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THE QUESTION

I am about to be interviewed for a great job at a company I really want to work for. This is a large organization with 5,000-plus employees, so I will be dealing with recruiters to start.

However, I am concerned about whether they will ask about my last full-time job. I worked there for two years and left about nine months ago. I started the job with a lot of enthusiasm and energy, but after a wave of turnovers and general uncertainty in the second year, during which I reported to four different bosses, I decided to take a severance package. My performance and morale sagged during this time, but I did tidy up my loose ends and leave everything in order.

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Obviously, I am not inclined to use my last boss from that job as a reference, although I think she is fair, and I got along well with her. However, if my performance at this job comes up during my interview, what should I say? Should I give my old boss a call have a straight talk about what she might say if called upon?

THE FIRST ANSWER

Marc-Etienne Julien

President of Randstad Canada, Montreal

Every job has its ups and downs and the fact that you are still on decent terms with your former manager is a good sign that she can be trusted as a reference.

However, if you aren't comfortable with your last direct manager, consider contacting one of the previous leaders you worked under. A direct manager who left the company is still an eligible reference and they may have a more positive outlook on your work than the leader who saw you off.

Morale is important to productivity. While your performance and enthusiasm declined, you were not terminated and the manager who offered you a severance package knows that. Reach out to both your former manager and the one you did the best work for and, if they are amicable, provide them both as references.

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In your interview, discuss your successes and what you achieved, and try to keep away from any challenges – keep things as positive as possible.

Another concern is the length of time between your severance package and your new position. Nine months is a long time and you will likely be asked what kept you busy. Netflix aside, be sure to mention any new certifications or contract work that you've completed to fill in the gap.

THE SECOND ANSWER

Colleen Clarke

Corporate trainer and career specialist, Toronto

References can make or break landing a job. Even the most well-intentioned former bosses and colleagues have given inappropriate responses during a reference check and blown an opportunity for a candidate. Always qualify your references.

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A reference does not have to be someone you reported to; it can be someone you worked with or an outside client or vendor. The important point is that the reference can validate what is written on your résumé. Bosses are the most preferred, but not the only choice by any means.

When you ask someone to be your reference, you have to go through a dress rehearsal of sorts. Review each point on the résumé that pertains to their knowledge of you. Ensure they know exactly what your role was and the results you generated. Agree on the answer to tough interview questions, such as your greatest weakness.

If your previous boss is aware of your declining performance, then maybe they aren't the best choice of reference. Can they instead speak to what you are capable of?

Also check to see what type of reference the company is willing to give. Many companies today are not giving references, but they will likely validate your length of employment, job title and salary.

Are you facing a burning issue at work? Need help navigating that mine field? Let our Nine to Five experts help solve your dilemma. E-mail your questions to ninetofive@globeandmail.com.

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