Dear J.T. & Dale: I've been looking for work for a couple of months. I got to the final round of interviews on two jobs and then was turned down.


I've just learned that it's because they called my former employer, and my manager said some horrible things about me. The worst part is that it had nothing to do with my actual performance, it had to do with the fact that her best friend worked there and that we had some problems. What should I do about this? — Molly


J.T.: The best thing that you can do in this situation is to go on the offensive. When you get to the final round of interviews with your next potential employer, and they ask if they can check your references, be sure to let them know that they can, but that your former manager has not been saying the nicest things about you. Try to be as objective and factual as possible. Keep it short. Explain that she has some personal issues, not work-related or performance issues, with you. Therefore, you wanted them to have a heads-up that when they call, it probably won't be the best reference. Then, ask them if it would be OK to give the names of several people you worked with at the company so they could have a balanced view of what you were like to work with. I find that when potential employers do call and encounter that bitter ex-manager's negativity, they realize how honest and forthright you were with them, and they discount the manager's reference.


DALE: Good advice. When you started with "go on the offensive," you had me worried. What happens too often is that when job searchers get bad references, they want to fire back, hiring an attorney or threatening legal action. This sounds like an effective solution, but all it does is create a situation where the ex-boss can respond to a potential new employer's call with, "I can't say anything because she threatened to sue me." The prospective employer then assumes that the reference would have been horrible, and, further, that you sue employers. That's doubling-down on negativity. So, take J.T.'s advice and go the other way and load up on positivity.


Dear J.T. & Dale: Is it true that recruiters discriminate against people who have been on unemployment? If so, how will all of the people on unemployment due to COVID-19 be viewed as companies start to hire again? — Reese


DALE: I don't imagine employers think of it as discrimination, but, nonetheless, that's often the outcome of their applicant screening thought processes. If you're checking applications and you see someone is out of work, it makes you wonder why. You don't need to assume the worst, all you have to do is decide it's not worth the trouble of figuring out what happened, and then you slide the application into the "when in doubt, leave it out" pile of rejection.


J.T.: Unfortunately, it's true that, historically, hiring managers and recruiters look at someone who is laid off and wonder why that person wasn't kept on staff. Now, in the case of the current pandemic, lots of employers understand that people lost their jobs through no fault of their own. However, once you get past the 6-month mark of unemployment, you will be questioned as to why you didn't find a new job. I know a lot of people have opted to sit home and collect unemployment without making an effort to find a job. What they don't realize is this will come back to haunt them when employers question why it took so long to get a job. So, my advice is to take any type of job you can get so you can explain that you did work. Put your ego aside and focus on earning an income so you can talk proudly in future job interviews about how you closed the financial gap while you were waiting for your dream job, the one you hope will be with them.


By Jeanine O'Donnell and Dale Dauten — Jeanine "J.T." O'Donnell is a career coach and founder of the leading career site WorkItDaily.com. Dale Dauten is the founder of The Innovators' Lab and author of "The Weary Optimist." Send questions to Talk Jobs c/o King Features Syndicate, 628 Virginia Drive, Orlando, FL 32803, or visit JTandDale.com.