I suspect one of my references is a skunk.

I use that term because, while I've lived in the rural midwest for many years, I've never actually *seen* a skunk, but I sure have smelled them.  

I am smelling something not quite right in my job search.

I interviewed successfully for a job that I was very well qualified for, and even had internal connections to some folks there.  I sent in 2 references right away, and my third reference (my boss) was out of town, so that one arrived about 1 week after the others.

Within 24 hours of them getting that letter, they called me up and told me they were pursuing other candidates.

My question: I'd like to check and find out if I've got a reference skunk.

(If so, I'm reasonably sure it's inadvertent. My boss is brilliant, but has been known to introduce me by saying things like "You'd never know Bug has epilepsy!".  My other two references cc'ed me on their letters.)

I have two bad choices:

1. Ask boss for copy of letter.  This is a can of worms I really would rather not open.

2. Call committee and try to think of a subtle way to fish around for a hit about the references. About all I can think to ask is "How could I make myself a stronger candidate?"

My third option is a non-choice--
suspect boss, do nothing, and continue to muddle on with job search.


jhack's picture

Bug Girl,

We have bold skunks here in the suburbs of the Big Apple...I've seen them strolling by while sitting on the front porch.  Our next door neighbor's hound managed to catch one in the yard and kill it a few summers back.  Nothing like that odor wafting through the air on a hot August night. 

That interviewing black box is annoying.  You choices aren't "either/or" - you can do more than one.  Nothing wrong with calling back and asking how you could be stronger candidate.  You could also put the conversation in the context of fit:  what did you have/not have that the job required?  You'll of course make it clear you're not trying to reopen the process, but trying improve your understanding of both the market and yourself.  You've got nothing to lose, and might gain some key info.  

Rather than asking for the letter, how about having the conversation as to whether they're the right person to be a reference for every job.  You don't want to over-use your references, naturally.  ; )  You might even broach the question of reference letter content.   If it's presented in the context of fit for a particular position, rather than job search forensics, you might get some insight to what's been said.  

What about not asking this person to be a reference?  They're your current boss, so that hurts your search.  

Finally, could it be something else?  Could this be a coincidence?   

John Hack

bug_girl's picture

Coincidence is possible, but based on some other things that happened around that time, I suspect there may be an issue with the boss.

It's clear my boss very much expected me to stay in this job, even though I'm going to be cut to 1/2 time! 
Several people have been contacted and sent to my office to convince me to stay (boss is out of the country right now).  

Things are...odd....and while I am broken-hearted about leaving, I'm also convinced that it is in my best interest, mental-health-wise and financially, to move on. 

I'm also freaking out a bit about how difficult it is to get a job right now, so wanted to run this by folks here who are not flipping out, and more neutral ;p

Thanks for the advice!

jhack's picture

 You might let your prospective employer know that your current boss is unhappy with your choice to seek a new full time job rather than stick with them on a part time basis, and that this creates a conflict of interest in their role as potential reference. 

John Hack

ken_wills's picture

Bug - I wasn't clear from your post if this was in internal or external opportunity.  I'm guessing it's internal - which may be why you're including your current boss among your references...

Regardless, though - if you're that sure it's not a coincidence, stop including him among your references.

In my experience as a recruiter, good references don't have as much power to help you, as bad references have power to hurt you.  This is just my experience, so take it as such, but:

  • a "bad" reference will make you re-think a "good" candidate more than a "good" reference will make you re-think a "bad" candidate.

So - since references create risk, you want to minimize exposure to risk.  You want to give references as late in the process as you possibly can, and you want to give as few as possible.  And by all means, you want to avoid giving somebody you don't trust to give you a professional - and positive - reference.


Good luck!

bug_girl's picture

Thanks, that's helpful advice!

I realized that I haven't had to actually "hunt" for a job for over 10 years--I basically talked my way into my last two positions ;p

That realization + your comments helped me try to grab a little bit of perspective on how difficult my search has been in terms of applications converting into interviews.

I'm only looking at external positions, since there is a complete hiring freeze at my current employer :(

I will probably make a call to the interviewer, mostly to make sure I did all the pieces that *I* can control as well as I could. 

Continuous process improvement!



Peter.westley's picture
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You could always come to Australia. We have *heaps* of jobs and a locust plague to boot. :-)

-- Peter

DISC: 2564

Mark's picture
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I always am hesitant to suppose that situations like this are due to a skunk (but bear with me). My sense of such situations over the years is that it's easier to blame someone else than look at oneself in a harsh light. Im not saying you don't have a skunk, it's just that I've seen too many assume that when I knew that wasn't the issue... Just being clear about MY bias. ;-)

That said, I feel like asking a stupid question: why in Heaven's name would you list a current boss as a reference? I have assumed - please correct me if I'm wrong - that he already knew abut the search. I would be stunned - though could listen to an explanation - that you would have listed him had he not known.

But even if he did, had I known that, I would never have suggested you ask him.

And at this point, just the fact that you have doubts means I recommend you Never ask him again.

And all that said,if as you say you really know him well,I would ask him for the reference letter. Somebody who would say the epilepsy thing isn't professionally enough sennsitivr to recognize their previous error or the delicacy of this request.

If he doesn't show it, you're probably right.

Gotta run - door closing!



bug_girl's picture

Well, given that the boss was the one that laid me off, and that we had a conversation about [he/she/it] serving as a reference, it seemed like a good idea at the time.

However, "It seemed like a good at the idea at the time" is the title of my (eventually to be written) Autobiography, in which I will chronicle all the mistakes I've made :p

Boss is brilliant, and very well known; so using that person as a reference could work to my advantage. However, there are the little not-quite getting HR policy red flags. And the oddness of asking a third party to come and talk to me about my plans to leave, rather than Boss just talking to me directly.

I actually just called the people I interviewed with up today and had a nice chat.  She did not hint anything about a reference; looks like I'm being paranoid. 
I was beaten out by a PhD in Mathematics.  I freely admit my calculus is rusty,  so a math guru is a very understandable choice to run a science student learning center :)

On to the next application; I've been working my network and have a good lead on something in Ohio. 

I also am applying to some Just for Fun things, like running a Posh Hotel's nature center in the Bahamas.  Nice work if you can get it!

I promise I'll give you all special rates if I get that job :D