How Do I Survive a Bad Reference?

Received Wednesday, February 10, 2010
Perspective and Opinion on ISYN I was laid off of my last position back in August and I'm having difficulty finding new employment. When I was laid off, the family stated that it was due to the economy and could no longer afford to employ me, I was at a salary of 39k with health insurance. They went on and on about how wonderful I was and that they would be a great reference for me and would be happy to provide me with a reference letter. When I was laid off, I was asked to leave by the end of the week because family was coming to visit for the child's third birthday. I was in a rush to pack my things, possibly find new employment, and figure out how to move home with my parents if I needed to, so I figured that I would get the letter from the family when I was settled. Days before I left, I found an ad on a local nanny agency site and I'm positive it was my employers (it described their dog, the child's age, the type of car provided, and a baby being due in November).

I was heartbroken because they had told me that they already found my replacement. Honestly, all I wanted to do was finish out my week and leave.In my final days, I did my work and tried to dodge the parents because I was so hurt. They never once lead me to believe that my departure had anything to do with my performance, and on my last day they gave me a really nice thank you card and a bottle of wine (I decided that it might be best to keep my mouth such about the ad that I found because I wanted to stay on good terms with them so they would be a good reference).

When I moved home, I applied for unemployment benefits because I was unable to find a new position. As you know, the unemployment office checks with the employee's employer to see why they were let go. Needless to say, my previous employer's said that I was a horrible worker and failed to do the duties that they asked of me. The same day that I found out this information, my previous employer emailed me and said:

"We hope you are doing well, stay in touch. I will send some recent pictures of L's bday party soon. By the way, we completed some forms for the unemployment, they kinda changed some of our responses but I think it should be all set, they know your last day of pay is today. Good luck with school, we are proud of you for finishing your degree. Take Care."

I am very thankful though, because the unemployment ruled in my favor, and somehow found my previous employers to be a bit shady, because I provided the office with the email.

Now, six months later, I am still on unemployment benefits and am unable to find a new family. I know that I have to provide families with my previous employer. If I don't it will show a gap in my work history. Every time I get in contact with a prospective family, I feel great about our conversations and feels as if I'm getting somewhere. But, I never get a response back once they check my references. I have great references from professors, previous employers, and friends. My only hunch is that my last family is speaking very badly of me, and I honestly have no idea why. I'm not sure how to deal with this and I'm worried that I will never be able to find an new family. I'm horrified that someone would try to ruin my future without a reason why.

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About the author said...

I would talk to them directly and just let them know you are having a tough time getting new employment. Did they ever send you the promised letter? Ask why they didn't?
I'd be really hurt, too.
Good luck!

seattle said...

You should have a friend call them pretending to be a family looking for a reference and find out exactly what they say about you.

Then, bring it up to them. Honestly: I would try to meet up in person ('for coffee') and then just be frank about it.

Jenna said...

Oh I love seattle's response about having a friend call! excellent idea!!!

OP said...

OP here

I still have contact with the child's teachers and speech therapist, would it be out of line for me to ask these people for a reference letter?

these people suck said...

OP, I think that is a great idea.
And I agree with Seattle: these people need to be caught!!! I'm so glad you saved that email. It was wise to do so.

These people suck.

Nanny On Call said...

I would do what Seattle says, but get your mom to call since the voice can't be too young.
If they give you a poor reference I would be so angry.
I don't understand families like this, when we work so hard and it still isn't good enough.
Good luck. Have you ever thought of not using them as a reference? I only actually use two of my past employers as references because they are the two families that I am still in contact with.

Village said...

Would it be possible, to put in future contracts, that until the nanny gets the reference letter, she is still on the contract with wages due?

If a reference letter is made part of the exit, would it help keep this from happening? In other words, no reference letter, no leaving.

Nanny Deb said...

Please check out this link, because it speaks directly to your situation:

And, as suggested in the info above, getting reference letters from teachers and others who regularly saw you with your charge is an excellent idea.

Village, although I can see the reasoning behind your suggestion, it's not practical for a nanny to "refuse" to leave an employer's home. As a nanny, I would expect that if I were let go and refused to leave the job, a visit from the police would be the heast of the repercusions!

Nanny Deb said...

Also, OP, you could print out the final email they sent you, and offer copies of it, along with the thank you card (if it was personalized to a great extent) to potential employers. That might provide a contradiction for the poor reports from your ex-employers.

mylittlesecret said...

I had exactly the same thing happen with my previous nanny job. I worked my ass off for over a year, and all of the sudden they decided to let me go one day with no notice. They told me at the end of the day. I had about 5 minutes to tell the kids goodbye and never saw them again. They were giving me a bad reference for I believe refusing to take on full house cleaning duties. I found out shortly after they let me go that they had someone working under the table cleaning, cooking, and taking care of the children for pennies. I know I am going to probably get stoned for this, but I finally faked a reference and had a friend pretend to be my previous employer. I had a job within a week and have been with that family for five years now. I request a letter of recommendation every six months or so just to be safe. I’ll tell them it’s for something I’m doing at my church, a weekend babysitting gig for neighbors, whatever. I have 8 letters now to save my butt just in case they decided to pull the same thing on me.

cali mom said...

I think Seattle's suggestion is great-have a friend call them, pretending to want a reference, and see what they say. Make sure you and your friend have ALL the answers worked out first, like where they supposedly heard about you, etc, so you don't trip yourself up later.

Also do as was suggested and just remind them that they were planning to send you the reference letter, but you still haven't gotten it, and ask them if there is anything they want to discuss with you before giving you the letter. That way, they'll have to flat out lie if they say they have nothing to discuss, and just haven't gotten around to writing it yet, etc. AND if that happens, you could then confront them with what your friend was told by them. They should actually be a bit worried about saying bad things about you because I believe in some states, it's not too hard to sue someone who is giving you a bad ref, and this is why some companies have a policy of simply confirming the dates of your employment and saying no more. And I think it's also a good idea to ask the children's teachers and speech therapist for references. At a job I had where compny policy was to do no more than confirm dates of employment, I supply the name of a vendor that I worked very closely with on a lot of projects, as he can vouch that I did my job very well, even if my former supervisor will not.

Ive acctually wondered if nannies should get a reference letter at any point that they ore their contract is raises, etc, since that seems to happen regularly. that way, if they've gushed about you all along and then the shit hits the fan after 5 great years and they decide to lie, you aren't totally screwed.

cali mom said...

Oy, sorry for all the typos! I meant, anytime they or their contract is up for review.

Anonymous said...

So frustrating!

I found out the employer who just let me go has been telling people that I "fell behind on housework" and "had a string of days where (I) was late or missed".

I'm pretty annoyed, although I loved the family and already found a new job, because

A) I told the MB my first day "Tell me anything I'm doing wrong immediately and I WILL FIX IT. Don't drop hints- I won't understand." But she never said a word about the cleaning OR my absences.

B) I was late on short notice ONE TIME because my car wouldn't start and missed TWO days due to sickness... which I caught from the baby! And on all those occasions I called first thing in the morning and let her know what was up. She makes it sound like I was chronically late or missing!

Village said...

mylittlesecret is one smart cookie. That is a great idea asking for reference letters every six months. The children she cares are for are lucky little ones.

I think if the family has kept her 5 years, they think so too.

I don't hold the fake reference against her. I've done it. Sometimes you have to do what you have to do to even the playing field. And since I made good on the deception, I did everything my fake reference said and more, was it really a deception?

nyc mom said...

I also like Seattle's suggestion. My suspicion is that they fired you for vague reasons; a culmination of little things that did not sit well; personality clashes. But ultimately they DO like you and respect the work you did.

I have let a couple of sitters (never a long term nanny) go for these type of reasons. I did not dislike them and I knew they were trying their best, but it was a poor fit, and honestly I did not have the heart to tell them the reasons because there was no kind way to say it. When asked for a reference I focused on the many positives and was honest about the poor fit.

For example, one sitter was great with my two older kids, but could not handle a newborn. She tried so hard, but she did not have a way with babies. Plus, she was loud, grating, and frankly I just hated being around her. The only concrete issue I had was that she would call in sick too often at the last minute, for minor issues (such as cramps) which was not compatible with my work schedule. When I let her go, I talked more about needing to cut back hours, save money, and let things gradually die out rather than a big confrontation. I know directness would have been, perhaps, more ideal, but I couldn't figure out how to do it nicely. We remain in touch rarely by Facebook or email. I told references this in an honest, but kind way. "She's full of energy, always filling the house with laughter, talkative" for the personality issues, because they truly were just a poor personality fit. For the sick days I also told the truth.

Anyway, I think hearing how your former employer paints the issuse during a reference check would be really enlightening because you could preemptively address them during the interview process. For example, my former sitter could volunteer that she knows a past mistake was a low threshhold for sick days but she was going through a difficult time with relationship and family stressors and has learned a great deal from that.

djembé said...

I request a letter of recommendation every six months or so just to be safe. I’ll tell them it’s for something I’m doing at my church, a weekend babysitting gig for neighbors, whatever. I have 8 letters now to save my butt just in case they decided to pull the same thing on me.
Great idea!

OP said...

OP here,

Thanks for the great advice everyone!

Unknown said...

to the Op - your idea of getting referrals from the professionals who saw you do a good job with the kids is a very good one --

and - mylittlesecret's strategy with pre-empting any prob with letters of referrence by pro-actively requesting them is a classic idea that can span industries

word up said...

Isn't their legal implications for providing someone with a false/defamatory reference? Might be something worth checking out.

truth is better said...

NYC Mom,

Althought I can somewhat understand
why you let your sitter go because there was no easy way to say it, I think the truth is always better. If you are speaking nicely of you pasts sitters when you are being a reference, but also talking about why you didn't care for her; I think it's only respectful to tell your sitters your reasoning as well. The truth huts but will be better in the long run.

nyc mom said...

Truth is Better,

You raise an interesting point and one I am still not sure of a right answer to. Would telling her about the small personality problems have been kind or cruel in the long run?

I was honest with that sitter very directly about the unreliable/sick day issue. I gave her 3 chances to improve on the problem before I stopped using her. My husband and I had sit down performance reviews with her in which we discussed it. When she asked me for a reference I told her that was the one thing that was a problem for me and would get mentioned.

I did not, however, discuss her personality clash because even though it annoyed my husband and I, another family might have found it a positive. Not sure whether being honest about that would be appropriate/professional or petty/cruel. I just did not have the heart to say these things and was conflicted about whether it was even fair to criticize someone's job performance just because you don't like parts of their personality. I truly could not find a way to say it that was not critical of her personally. It kept sounding so petty. And the truth was that despite the sitter annoying me, my older children really liked her, and I would not have stopped using her for work if she had been consistently reliable.

Jenn said...

I had the exact same thing happen to me, but only when people would speak with MB. If they got DB on the phone, the reference was good. The only difference is that I had a reference letter singing my praises.

There are legal implications when giving out references. That is why so many companies will only confirm that you worked for them. I had to have a lawyer friend of mine call and remind my former employers of this and since I had the reference letter it was easier.

I agree with having someone call to see exactly what they are saying. Then you will know what you are up against and can proceed from there.

Ravenswood Nanny said...

I left a family that I didn't get along with and they wouldn't be a good reference for me either. I didn't list them. I was honest with people about why I left the family and said, "for obvious reasons I'm not using them as a reference." You don't have to give out their # and some people simply don't even want to call them. The family I'm with now didn't care at all, they believe I'm being honest and genuine with them and know they wouldn't hear what they wanted if they did call my exes. It's also legal to list them as your employers and not give out their contact info. On most applications there is a check box that says, May I Contact? You can say no.

Or you could have one of your friends pretend to be them and give out your friends # with their names. haha. Not exactly the "honest" route but ...

Unknown said...

I'm the owner of and prior to starting this company I ran a brick and mortar nanny agency in Los Angeles. I've seen this happen before when a nanny is let go. The family is telling you one thing and the people calling for a reference another thing.

One suggestion I have is this: it sounds like the family is upset about something and doesn't want to confront you directly but is giving bad references to people calling them for a nanny reference. It may be hard to do now after the unemployment issue that you won, but I would try to contact the mom directly and perhaps have a face to face meeting. Let her know that you really want to know the real reasons you were let go and that you need to be able to find a nanny job. You might hear some things you don't want to hear, but you could also repair the relationship, at least enough that you could get better references from them.
Steve Lampert

cruella deville said...

she is probally jealous of you, this has happened to me, the kids probally like you more than the mom and this is her way of getting revenge.

Local Services Expert - Melba Denosta said...

I feel bad about what had happened to you but things must go on. If ever this will happen to me, I'll talk to them directly and ask them why and what's wrong. I think talking to them directly will help straighten things out. I hope that you will still be able to find a good family despite of everything.

carol said...

Definitely have someone call So you know what is being said.

Don't drop them from your resume but don't add them on the contact or reference list.

If asked explain that they are private and a bit odd when called by strangers, you don't quite understand it yourself . Go ahead and give the contact info and a packet with the thank you note and emails.

Employers can be weird. People understand that more info is better than less if asked.

Jackie Ald said...

Happened to me years ago I worked for a family in Belwood Ontario. I stayed 3xyears.When I left they gave me a great reference letter.I started to look for a job every job I applied for I heard they gave bad refs too. I called the mother and told her She lied and said she dident can't understand how you keep someone for 3 yrs and have a set of twins and in all 5 kids no extra money.Finally I found a job the mom asked her when she said all that why did you keep her then.