Ask a teacher

20th July 2007 at 01:00
I have had many job interviews recently, and have found out that a reference can be perceived negatively, and that is the only reason I have been unsuccessful. What can I do about it?

Sarah, Lancashire

A The trouble is you only know that this is the reason for failure if an interview panel is honest enough to tell you. Once you get this feedback it is very important to challenge the referee. This doesn't have to be aggressive, and it might make the referee rethink the reference. You may get a useful performance appraisal and perhaps a lesson in how to manage perceptions about the way you do your job. Richard, Selsey

A In less enlightened times, headteachers were occasionally known to write poor references for staff members that they simply couldn't afford to lose. More likely, you are being "damned with faint praise" by a referee who is, for some reason, too inhibited to give you the reference you think you deserve. But it could also be that a "poor reference" is an excuse used by an interviewer too lazy to tell you the real reason you were unsuccessful. Pat, Brighton

A The key point is not the negativity of the references but the accuracy. Could it be that they are a valid reflection of your performance and have quite rightly stood between you and your ambitions? If so, the way forward lies not so much in querying the references as in getting your professional act together. The first place to look, then, might be the mirror. Linda, Worthing

A You could leave the reference slot blank, and suggest the potential employer phones you so you can explain your position. Or you could fill it in but write, at the start of your application, that you believe the reference to be unfair and that you should have the opportunity to make your case in person. Then they can decide which is the real you the reference or the person in front of them. It puts the point across and, moreover, it is unusual. Most employers conducting job interviews are crying out for applicants to show a bit of individuality and non-conformity, demonstrating they can bring something exciting to the job Tony, Northants

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