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This particular problem may be peculiar to Australia and public sector roles, but I have just been caught by a fairly unpleasant double bind as far as my referees are concerned. l lost out on a role because the policy of the prospective employer is to only accept references from current supervisors, and a company that will not provide references for past employees.

I applied for a general role at a university, was interviewed and appeared to be successful, in that they asked if I would consider taking it and if so could they check my references (which had been provided as part of the application process).

They duly checked the references then came back and told me that University policy was that they only accept references from the current and previous supervisor. This minor fact was not on any of the documentation about the role, was not mentioned in the interview and was not mentioned when they asked to contact my referees.

My problem is that my former employer (I was retrenched) has a policy of not providing references. Asking around, this is actually very common as organisations are covering themselves in case of litigation.

So I had a prospective employer who will not accept the references I gave and a previous employer who will not provide a reference other than a statement that I worked there. I was at that firm for 8.5 years, so a reference from the employer before that would be virtually irrelevent, and as that company went out of business soon after I left I don't know how I could track anyone down.

Given that I could not get my previous supervisor to provide even a personal reference, let alone a work reference, the offer was withdrawn as the application did not meet University policy. And I feel completely dudded by a circumstance out of my control.

The university HR people were nice enough about it and recognised that I hadn't been given correct information up front, but that didn't change the decison.

However I am stunned at a policy that requires applicants to advise their current employers that they have applied for a new job. In the private sector, if an employer gets wind of staff looking for other roles they can use that as grounds for discipline or dismissal.

I've learnt my lesson the hard way, but would be interested to know if anyone else out there - particularly the Australians on the forum - have encountered a similar situation?

Linda

tlhausmann's picture

You are right. That is a tough spot.

When attempting to hire someone caught in your same situation I worked with HR and the applicant to see if we could track down former co-workers in addition to supervisors to probe a little more deeply.

TomW's picture

Is that all universities or just that one?

If it's just that one, then it tells you something about that company (that they are not very considerate of the their incoming applicants!) and I'd just apply to a more friendly one.

If it's al universities... then it's really nasty.

HMac's picture

That's an ugly set of circumstances lindagc.

This will have no effect on the outcome, but here's where you lost me:

If it's the new employer's policy to check references from current employers, then I would have guessed that it's up to them to contact HR at your current place (obviously with contact information you supply...). In that case the new employer would have been informed directly of the policy, and it might have been possibly more meaningful for them to hear of the policy - as a policy - from HR, and not through you, the candidate.

In the US it's becoming increasingly difficult to check references. But most companies will at least confirm the facts of employment, such as title and the period employed.

Finally, stepping back a bit from this, I have to echo TomW's observation about whether that was really a very good place to work. It sounds like you didn't have an advocate in HR or in the hiring manager to step in and say: [i]"Wait a minute - this is nuts. Here's a candidate we want to hire; let's work something out." [/i]So you may have not been THE candidate they were looking for...That's no criticism of you - it's just that there may not have been a fit in this particular instance.

Best solution: apply elsewhere. Be aware this might happen again, and go in with your eyes open and a plan to work around it.
Good luck!

-Hugh

stephenbooth_uk's picture

I'm with Tom. Whilst I would expect an applicant to have their current employer as one of their referees and if they didn't would want to know why, ditching someone after a provisional offer had been made just because their employer wouldn't provide a reference seems a little draconian. I'd hope any reasonable employer would at least find out why, although if it's against company policy to provide a reference I'd hope that they would say that's why they were refusing rather than just refusing.

I'm not aware, here in the UK, of any company that refuses point-blank to give a reference at all. Many will only give a basic "Yes they worked here from this date to that date and this was their job title" type of reference for fear of being sued if they give more information, but at least they give a reference of sorts. My current employer will only confirm that you work here and the dates plus any active disciplinary sanctions (e.g. verbal or written warnings that haven't expired), individual managers cannot give references and have to forward all requests to HR. On the one hand I can see the point of wanting to avoid being sued for providing a 'bad reference' but on the other it does rather hamstring both managers and employees as it means that managers cannot give an honest opinion of their staff and employees cannot have references that reflect their actual performance.

Stephen

tcomeau's picture

[quote="lindagc"]This particular problem may be peculiar to Australia
...

They duly checked the references then came back and told me that University policy was that they only accept references from the current and previous supervisor. [/quote]

This is unfortunate, though I'm sure it is not unique.

Do they specifically want current and previous [u]supervisors[/u]? I had one year a while back which I called "The Year of Four Bosses." (Two through reorganizations, two quit.) I could have used two of them as references without the organization knowing anything about it.

I, too, worry about the viability of references. We've had a policy for many years that we're not supposed to give references, but recently it has been rather more rigidly enforced. (Nobody fired, yet, but some managers in trouble for not referring all questions to HR.) I'm not really sure which litigation they're trying to avoid.

Perversely, we still try to use references, and also check reputations independently. Officially, HR does all the reference checking, too. We managers aren't allowed to call references. So we ask about people's reputation. Somehow, that's different from reference checking.

I know people who Google candidates. That can be very helpful if you find somebody who has written good things about their work. I think it is less helpful if all you find is personal stuff. I haven't decided if it's a good idea.

We're also starting to run into a problem my wife has had in the past: References don't exist any more. In my wife's case, a couple of her older references are retired, dead, or in an assisted living facility as a result of an Alzheimer's diagnosis. For one firm in particular, they're all gone. In our case, previous managers won't talk to us, or have retired and can't be found, and in a couple cases have died.

I guess it shouldn't be surprising that if you're checking references on somebody around age 50, the people 15 or 20 years older aren't available. It's a bit more jarring when it starts happening for people in their 30s.

A rigid policy around references seems like a holdover from an earlier age, where it was more important who you knew. Keeping a rigid policy will probably mean cutting off people who might be great, but can't prove it in advance.

tc>

lindagc's picture

Australian government sector recruitment (local, state and federal as well as other government bodies) is a very rigid and particular process. A representative from HR or the Public Sector Union must be on the interview panel, however they are there to ensure that due process is followed to the letter, not to "advocate" for one candidate or the other.

Regardless of whether the role is senior or junior or advertised though a recruiter or in the paper/internet all applications must have a written detailed response to the specific selection criteria (which can be up to 15-20 seperate points and so run to more than 10 pages as a response), plus resume supporting the selection criteria.

The interview will be a set series of questions, equally divided between the panel. All responses are noted however there is no "delving deeper" into your response once you give it.They ask a set question, you answer it and then the next question is asked. They don't ask for elaboration on points in the resume or application essay. The question don't even relate to the essential criteria.

In the case of my interivew, it was not the HR person on the panel that checked the references, it was someone who I had not met and who was not involved in the interview process.

The process is designed to ensure that there are no grounds for appeal if an internal candidate loses out to someone else because every interview is "exactly the same".

Asking for a current employer/supervisor to be a referee is unrealistic if you are coming from the private sector. If your employer finds out that you are applying for other roles then immediately your committment/loyalty/performance is called into question and it is extremely detrimental to your career. If you don't end up getting the sack before being offered the role you have appied for you can bet that you won't be employed for long afterwards!

While I was actually enthusiatic about the role when I applied for it, I'll admit that the process in the end didn't make me feel that it would be a very good place to work for. And as noted by someone earlier, it is more likely the case that I was a good enough fit for the role compared to other candidates, but not the ideal which is why they wouldn't accept the first two referees.

So we live and learn.

HMac's picture

Wow. Thanks for taking time to explain the system, lindagc.

I spent the first six years of my career in public service - and now 20 years in the private sector. I had forgotten how thick with regulations it can be on the public side...

[quote]The process is designed to ensure that there are no grounds for appeal if an internal candidate loses out to someone else because every interview is "exactly the same". [/quote]

In my experience, making "everything the same" drives the outcome to the safe and the mediocre. The process ensures that all the rough edges have been sanded off...

I can only wish you luck!

[quote]While I was actually enthusiatic about the role when I applied for it, I'll admit that the process in the end didn't make me feel that it would be a very good place to work for. [/quote]

Amen.

Thanks again for taking the time to recount this.

-Hugh

kenstanley's picture

[quote="lindagc"]Regardless of whether the role is senior or junior or advertised though a recruiter or in the paper/internet all applications must have a written detailed response to the specific selection criteria (which can be up to 15-20 seperate points and so run to more than 10 pages as a response), plus resume supporting the selection criteria.[/quote]

I have to agree with everything lindagc has said. His point about the 'selection criteria'. Think of the cover letter that the interview series describes, execpt it can [u]easily[/u] go for over 10 pages. It makes applying for a job considerably more difficult and time consuming.

All the other points about the process I would have to agree with, although I have never seen a reference checking system so rigid.

Ken.

arun's picture

lindagc,

The recruitment process for most public sector jobs here in Oz is rediculous. I have had locals comment that they find the process onerous and dont bother applying even if they have all the required quals.

[/quote]I was at that firm for 8.5 years][quote]

Having said that I am surprised that the uni could/would not interpret from your tenure at the old place even without references that you must have what it takes afterall if you were not good than you would not last 8.5yrs.

Sounds like a place you would not want to work anyway.

Good luck in your search

terrih's picture

I have Googled job applicants' names, but having Googled my OWN name and gotten a bit of a :shock:,* I would take whatever I found that way with a grain of salt unless I could verify it independently.

Google your own name sometime; it can be an interesting exercise.

*In my case, there's another person out there with the same name as me who took up all the first few pages of results when I first looked a couple of years ago... she had published a book about what Monty Python would call "naughty bits." :oops:

bffranklin's picture

[quote="terrih"]I have Googled job applicants' names, but having Googled my OWN name and gotten a bit of a :shock:,* I would take whatever I found that way with a grain of salt unless I could verify it independently.

Google your own name sometime; it can be an interesting exercise.

*In my case, there's another person out there with the same name as me who took up all the first few pages of results when I first looked a couple of years ago... she had published a book about what Monty Python would call "naughty bits." :oops:[/quote]

Googling names is generally fruitless unless the candidate has a rather uncommon name. On the other hand, googling the email address on the resume will often turn up all sorts of blogs and youtube accounts that the individual has.