HR Guide – 10 – References v 0.7 — 9 Comments

  1. Hi Paul, Thanks so much for this. I am in the private sector and trying to move to a federal job. They have asked me to provide my current supervisor as a reference but I can’t do that because it’s a really small company and there is a huge chance that I will be fired if they know I’m looking elsewhere. If I end up getting screened out, i would have put my current job in jeopardy for nothing. What do you advice?

    • Hi Sarah, It’s a crappy situation to be sure.

      The short answer is to contact the HR person who’s asking and explain the situation, and ask if you can give another name or perhaps even two other names.

      The longer answer is that they HAVE to have SOME references, i.e. you have to give SOME names, but they could perhaps do an extra one or two to make up for not having a current one. They often have to adjust, for example, if your current one has only managed you for a very short time, so they have ways around it for other reasons. But explaining you’re external, and the reason, will likely resonate with them (if they’re doing external hiring, they know these issues happen).

      The downside is that they may choose to offer no flexibility, in which case you’re kind of screwed, unfortunately. In the end, it is their decision as to how to handle it, and if one of them says, “No, we need current”, then that’s the decision. If it’s a small company, you might not have another option, but you could offer at least suggest someone who is “next best”. If you’re avoiding the current, they likely won’t accept it if your alternate ones are five years ago, but if you had someone who was more open and willing to offer the ref (coworker, another manager?) on the side, it might be sufficient.

      Good luck, and I’d love to hear what HR gives you for options.


      • Thank you for the quick response Paul. I did offer to provide a reference from my last supervisor from 6 months ago. I haven’t heard back yet but will keep you posted.

  2. Hi Paul,
    These guides are so helpful, thank you. I’m currently in the process for an external PM-06 position (for a tribunal) and my references were contacted about 2 weeks ago. (I did a written test and interview before that, and then had my fingerprints taken). I understand that this doesn’t necessarily mean I passed the interview (I thought it went pretty well, FWIW) but I am also now feeling very disappointed that I haven’t heard yet, that it means I did not get the position. Is this reasonable or do government processes just take longer? I keep fanatically checking my e-mail only to be disappointed every time….

    • Hi RK, alas there is no magic schedule.

      What most people don’t realize is that, generally speaking, each stage has to be completed for everyone before they do the next stage. If you assume an application + written + interview + references, here’s the challenge:

      – applications have a deadline, great;
      – reviewing applications takes time, depending on how many applied, and all have to be reviewed and either exams arranged or rejections sent;
      – written exams all have to be done, and lots of people have holidays, leave, work-related delays, scheduling problems, etc. — it only takes one to slow the process — and all of them have to be graded, with responses sent or interviews arranged;
      – again, it only takes one who is on holidays or approved leave, and the process grinds down — or the people running it are on holidays, but all the interviews have to be arranged, and marked;
      – Even if they do refs for everyone, the people running the process are at the mercy of people acting as references…I’ve been involved in comps where one of the refs was getting ready to go on holidays and was the current supervisor so their ref was almost mandatory, and they left for EIGHT weeks without submitting it first. Another time, a ref was the last one to do it, and sent the email on the last day before vacation after a three week delay, said “See attached” and forgot to attach it. It took three more weeks for them to come back from vacation to resend it this time with the attachment. In the summer, July and August are almost wipeouts…some continue, but there’s also the risk that you run it with an ad up for 2 weeks and people who were on vacation never even saw it.

      Finally, once everything is ALL in from EVERYONE, they review the pool to see who’s in and who’s out, make sure they have a good selection of candidates. And they can and do sometimes sit on it for a week or two while they figure out, okay, who might be the ones we choose? How many do we have budget for? etc. The pool is DONE, but they might not post anything about it…or the DG is away or the Director is away or the HR person is away, or the person who posts it on Publiservice is away.

      I’ve seen a schedule where just after refs were in, everything was done in two weeks. Six weeks is the norm from refs being contacted for an average size comp. But I’ve seen it run 3 months or more before it is finalized. In one case, they were only hiring one person and the person they wanted was on extended leave. So even if they took her, she wasn’t going to start for another 8 months, and thus no rush to finish the pool, they weren’t getting anyone out of it until after her leave was done, assuming she didn’t extend even then.

      Not the news you wanted to hear, but after another week or so, or better to be two weeks, you could send short note to the HR coordinator to ask how it’s going…


      • Gosh, thank you SO much for that detailed response. Whether or not I get the offer, it puts my mind at ease to have SOME insight into how complex the process can be. Really, your kindness and generosity in responding is so appreciated.

        It helps to know the process is long. But I did however hear from someone else in the competition who told me they had received a call last week asking if they were interested in the position. Their references were contacted after this call and they were told they’d hear from them this week. That doesn’t look good for me if offers are going out this week, and well, it’s almost Friday and crickets.

        I never received any such call and my references were contacted shortly after my interview. The person in question is already in the public service though, so I’m assuming they don’t need to go through security screening again and maybe the whole process is different for them?!

        Thank you again for this incredible website and your thoughtful responses.

        • Highly unusual to get asked if interested BEFORE references were called. But yes, it is much faster for them to take someone and if they are looking for someone urgently, it might make them lean in favour of someone else. Yet you can still make the pool. And they may have multiple positions. Keep hoping until you hear something definitive either way.


  3. Hi PolyWogg, first off, thank you so much for your hard work on this blog! It is much appreciated and has gotten me (an outsider) to this phase for my first competition! However I am a bit confused…

    First off the email from fast track solutions says “Please choose a different reference for each competency.” however within the official document that was provided to me “You may use the same reference for multiple questions”. When I asked for clarification all that was said was “You should use another reference”.

    Second, it is also stated that the reference “should” be a current or former supervisor.

    My issue is, I am not able to get my previous 3 supervisors to provide a reference (spanning 10 years I’ve no idea where they are now or have responded), I do have a former co worker (from a different department I did work for) who is willing to be a reference but I am not 100% confident in their ability to give a detailed response (more of a “yes they were great” and leave it at that person. I do have a current superior that is very willing to be a reference, and has been quite a mentor to me in life and would quite frankly be someone who I am highly confident could answer in detail.

    My question is, is it wrong of me to use the choice of reference verbatim according to the actual document and only use my current superior for all the questions (only 2) or would this hurt my chances?

    • Unfortunately, the person answering your questions about which ref to use, etc., is likely a clerk. They have no real understanding of the process, they likely are the administrative contact whose job is to match email x with candidate y to create a table they’ll use to validate info. Which means anyone who is outside the “norm” of what they’re looking for is at a disadvantage.

      The short answer is that of course you are going to use the same reference for more than one element. Not the least of which is that they’re likely to be the best for several examples. If I had worked as an EC-04 for example for one boss, got promoted to EC-05 with another, and was now competing for a -06 a few years later, which boss is likely to have the most relevant info about how I am currently performing? The second / current one. So you’re likely going to want to use them for your more senior examples. The previous one can speak to other issues.

      For your dilemma, you list who you have. Some people have had the same supervisor for 7 or 8 years. It makes VERY hard for them to list anyone else. Your problem is different — you can’t locate the others. In that case though, your solution narrows to “what do I have”? You list the people you CAN list, and give them a small explanation with your submission. Say, for example, that you have one current supervisor to submit plus one former coworker. Some people will add a “jump” reference if they can. So, for example, they’ll list their manager plus their director, noting that the Director may not have as detailed information.

      You list who you have. The good news is that you will NOT be the only person with a problem matching the typical submission. Everyone has SOME sort of problem usually. For myself, I worked for the same boss for a number of years, two levels above me with no intermediary, and when he retired, not long after, he changed his home contact information and I completely lost touch. No supervisor, no “jump” option. Others face the problem that their supervisor rotates so often, they might have to submit a phone book to list them. Or they’ve been on leave, the person’s moved on, the person isn’t the best at answreing referneces, or your “current” hates you.

      But worrying about it won’t help much. List the best you have, and if it isn’t what they want, they’ll come back and ask. If it doesn’t fit their criteria, there’s nothing you can do about it anyway. But often they adjust because others weren’t “normal” either.

      Kind of a rambling answer, hope it helps at least a bit.


Leave a Reply to Sarah Cancel reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *