Saturday Work: Dear Jeremy: Problems at work? Our agony uncle - and you, the readers - have the answers
(Guardian (UK) Via Acquire Media NewsEdge) How can I get a manager from six years ago to
give me a reference?
My career, in effect, ended with the recession in 2008. Since then, I have only done occasional and seasonal labour for Royal Mail. I am still hoping to resume the type of work I used to do, and this year I was offered work to cover someone on maternity leave.
For a referee, I filled in a manager's name from my job in 2008 (I was an auditor for a public body that allocated development funding). While we have not been in touch since then, the job had gone well and I received a fulsome commendatory message from her at its conclusion. However, the manager declined the recruiter's request for a reference on the grounds of the time lapse and different work character.
The consensus seems to be that I should have requested a reference ahead of the application but I have used her as a referee in hundreds of applications over the years, and had I repeatedly checked her willingness to provide a reference, I would have thought my ex-manager would have, long ago, considered me a pest.
Unless I can somehow reconstruct this route to a reference, my applications for future work will be impoverished. As it was, this offer was withdrawn. I wonder if you have any suggestions.
You say that you haven't been in touch with your former manager since 2008 - during which time you've used her name as a referee "hundreds of times". Given that five or six years have passed since you last had contact, it doesn't seem unreasonable to me that she has declined to give you a reference in this instance on the grounds of lapse of time, even without the "different type of work" factor. You would not have needed to pester her with repeated checks on her willingness to provide references - an occasional acknowledgement on your part of your appreciation for her continued support might well have kept the relationship open.
You should certainly do your best to repair this important connection. You should use her response to this last request for a reference as the reason for re-establishing contact, but be absolutely certain not to suggest any disappointment or reproach on your part. Make it clear that you completely respect her reasons for having declined to be a referee on this occasion but say you hope that you may still give her name for future, more relevant, opportunities.
You might mention that you refrained from checking with her regularly so as not to bother her unduly, but now realise that was probably a mistake. You may well have seemed to have been taking her for granted, which was not at all the case. It's probably also worth telling her - which she may well not realise - that none of the work you've undertaken since leaving your job in 2008 has been of the kind to provide you with a suitable reference, so that hers continues to have a very real value.
As a backup, any references you can obtain from Royal Mail would be useful. When the most recent reference is getting on for six years old, recruiters and potential employers are bound to raise an eyebrow.
* You could approach the recruiters to find out what they are looking for in a reference. I have changed jobs often (due to temporary work) and my role is often very different from one to the next. When I've asked, all recruiters are really looking for is to confirm the dates you worked there, a note of your sick record etc. If this is all they need, you could try approaching the HR department for the "standard employment figures" for your time in your previous role. bubblingbeeble
* It sounds like your ex-manager may have been giving you less than stellar recommendations anyway. Maybe you need to find an alternative - a previous workplace, the HR dept, or anyone apart from that manager. FieFiFoe
* Why not get a reference from your most recent employer, Royal Mail? I can understand that someone who has had no contact with you for six years is reluctant to act a referee. Marshdweller
Should I quit my job or undergo a compulsory, but flawed, assessment?
I work for a bank through an Indian IT services company with operations based in the UK. In order to progress I have to complete, or to use the parlance "clear a unified competency framework" it has devised. If I don't, I will have to leave the company. This framework enables an employee to undertake "learnings" and take assessments related to his or her area of work each year. The argument is that they don't want employees to stagnate.
That wouldn't be a problem if the links through a web portal to access the assessment worked. Or if you weren't confronted with a blue screen in the middle of taking it. To top it all, the assessment is not only 60% irrelevant, but poorly written. One of my colleagues had to cheat to pass the exam after the second try.
When I try to speak to HR, I get nowhere and my Indian colleagues greet all this with remarkable breeziness. I was actually told by my proctor that five years ago things were even worse. Should I give my two months notice and move on?
I never like encouraging readers to cheat - and though on this occasion I think you could probably follow the example of your colleague with an absolutely clear conscience, I'd still advise against it. It seems pretty obvious that this "unified competency framework" has been poorly devised and is difficult, if not impossible, to navigate.
The "remarkable breeziness" evidenced by your Indian colleagues strongly suggests that everybody tacitly accepts this procedure has been introduced more to provide spurious evidence of compliance than for any more respectable reason - and nobody expects it to be taken at face value.
But having said all that, you will certainly continue to feel uneasy, and rightly so. From what you say, the bank you work for would seem to be outsourcing some of its IT requirements to this Indian company and while the IT company might be fairly casual in its approach to standards, the bank itself will not be.
The discovery of some minor irregularity, not necessarily directly involving IT, could easily lead to an internal investigation which, in turn, could expose all sorts of other irregularities. They don't have to be criminal to have serious consequences.
So I'd strongly advise you to plan your exit while you have the time to do so. Dodgy companies make for very uncomfortable employers.
* Clearly, if you can get out, get out of such a bonkers organisation. If you can't get out, play the game and make up something. anenome6
* Take it and see what happens. If you fail and they fire you, it's quite likely you'd get a decent payout for unfair dismissal. If you pass then the problem goes away. In the meantime, start looking for a new job with a company that isn't run by idiots. tbatst
* Are you really going to quit rather than face a grocer's apostrophe? In every job I've done there has been a process like this - pointless, frustrating, badly designed and usually mis-spelt. Grit your teeth, get through it, cheating if necessary (at least that demonstrates initiative) and then get on with the real work. Horatio93
Read more problems and offer your advice - we'll run the best of it alongside Jeremy's in next Saturday's column = theguardian.com/work
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