Hi Ronnie Ann! I have a question about supervisor references. Finally the company I’ve been interviewing with called to request references. While the position is at a lower level than my former position, it is for a company I’m eager to work with, in an area that really interests me.
They have requested references from two supervisors plus one other source. I have no problem getting three or four great references from the people I’ve worked with. But getting multiple supervisor references might be tricky.
I was with my past company for almost a decade. For half of that time, I was in a high-level managerial position, reporting directly to the President, the owner of the company. This person, despite being very intelligent, was often unstable and manipulative. And at times bordering on abusive.
While HR was aware of these issues, there was nothing that could be done about it. Finally, I couldn’t take it any more. The stressful effect of my boss’ wild mood swings and screaming sessions was the key reason I chose to leave an otherwise great company. Although I have been careful not to mention this in any hiring situations.
As such, I don’t really want to use her as a reference if I can avoid it.
And so other supervisor references are needed!
I have included on my list one person who was my manager during my early years with the company, who is still there in a different capacity and would have no problem discussing my growth and contributions to the company.
Would it be feasible to also include someone who was in charge of a cross-departmental team that I was on more recently, even though technically I was at a higher job level than she was? She did manage and coordinate a number of efforts that I contributed to.
My only other option for actual supervisor references would be to call the person who managed me 10 years ago. I still keep in contact with him occasionally. But he doesn’t really have a sense of what I’m capable of now, so not sure that works.
What are your thoughts?
And here’s my reply…
First, congratulations on being it this enviable position. Clearly you impressed the new company enough to be asked for supervisor references. I love it when people who write me have already figured out the answer. As in your case.
The good news is that most places (except totally inflexible ones you probably wouldn’t want to work for anyway) do understand. They realize you can’t always find the exact supervisor references, especially in a case where you are taking a lower level position for the growth potential. And they also know that not every boss is an angel.
The former manager is a solid reference. Especially since he’s still there and can offer relevant references. And definitely include the person who managed the cross-departmental team, since even if you were technically higher up, technically she managed you. She’s a fine reference and can give recent feedback and legitimately comment on your ability to work with others, take direction, and also act autonomously within the team effort.
I think these are both good references. They asked for people who know you in a supervisory capacity and these both qualify. You might want to add notes on your reference list, describing the relationship under each name you provide. I always appreciate getting something like that when I do reference checks.
Most companies will understand sticky situations
Assuming the reason that some supervisor references aren’t available is clear enough, you should be fine. I only push further if I get suspicious and need to dig deeper. And for the cross-departmental person, just explain that she managed you. No need to explain exact titles and hierarchy. The reference checker can ask her that later if they want.
Hopefully these supervisory references plus your other reference(s) will be enough. Most times that would satisfy any reference checker. No need to add a potential landmine if you don’t need to.
What if they insist on less friendly supervisor references?
Of course, if they insist on talking to your former boss (and I kind of doubt they will), you let the new company know they weren’t thrilled you left, but will gladly provide the reference. And then you call your former boss and have the most pleasant chat you can manage, letting them know that you provided his/her name for a new job.
Odds are this won’t happen. But if it does and they provides less than favorable feedback, it still might not be a deal breaker. Most reference checkers look at the whole package, including the other references and how well they seem to know you and your work. I always did.
Still, the references you suggested should do the trick. Definitely go that route and see what happens.
Good luck getting though this part of the process. And good luck in the new job!
~ Ronnie Ann
[Post updated 2020]
About the author…
Ronnie Ann, founder of Work Coach Cafe and Work To The Wise, bases her real-world advice on her many years as an organizational consultant where she helped interview and hire people, added to a certificate from NYU in Career Planning & Development and her own adventures as a serial job seeker.
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