Ex-Boss Won't Give Recommendation [Video]

By CAREEREALISM Founder, J.T. O'Donnell Recently, an Excelle community member asked me how to deal with an ex-boss reluctant to give a recommendation. (See full question here.) My Response: You are not alone. Many folks have learned the following lesson the hard way: Never leave a job without getting your recommendations. It can be next-to-impossible to obtain them after-the-fact, especially, if your former employer wasn’t pleased with your departure. I tell clients to try to put themselves in their managers’ shoes: If you left them high-and-dry, they are now busy doing your job too. So, the last thing they feel like doing is taking an hour to write you a recommendation! However, that doesn’t help you right now…so, here’s what you can do: Set the level of professionalism high in hopes your boss will come around and do the right thing. You can hopefully make this happens by doing the following:

STEP 1: Give a recommendation.

Find your ex-boss’s LinkedIn profile and proactively write her a recommendation. Even if you didn’t get along, a good professional can identify at least 1-2 things about their manager that they respect. Articulate those things in your recommendation. Once you post the recommendation, your boss will be sent a notification of it. This will put you on her radar screen. Not to mention, it will show her that you have no hard feelings and that you admired her for her work on some level, which will hopefully soften her anger.

STEP 2: Pick up the phone.

Call you ex-boss and tell her you just completed a recommendation for her and really meant what you said. Mention that you are in need of your own recommendation and realize that she is very busy. So, to make it easy, you are going to send her a draft of the recommendation that she can then alter as needed. This will show your ex-boss that you respect her time and want to make the recommendation process as easy as possible.

STEP 3: Send an e-mail.

Create the recommendation and be as objective as possible. Stick to the facts like, dates of employment , responsibilities and any quantifiable accomplishments that can be backed up. Avoid subjective text like, “innovative self-starter” which will rub your ex-boss the wrong way. It’s up to her to write how she sees your performance. Given the fact you sense she was unhappy, the smart thing to do is stick to the indisputable. Now, besides this recommendation, also mention in the e-mail that you plan to follow-up with her by phone in 3 business days. This is your polite way of saying I’m going to keep checking in with you until this is done, so why not make it a priority and then you can get me out of your hair! If you follow these steps, you should be able to get that recommendation. But, what if you don’t? Well, in that case, you’ll at least be able to be honest with in the interview and say the following:

“I’m sorry I couldn’t get you a reference from my former boss. I tried repeatedly, but she hasn’t followed through. Although I gave her two full week’s notice before leaving and provided her with a recommendation on LinkedIn, I’m guessing she is upset about my departure and thus doesn’t want to assist me with this. I can reach out to co-workers at the firm for you, but you asked for my manager’s recommendation. Since it was a small office, she’d be the best person for you to talk to. Is there anything else I can do to help you get what you need?”


By phrasing it this way, you stay positive and polite, and your ex-boss looks like the unprofessional person that she is. A manager who doesn’t want to give a recommendation should be professional enough to tell you why. Her lack of honestly is very telling to your future employer. To sum it up, take the higher ground and set the bar for professionalism. You’ll be glad you did!
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| J.T. answers questions each week via Excelle on topics ranging from finding your first job, to getting a promotion and managing office politics. You can check out all of her articles here. Excelle is Monster's premier online community for female professionals in the United States.

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