By the time you’ve been around the professional block a few times, you’ve probably acquired an adversary or two – a co-worker or boss you just couldn’t click with or downright disliked. Don’t feel too bad about this. Unless you’re a saint or a pushover, it’s highly unlikely you’re going to get along with everyone you work with.
But if you have a record of acrimonious breaks from more than one job, this definitely spells trouble to potential employers and for your future career prospects. One bad break with a supervisor might be easy to account for or explain. More than one is almost always going to finger you as the problem.
So how should you handle more than one burnt bridge on your resume? Before you do anything, it’s best to step back, regroup and really examine what happened in each incident. You should always try and learn something from every place you’ve worked, but especially from jobs you’ve left on bad terms. Are you taking enough responsibility for the rift?
Perhaps you see yourself as a hero of sorts – standing up to your greedy, unimaginative or unjust employer by speaking the “truth” and telling them where to stick their job. But it’s important to know the difference between standing on principle and just being arrogant, self-righteous or inflexible. If you keep burning bridges and alienating colleagues and former bosses, you’re not Jerry Maguire, you’re just a jerk.
If you’ve slowly come to this realization, congratulations! You’re on your way to becoming a more likable, fully realized human. Being able to take credit for your foibles and grow from them can only help you both professionally and personally.
Even if you were justified in doing whatever it was that angered your former boss(es), you should always take the high road. Badmouthing former employers will only make you look defensive or unprofessional. If you’d like to salvage your reference, do what you can to try and make amends with your former supervisor. Admit fault where you were wrong and avoid reopening any wounds by rehashing old grievances. They may not accept your peace offering, but at least you can feel good about doing the right thing.
Next, try to focus on what you’ve learned from the experience and how it’s made you a stronger candidate. An employer will be much more willing to forgive any previous breaches if you seem genuinely contrite and wiser as a result.
If your previous supervisor is unwilling to give you a good reference and you really feel like you deserve one, reach out to former co-workers or managers at the job to see if they’ll vouch for you. Their glowing reviews may compensate for your ex-boss’s silence.
And finally the best piece of advice: try to avoid burning any bridges in the first place! If things aren’t working out at a job, it’s best to cut your losses early and leave on good terms, before it starts to get ugly.