Issue with supervisor thwarting job search process!
July 30, 2012 4:24 PM   Subscribe

I need to provide supervisor references for a job opportunity, but I do not have many people I can ask. Need help figuring out my options. Details inside:

I provided 2 paragraphs of background info which may help provide the best answers, but you can skip ahed to the third paragraph and start there if you prefer (that is where the meat of the issue is - thanks!)

I have been a teacher for 13 years all in the same district. Within the 13 years I have had 4 positions. 3 of my positions were classroom based, and the current one is multi-school based. This current position involves my going from school to school helping students with special education needs. Since I am not housed in one specific building, I do not report to the principals of these schools, but rather to a centralized person. Unfortunately, the person I do report to is somewhat infamous in our district. In the time I have been in this position (5+ years), she has not observed/evaluated me. She meets with myself/colleagues once monthly for a staff meeting, but these are often cancelled. Emails, about highly important issues are not returned, and she does not keep working VM on her phones. With that said, the principals at the schools I go to often do not know me that well either. They are not required to evaluate me. I normally introduce myself, and see them in the hallways, but that is generally the extent of it. Many of my students are serviced very infrequently (1/mo. 1/week, etc.), so it would be hard to create bonds with staff.

I have been wanting to relocate to a different city. This has long been my goal but it is often thwarted one way or another. I regularly put out feelers when an about 4 months ago I applied for a position. It is my long-desired city of choice. However, I did not expect much to come from it and I have a few things I would prefer to do before I move for good. I did not hear anything initially finally mid-June I was called for an interview. I had completed the application previously and listed references of those who know my work and would not fault me for trying to obtain alternate employment. The interview went well, however after the interview, I was told they wanted alternate references than I had listed. I was told to provide supervisors from my different positions. 3 of my supervisors have long retired which only leaves the one I currently work with. I tried to explain at the interview that getting one from my supervisor would be a challenge, and that she has not formally observed my work. However, I offered to do my best.

(Start here if you do not want to read all the background)
The issue: The supervisor I have is highly unlikely to respond to a reference request and if she did, I can see it not being a good one. We are very short on teachers and my moving would really mess things up. I also fear punitive treatment if I do not take the position (or if I do not get offered the position). Since I've had multiple experiences with her not responding to my needs (for matters much more pressing than this) I am not as confident to even try to approach her. Likewise, when asked for supervisor references I was at a great loss. I made attempts to locate former administrators to no avail. I got in touch with one from one of my recent schools and although she was not my direct evaluator, she did interact with me enough to remember me and complete the form. I asked two lead teachers and a mentor I'd had recently and submitted everything. It took over 3 weeks to gather this info and resubmit. Everyone was on vacations and harder to reach so it did not happen overnight. Just yesterday I heard from my interviewer to state that they needed to be supervisory references not colleagues. I wrote, very tactfully and explained, again, that I was not ever formally observed by my supervisor and that the references I had submitted were much more familiar with my skills. She replied today that without supervisor references I cannot be considered for the position. She also indicated in this email that she would like additional clarity as to why I can't get supervisor references (though I don't think this will change the fact that they need them).

We are now very close to the beginning of a new school year and I can't keep going back and forth with this, so I am feeling finally ready to throw in the towel...however, I am hoping for some feedback/help.

Possible options:
1)Do I explain more in-depth the situation regarding my supervisor? (Did not want to do this at first for fear it would seems like I am bashing my employer)

2)Seek legal help (there is limited union support in my state now), since I have no reason to be evaluated poorly there is no reason I should be denied a reference?

3)Ask kindly to withdraw my application from consideration with perhaps the chance to reapply another time once I can work something out for references?

-Another option I thought of was asking if they would try to reach her by phone (rather than the form they require) but not say it was in regard to a job (she may consent to answering questions by phone if she did not think it would result in losing an employee) but this may be a bit of a long shot.

Ultimately, if I ever expect to get out of my current position I need to deal with this supervisor somehow bcs this issue may come up again.

-Any options I missed/ideas?

Again, I am sorry about the length.
posted by mdn31 to Human Relations (11 answers total)
Can't retired people still be references? I suggest asking your prior supervisors. One of my references is a retired person from a company that doesn't even exist anymore.
posted by headnsouth at 4:31 PM on July 30, 2012

1) "I have reason to believe there would be negative repercussions if my current supervisor were to know that I am interviewing for other jobs."
2) I can't see how this would help you. Even if you could pressure her by means of a legal threat, which I doubt, what kind of reference would she be likely give you then?
3) If you can figure something out, now is the time.

Could you provide positive written evaluations from this or previous positions?
Are there any possible avenues left with regard to finding those other previous administrators? (Facebook, for-pay lookup sites, mutual acquaintances, ...?)

Can you call the interviewer and explain the situation, and ask her what others in this situation have done? Surely it's not unusual in her world for applicants to not want to tell a possibly punitive current boss that they are leaving.
posted by ottereroticist at 4:42 PM on July 30, 2012

Can you talk to your union rep?
posted by twblalock at 5:11 PM on July 30, 2012

This might just be one of those unfortunate situations where they will not bend the rules, even if you are more than qualified for the position. They want supervisory references and if you're not able to provide them, it might not be enough.

I don't know what format your form is in, but, my advice would be:

You don't go to your current supervisor - it is absolutely not unheard of that you cannot obtain a reference from someone who would react negatively to you applying for work elsewhere.

Instead, you get references from your current school principals. They cannot provide direct supervisory references but they have been the most recent advocates for your work. Maybe that's all they really need.
posted by heyjude at 5:20 PM on July 30, 2012 [1 favorite]

Also consider that if your prospective employer is this inflexible about the application process, they are likely to be inflexible about everything else. Do you really want to work there?
posted by twblalock at 5:24 PM on July 30, 2012 [1 favorite]

Definitely ask your previous supervisors. Don't worry about them being retired, this kind of thing happens all the time. If you're applying for any kind of government job, they will not bend the rules on the type of references they need; school districts are notorious for this.
posted by corey flood at 5:42 PM on July 30, 2012

1. Stop explaining.
2. Forget legal or union help. You have no leverage.
3. The fact that previous supervisors are retired is irrelevant. Find the best among them and get a reference.
4. Do the same with your current supervisor. You may be surprised at the positive response.
5. In all cases: Ask them to send the reference to the prospective employer, with a copy to you -- BUT provide the wrong address for the prospective employer. Why? Because that lets you assess the response first, and decide how to proceed. Easiest way: Send your supervisors 2 stamped, addressed envelopes -- one to you, and one to Jack Smith, New Job, North Pole.
6. Pick the best reference and call back to give the referrer the right address.
7. Have NO moral qualms about this. The new employer must pay for the sins of all employers, especially your current one. It’s tough, but in a market economy, that’s the way it is.
8. Good luck!
9. Tell us how it goes.
posted by LonnieK at 6:07 PM on July 30, 2012 [1 favorite]

You mentioned that you don't report to the school principals, but surely they're responsible for the well-being of their students and their education. With that in mind, would it be possible to ask one or two of them to observe one or two of your sessions with the child/children in that principal's school, with the option to use that experience as a reference later?

I remember when I was student teaching, and I saw my teaching supervisors exactly three times a year - not really enough for a reference, but the principals I worked with were more than willing to give me a class period of two where they'd critique my skills and provide references when asked.

Good luck, by the way! You should definitely not withdraw!
posted by the artless dodger at 7:25 PM on July 30, 2012 [1 favorite]

I would ask around and see what my colleagues think. There is an administrator out there who will give you the reference you need, you just have to figure out who it is. A trusted colleague can help brainstorm ideas. They might know more about the politics of individual schools, since you say you are not housed at any one school.

Also, this sounds like some stupid requirement that the people at the new job have to fulfill -- don't stress it too much -- just provide them with enough to check off that check box.
posted by selfmedicating at 7:39 PM on July 30, 2012

Former principal one of the principals and explain the situation and ask if they will give you a reference. They should understand the difficulty you have getting a supervisor reference. Don't go into detail about the real supervisor, just say you need an additional reference. Happens all the time.
posted by tamitang at 7:54 PM on July 30, 2012 [2 favorites]

Forgive me if I don't understand the requirements of your prospective employers, but I can't quite understand why you can't use one or more of the principals at your multiple schools. Although you may not report to them directly, they do supervise your work; if one of 'their' kids had a bad experience with you, you can be sure they or a similar person of authority would act on the problem. Is their some bureaucratic characteristic that the prospective employer is citing that a 'supervisor' must possess? I can see how a prospective employer would not want to hear from someone you had worked with too long ago, but they should understand the nature of your position as well as we do and be able to see that you're keeping multiple supervisors happy.
posted by Tandem Affinity at 7:57 PM on July 30, 2012

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