not as capable as the title suggests) etc.

    Once driven to work in the Asia finance industry, I was jaded to find that its full of nasty and disgusting characters. Its a dilemma as you cannot bad mouth former colleagues but at the same time, helpless to defend why one leaves the firm or has bad ref.

    Suing will work only if there’s sever discriminatory acts and onus is on you to prove the oppression. The only way to break out is through networks to get roles and/or try to convince people of your true character (not easy and Im still working on it). Try smaller firms (headcount too) and rely on different references without going through a headhunter, they are pretty useless.

    The reason why this is happening in Asia is pretty much silly, myopic HR hiring policies in the banks and firms so that wont change in the short term.

    To the recruiters: “If you see a strong candidate who left abruptly, do not rely on negative references and/or jump to conclusions. Cross check information sources, do some analysis. Be responsible and avoid focus solely on profits, many lives depend on your work! “

  3. Hire a hit man. Make sure it looks like an accident.

    Hit man for hire Reply
  4. Dear Friend,
    There is no straight forward solution. But you can try out few things..
    1. While applying for an interview please ensure to share some of your encouraging mails/communicaitons you received by you during your last job.
    2. Please make it a point to clear during interview that since you received a pink slip because of some change management processes making your role out of order it would be better if the interviewer can judge your capabilities based on interview and educational qualification.
    3. Make sure to tell them that the feedback may not be good if they rely fully on your last employers feedback.
    4. Have one personal meeting with your last senior if possible either on callor on mail or personal and request them to give experience certificate for the time you worked with them. Substantiate it with your salary certificates/tax payment details to make your profile complete.

  5. State the reason why you left the last job was because you couldn’t get along with your boss. This may discredit the references your ex-boss may give.

  6. If you are selected and your new company would like to conduct referral check then it is better to provide your Human Resource Contacts. I don’t think any new company will be concerned about your previous boss’s comments about you. If they still insists about your current boss opinion then you can tell them that that’s the reason you want to leave your current job…

  7. Sue her anyway. You don’t have to win, you just have to publicise the facts. Will she want those facts aired in public?

  8. I used to be a finance head in a foreign bank. The CEO did deals against advice resulting in breach of banking regulation. He went around back-stabbing, accusing people of “late detection”, although he was advised time and again that certain deals cannot be done. The head office adopted a nonchalant attitude and only rectified the breach one month later. MAS subsequently issued a stern warning to the bank.

    The CEO walked into my room one day and told me that we had to find a scape goat so as to answer to the head office. I decided to resign as I did not want to work with a CEO who has no integrity. He even stopped me from informing MAS about my resignation. The compliance head also resigned for the same reason.

    A few months later when I was meeting a head hunter, the head hunter told me that the CEO was going around telling people that the mass resignation (another 3 bankers resigned for an unrelated reason) resulted from non-performance. Clearly this CEO has no ethics nor integrity.

    I have taken a career break for one year and have yet to find a job. There are many such people around. Don’t be disheartened. As long as your conscience is clear, things will work out one d

  9. How about providing your first boss in the same company whom you have worked with, before the change management, as a character reference? Of course, that is possible only if you are on good terms with him/her.

    I can empathi

  10. How about providing your first boss in the same company whom you have worked with, before the change management, as a character reference? Of course, that is possible only if you are on good terms with him/her.

    I can empathize as I was in a similar situation recently. It is helpful if you can gather positive references from your previous bosses to counteract any negative feedback from that 1 person.

    Good luck to you.

  11. This should be addressed to HR and/or Hiring managers.
    What would be your take on candidates who resigned because of a nasty boss?
    What is your take then on candidates who were terminated of their employment by such boss? HR shows records of why employees are terminated based on comments from the immediate managers.
    Does that mean the candidate will be banished from that organization?

  12. If it is a short term employment and with similar unfair treatment
    Is omission of the employment information a good solution?
    Is Hoarding of information, digging your own grave?

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