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

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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?

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