Lead CRA Q&A: Am I getting a bad reference from a previous boss?

Anonymous said…

Hi, thank you for the advice you offer in your blog. Just a small question, I was referred for an interview at an international pharmaceutical company. I passed the first interview and was asked to have psychometric test which I was prepared for by a psychologist. They probably called my previous boss and after all that I received a negative response. This is the second time that I miss a good position after she was called. What do you think I should do? I have a lot to contribute to any firm, I just can’t find them. thank you Y.S –September 3, 2009 6:46 AM

The Lead CRA  responds…

Hi Y.S., and thanks for your question. I am sorry to hear that you were passed over for an opportunity that you were interested in. I am a very firm believer that things happen for a reason and I hope it will be of comfort to you to think that missing out on this particular job(s) leaves you available to find one that will be an even better fit and more rewarding experience. You would like to know whether you failed to land these positions because of your performance at the interview, due to results of an interview assessment, or because of a bad reference from a previous boss, or even a combination of any of those three factors.

You do have some control over the success of the interview. Please review my interview tips so you are always prepared – by knowing what to expect you are most likely to perform your best. To your second point, I have never been given a test or a psychologist assessment (to my knowledge) at an interview so I am not in the best position to give you advice. All I can say is that in the US we have laws that protect us from discrimination and you should always have your radar up for illegal interview questions and practices that may be used to exclude you. I am not speaking from a legal reference here, but I believe that if you agree to submit to the test you are consenting to the results potentially being used against you and you just have to either be at peace with that or decline to move forward.

In regards to your final concern, you are wondering whether a previous boss is sabotaging your success during the reference process. There is no requirement that you must give a prospective employer your former supervisor’s contact information and I might advise you not to do so if you are worried about this particular reference. Providing a reference may be a condition of employment and withholding references will be a huge red flag to the hiring company so simply offer an alternative reference instead – someone you trust more, even if they weren’t your line manager perhaps they had some less dotted-line supervisory experience with you.

Ask permission from all your references, provide them with a job description, and email them a bulleted list of 3 or 4 of your major recent accomplishments or strengths. This will help them prepare and promote you to the new company. Maybe your old boss isn’t saying anything hurtful they are just blind-sided by the reference request and have no idea how to help you or what to say. In any case, I do recommend you have a conversation with that person before you consider providing their contact information to a potential employer again. I will point out that many large companies have a policy that managers may not provide references for liability reasons. Your former boss may have been instructed by HR only to verify the dates of your employment and not to comment at all on your performance.

Don't Take It Personally
Try not to take rejection too personally.

Today there are many qualified candidates seeking positions and the competition is stiff. A firm may look at 5 fabulous job seekers, any one of which would perfectly suit the role but they can only choose as many as they have requisitions for. Therefore, perfectly good candidates will regularly be turned away. In other words, not receiving an offer for the job doesn’t necessarily mean you wouldn’t be great for the job or that you did anything wrong at the interview. Finally, you can’t force an offer, sometimes they just aren’t going to love you and there is nothing you can do to overcome a lack of fit. Personally, I’d rather focus my energy on finding a great job where my unique talents are really appreciated than muddle through in an OK job where they weren’t super excited about me as a candidate in the first place.

Reader questions may have been edited for spelling or grammar, for reasons of anonymity, truncated, or edited in other ways although the main content remains unchanged.

About The Author

The Lead CRA

Nadia started The Lead CRA blog in 2007. She is now lead author for ClinOps Toolkit. Nadia is currently working as a Clinical Program Manager at a small specialty pharmaceutical company in the San Francisco Bay Area. You can reach Nadia via email at leadcra@clinopstoolkit.com anytime.