Could A Confidential Reference be Killing Your Career?

“Dear ISR, I’ve received some positive responses to my applications for international teaching positions. But, in 3 instances after the recruiter contacted my confidential referees, interest cooled down, making me wonder what the problem might be.

I am absolutely sure referees 2 and 3 are very positive and complimentary. But I’m less certain about my current employer for whom I have worked for almost 5 years, and under whom I really feel I have been poorly and disrespectfully treated.

The fact is, I’ve only listed my present Director (with permission) on the basis that it is usually expected the current employer be included. I am, however, beginning to think he is damaging my prospects. This is pure speculation but a distinct pattern is emerging that leads me clearly to this conclusion.

I do know he almost certainly scuppered another potential appointment 3 years ago when the head of the school I was applying to informed me that my Director said I was under contract and therefore not eligible to apply. This was not true because the new contract being offered for the next term had not yet been presented to me.

This is really a bad situation. How about some advice…..anybody?”

48 Responses to Could A Confidential Reference be Killing Your Career?

  1. Cat says:

    Bloody “Hear Hear!!!” Anonymous. You hit the sweet spot of the argument. I have never encountered as many lunatics and plain incompetents as I did while working in International Schools. But it WAS often hugely entertaining…well mostly!

    Like

  2. Anonymous says:

    I have worked in the International school circuit in the past, and I am now a Superintendant for a Canadian School district, but I have to confess that I have seen most (not all) school directors and even the vast majority of principals act unprofessionally and in many cases I have borne witness to International School administrators act out of jealousy for another colleague’s success or attempt to go to another school and/or promotion. I do not believe that it is a rare occurrence and it is definitely more prevalent in the International Teaching circuit than it is in the public school system. I do not believe that the quality of individuals is as superior as they are in the public systems in North America and Europe, and I see a lot of petty behaviours that would be a breach of professional code of conduct in another circumstance. It is important to remember that in the international circuit there is not teacher’s association or union that will protect the interests of the teacher, it is the free market system at its’ worst. In addition, you as teachers are viewed as a replaceable commodity and quite frankly it all comes down to dollars and cents, and NOT the needs of the students. If you teach internationally you need to accept this reality. When you do teach internationally you also have to accept that the types of individuals in administrative positions are more than likely to be of a lesser quality than administrators’ in the public system, largely because they are not held accountable and have ultimate authoritative power, which is coupled with the attitude (despite their transparent claims) that the only priority is the bottom line. Most international administrators would never make the cut as effective or ethically professional administrators in their own home countries. Yes, there are the occasional exceptions, but they are few and far between. My decades of experience in both worlds has cemented this as an absolute truth, and often the best teachers and people to lead education in the international community are left shut out by the petty, jealous, and incompetents who fear for their own jobs and desperately try to hold onto their inflated salaries.

    Like

    • Anonymous says:

      I would really like to add to your reply, but you have said it all–and perfectly. I worked in public schools in the USA for more than two decades before “trying something different” by going into international teaching. If my latest (second international)position were ever to have been my first, I really don’t think I would’ve remained in education AND thousands of students would not have had the opportunity to benefit from my talents, firm commitment and dedication to my profession–not to mention just good, effective and wholesome classroom teaching. I was lucky in that I had had a “positive history”
      Who knows how many young, talented teachers will leave the profession because they will only have known the lame direction of some of the MOST INCREDIBLY incompetent, pathetic
      excuses passing as ( many of) the international school administrators and their Directors in the field today.

      Like

  3. gutted says:

    We left a school after one year as the school was the most appalling institution we had ever worked in. There was a huge exodus of teachers and management due to the corrupt running of the school. We gave them our notice as required in our contracts. However when it came to signing up with a recruitment agency, we needed to have a statement from the school to say we had worked there and abided by our contract. As predicted, they would not provide the agency with any statement (we were not asking for a reference, just a statement to verify we had management positions at this school). ALL management and western colleagues have left this school leaving noone we could ask to verify our positions. We went on to get jobs elsewhere but feel bitter the school has the ability to blemish our otherwide positive record of employment….do we leave this school off our CV? Would like some feedback on this thanks!

    Like

  4. sad to say... says:

    I have been told that I had great sparkling references except for one that really does not shine like the others and was recommended to ask Search to remove it. When I asked my search associate, she refused to remove it saying that it is good for the employers to have a ‘well rounded’ view of me. I decided that I will not go back to Search again unless they remove this reference. I’m really sad, since I have wonderful references and since they are confidential, I can’t really send it to the next organization.

    Like

  5. Concerned says:

    Always follow your instincts. Do not use this reference from today! Deactivate any online accounts you have that include this reference, if it is not possible to remove his name from your list of references. Use an online job search agent that affords you the ability edit all areas of your application, including removal of references. Search is good that way. Use another administrator at your current school even if they were not your direct supervisor. The requirement is that they should be familiar with your work and be able to talk about your traits. Good luck!

    Like

  6. pierce rhoads says:

    The same thing happened to me in Japan. The head of school, who had been a personal friend, gave me an open reference, which was solid. I also asked the elementary principal for a reference and he, likewise, gave me an open reference, which was very supportive. Both men then entered very damaging references in a confidential reference file with one of the two large, international Search and placement firms.

    I sent out large numbers of applications, and where, in the past, I had gotten numerous replies, I got almost nothing. I then incurred a significant cost attending a recruiting fair in Cambridge. My luck there was no better. When I returned, I asked another friend, who was also a director of an international school, to check the references in my file. This person told me all of my references were excellent except the two references from my current school. This director stated both confidential references, which seemed to be almost identical in content and tenor, were both very damaging.

    When I contacted my director and the elementary principal regarding their duplicity, they had the audacity to say I was the one, who had acted unethically! Needless to say, my personal friendship with this director has been irreparably damaged along with the friendship I shared with members of his family, whom I had also considered close friends. Unfortunately, this director and the elementary principal have continued to flourish in the international school community. It is unfortunate the international Search and placement firms don’t require confidential references from teachers and support staff members for administrative candidates. Maybe, then, some of these unscrupulous individuals would meet the same fate as those teachers they have slandered.

    Like

    • Anonymous says:

      Pierce

      Whilst it is unfortunate that you had received bad references, thinking that they were good, you have been unethical. The reference is private and confidential and not written for your eyes. You obtained this information in an underhanded manner.

      Again you have my sympathy that the referee did not feel that they could be honest in front of you about how they felt.

      Perhaps it just bgoes to show that sometimes it is best that you dont know what people really think of you as this situation makes life ebven more difficult to maintain profession and ethical relationships

      Like

      • happy at home says:

        Are you kidding. In what other industries does this ridiculous practice take place. Teachers are at the mercy of directors and must “tow the line” if they want a positive reference. I left international school teaching because of the insidious practices that I saw. I know, but this is how you get real references. WRONG. Since when does a director have any idea of how well a teachers does their job. Directors spend little if any time in classrooms and just listen to gossip and bitching. the system is floored and extremely one sided.

        Like

  7. Anonymous says:

    The solution is simpe to find out what is going on. Have a friend call the reference that you think is bad and pose as a potential employer. They can ask questions about etc….if the potential bad reference gives you a bad report then you know for sure where the probelm is.
    I actually did this and confronted the person giving me the bad reference and the HR director. In the US giving bad references is against the law.
    Doing this stopped the problem.
    Most friends should be happy to help in a situation like this.

    Like

  8. may says:

    Can someone tell me if a school can write something bad about us teachers in the Search Associates without us having asked them for references? and without us knowing?
    I had a bad experience in a school, and now i am worried they have written something in the Search page without me knowing, as some schools did not contact me as they said they would. How can i find out?

    Like

    • Anonymous says:

      References are provided for SEARCH based on the communication from the candidate to them – they send a link directly to the referee to fill in. No one can access your file at all, they can only provide a completed reference if invited.

      Like

  9. eslkevin says:

    Warning, people can be blackballed by flags put in a reference letter.

    However, most blackballing is done in the phone call.

    Like

  10. One Idea says:

    Ask for a written reference for your file. If they write a good one include it with your cv, then the prospective employer can tell just what a two faced liar the administrator who back stabs you in a confidential reference but says nice things to your face is.

    Like

  11. Anonymous says:

    I think the above administrator makes some good points. Before I handed in my resignation I worked my way up the food chain and explained why I was leaving; first my HOD, then the principal then the head of school. I explained that it was not the school but it had to do with what I needed professionally; that’s a good start, I think. Don’t leave anyone out of the loop. 2nd of all I requested references from both my current school and my prior school. Now, I have no idea what the references say or which ones my representative has chosen to put on file. As a matter of fact I have no idea what a blank form even looks like. The whole idea that you have to be in outstanding relations with every school you work at is absurd; some admin don’t like you just because……they don’t like you. Perhaps as an Admin you can share just what type of questions are asked. Do they ask about your ability to do your job, (something my admin and even HOD can’t really answer because they only come in once a year), do they ask about absences, attendance to meetings, involvement in the school, completing required paperwork on time…things that are important in the everyday running of the school??? I’ve not been absent one day in 4 years, have not missed deadlines, get back to parents on time with emails, am there to support my students during tutorials……BUT WHO IN THE HECK KNOWS THIS, BUT ME??? The whole process seems a bit superficial. We have our share of problems in the States but at least when the independent schools are thinking about hiring you the fly you in to spend a couple of days and you got to get in the classroom and teach a few classes with all of the admin observing you. Then you have to meet with a number of student, teacher and admin committees before they decide. Yes, it’s a long process but if you don’t get hired it’s because you couldn’t cut the mustard. Good administrators know that every school/admin will not be your cup of tea but as long as you have not done something illegal, dangerous, drug related or damaging to the school you’ll be treated with respect, and, if you can do the job, they’ll hire you. I’d sure like to hear from a few more Admin as this sort of cut throat attitude, (you didn’t work out for us so we’re going screw up your career), would indeed bring on lawsuits back home.

    Like

  12. Seven countries and counting says:

    As an administrator, first please ask me if you you can use me as a referee. The numbers of reference requests I get for teachers who I did not even know are applying for a job would, surprise most people. While being professional, I have given those teachers appropriate references, however I think my reference could be better crafted if I was in the loop. Some people who have asked me for a reference, we have had to discuss just what it is I would say, others I have advised that my reference would not be positive. On the positive side I would I am personally proud of the number of people I have supported in furthering their career.

    On a personal note I always ask my referees if they can be a positive referee for me and explain that if they cannot, I would prefer not to use them. A hard thing to do but really valuable. Then where there is a reference gap, be honest and say exactly what happened, good employers value honesty, I had to do this once as I arrived at a school, my contract was not honored so I took the three month exit clause. Some of my most supportive and excellent teachers have been employed after an honest discussion of what went wrong at their previous school, the director grapevine can work for you in this way, we know some of our peers are less than scrupulous.

    I urge you to keep your referees in the loop we can give a reference tailored to the job you are applying for if we know what it is.

    Like

  13. Anonymous says:

    I had two references which I know were negative, but there was nothing I could do about them, because I had nothing to replace them. Now I do, from sources that I know will represent me truthfully, so I have had the other two removed. Within 24 hours of this removal I had a school ask me to interview with them! Kind of proves the point. It’s a difficult issue with Search, who expect four references, when you are only a newish teacher. I didn’t have that many that were decent and relevant, so I had to use the dodgy ones (including my sexist ex-principal, who frequently spoke to me in a manner that would get him sacked back in my home country), knowing there was no other way. Perhaps Search and others need to revisit this idea of so many references, especially when some people are being forced to use ones that are not acceptable?

    Like

  14. Anonymous says:

    Two points: Your referee does not need to say anything more than “no comment” to sabotage your chances. The agency that has a bad reference usually will not delete it unless you tell them to close out your file altogether.

    So once you are maligned there is usually nothing you can do about it that can effectively clean up the mess.

    Like

  15. Wondering says:

    My Search Associate was happy to tell me the general tone of my references. However, I’m concerned about using my former director in the future. After being baited and switched in my teaching assignment, I asked to convert my contract to one year and had no problem getting a job at another school within the same organization. But when I asked that director for a reference, he said he doesn’t write references. He told me it should be done by the principal who has conducted the observations as he’s in a better position to assess my performance. The principal gave me a great open letter, but as I wasn’t registered with a recruiting agency, he didn’t fill out the form letter. Also, my HOD gave me an excellent open letter. Still, I’m very interested in the contradiction here, because you’re all saying that the director should be writing the letters. Incidentally, my former Head of School didn’t check even one reference before he hired me. They were desperate to fill the position, hence the bait and switch. I would be curious to know what is common practice. Why did he pass the buck?

    Like

    • expatmanuk says:

      It’s true the manager who observes lessons may be asked to write the reference, as, as you say, they have a clearer knowledge of your classroom abilities, though a good director should have a clear overall view of a teacher’s whole school performance, unless it is a huge school – which international schools generally aren’t.
      I have been tempted to hire people without references or with weaker ones, but only with an excellent interview and explanation. Sometimes an interviewer needs to recognise there are these poor managers out there, and teachers do suffer from them, though no fault of their own.

      Like

  16. Trying to get a job says:

    Three years ago I left a post with a good reference and got a new job. Then there were several disputes over money, I wasn’t the only one. It took more than a year to get what I was owed and we are talking a lot!
    I was a shoe in for a couple of jobs and then, nothing. The good reference had turned bad and spread in the community although I was no longer using them. I was at the stage of having a contract dispatched when I got a phone call about my alcoholism!
    There are so many unscrupulous senior managers who are unprofessional, indiscreet and promoted well beyond their level.
    My current Head got the job by inviting the right people – including the owners – to dinner.

    Like

  17. M says:

    I had an employer who gave me a great written reference, told me he would be honored to be a future reference, then gave a horrible reference over the phone to a prospective employer. I lost the job. I only found out because the prospective employer wrote down the phone interview and someone else saw it. When I confronted my former employer he told me he needed me and didn’t want me to leave the job! Needless to say he was eventually fired as this was not the only unscrupulous thing he had done – but that verbal review got passed around and hurt me anyway. There are many reasons why you may get a bad reference so don’t assume a job well done will earn you an onward reference.

    Like

    • Is this a joke?? says:

      Wow!! I’ve heard of directors giving bad reviews but why let a person waste their money and time flying overseas to attend a fair if you’re going to screw them. Why not just say, “You might want to ask another person as I honestly don’t think that my reference would serve you well.” Isn’t that what we’re asked to do when students ask for references? Anyways, how does one delete a reference? It looks as though once they’re in and submitted they can’t be changed.

      Like

      • Anonymous says:

        You can ask Search to not list that reference. So long as you have the minimum number of references, Search will not list a particular reference if you so request. They will not “delete” the reference – they want administrators to know that they value references. Search will keep all references in their archive. But you, as a paying candidate, have a right to ask that a particular reference NOT be listed.

        Like

  18. HM says:

    I had a colleague who had excellent written references (as they should have been) and then I heard the Director on the phone to the prospective school say so so is a wonderful _______ BUT….

    The “but” would be enough to put any prospective employer off…

    But by accident, who would have known?

    Like

  19. joe smith says:

    You could also get your wife/husband/friend or someone you trust to contact the suspected bad reference, pretend that they are some human resource admin at some off the road international school to find out if they are really giving you a bad reference or not.

    I have never done this, but like the author of the thread, I have also had hot prospects go suddenly cold and I have suspected a bad ref from my former employer.

    Like

  20. Had this happen to me and found out. I confronted the administrator when I returned from the fair. His response was, “Who told you. That is against the rules!” After discussing this with him for some time and pointing out the difference in the written recommendation he had given me, my evaluations and no record of any problems, as well as my willingness to discuss this matter with the CEO of the company, he agreed to write it again. However, could I ever trust this guy again ? No way.

    Ignore the comment about about good teachers rarely getting bad recommendations. As obvious by this thread (and others) there are a fair amount of bad administrators. Always ask if they will be positive before getting them to submit, check if at all possible, confront if you find a difference in a written one given to you and the confidential. But above all, don’t let it create doubts in your mind about your abilities or commitment to teaching

    Like

  21. Trav45 says:

    Just ask your Search rep (or whatever company you’re with). They won’t tell you what’s on the recommendation, but they will tell you whether it’s good or not. There was a rec I wasn’t sure about, so I just asked, and they told me it was very positive. I was hired by a great school for next year, so they must have been right! : )

    Like

    • Andy says:

      When I was in this position I did indeed approach my area Search Associate who bluntly refused to comment either way on the nature of any of my references. I wasn’t asking him to betray a confidence, just an indication. That being said, although the stance he took was not helpful I understood….so I removed the potentially offending reference from my list.

      Like

  22. Anonymous says:

    Not enough is done to help good teachers and good schools. honestly- there is some really sour pickles out there that can give you a bad reference because of the misfunctionality of the school, thier life, living in foriegn land.- More needs to be done to credit good teachers and schools who treat their employees fairly honestly and try hard hard to see the sucess of the students not line thier pockets on the price of the parents.

    Like

  23. Anonymous says:

    Reality is, if you are a responsible teacher your references won’t ever be a problem. If one bad reference appears and is out of line with what other referees have said, most administrators will question the outlier. If you have multiple marginal references, guess where the problem is!!! Reality check . . . good teachers rarely get bad references.

    Like

    • Is this a joke?? says:

      Sorry to say that this isn’t the case, especially when you’re in large schools and the directors have no idea what you’re doing in class, who’s responsible and who’s not….they just go on rumors. I’ve seen some really poor teachers get good placements just because they’re part of the “In Club”.

      Like

    • paste says:

      I want to live in your world, Anoymous! The reality elsewhere is that everybody has their own issues to deal with and HoSes are not immune to being unfair, vindictive or unprofessional just because they are heads! Sometimes there ARE crazies at the top! For a whole host of very ordinary reasons. Why would you think that the world is perfect or fair? Also, an unethical head could truly dislike a teacher who stands their ground on an ethical issue and dislike them simply because they were good… or because they were inexperienced and felt threatened… or were being given absolute hell by the Board and over time it affected their world view… there are a whole lot of reasons why the world is neither perfect nor fair.

      Like

    • Anonymous says:

      not true, i have heard my last principal say that she will give poor references to good teachers to keep them and good references to bad teachers to get rid of them, get real, teaching is like any other profession, a popularity contest, and they can love you one day and not like you the next,

      Like

  24. expatmanuk says:

    1. Check your local employment laws; in the UK it is illegal to give a BAD reference, but there are certain key phrases which if left out, or used, can give a negative reference. You probably also have the right to see the reference before it is sent.
    2. Don’t bother using your HOD etc; employers will wonder why you did not use your Director / Head.
    3. If an employee is awful, a Head will generally give a sufficiently good reference to be able to get rid of them – it’s easier than firing. If an employee is GOOD, they may be too good to lose and an unscrupulous Head may give bad references to keep them. But a vaguely decent Head should recognise when an employee is either unhappy where they are (in which case the first line of response should be further development / challenge / promotion), or reasonably needs to move on in order to further their career. This is normal and accepted amongst PROFESSIONAL Heads.

    You must TALK to your referee, outline clearly and in a positive way why it is important to you to leave your school and move on, and ask to see his / her reference; if not containing positive phrases, ask for it to be re-worded, negotiate what is and is not said, and agree that it would be better for you and them if you were supported in your attempt to move on. Only if this fails is it worth using someone other than the Head, and be ready to explain why at interview. There is hope, but you may have to move sideways for a while into another related field in order to sidestep someone who cannot write a good reference.
    Of course, it’s always possible your Head does not know HOW to write a good reference, in which case, NEGOTIATE, and guide her / him!
    Good luck!

    Oh, PS – if there really is a problem which prevents them writing a good reference for you, you should also negotiate this and ways to improve then ultimately leave.

    Hope that helps.

    Like

  25. CJC says:

    You might consider asking another past supervisor who has access to references to check yours and to let you know if there is something negative. I have wondered this myself but have not acted on it because, luckily, I have always gotten a job. I have considered asking someone though, mostly because I am curious to see what my previous bosses have had to say about my performance.

    Like

  26. Anonymous says:

    I received a bad reference, but didn’t know it. I went through the Bangkok and Cambridge search fairs with no offers and had no clue about the reference. I interviewed with a friend and when she saw the bad review, she immediately told me to remove the review. Four days later, I got a job. If you go through a fair without an offer, have someone secretly look at your Search or ISS reference. They might say the references are confidential and its unethical to look at them; its total BS that they wouldn’t contact me and let me know about the review.

    Like

    • Is this a joke?? says:

      I would hope that company representing you would alert you if there were damaging information and ask you to see another reference; after all, if you don’t get hired they don’t get paid. It seems completely unprofessional, and perhaps that’s what we’re dealing with here, for these directors to hand in a reference that is worthless to you; I wonder who does their confidential references. I myself would probably go straight to my rep who has access to all of my records before I go to the people that I suspect. If they wrote such a damaging reference no need for them to know that it’s being dismissed.

      Like

    • Anonymous says:

      Yes! I experienced as you say, an incident where it became clear a referee was saying one thing to my face but behind my back he was writing negative and untrue comments about my professionalism and ability. I dropped him as a referee and asked another manager to act as a referee.

      Like

  27. 2nd time around says:

    I had this exact problem. The principal said one thing to my face and then wrote something entirely different on the confidential reference. I found out because she asked me to mail it for her in the sealed envelope. Not trusting her, I decided to take a peak and found she had literally stabbed me in the back.

    I later posted a review of her on ISR and she went on a witch hunt trying to figure out who had done it. In the end she was the one that suffered as the world knew her true colors and she catered to rich parents, altering grades and more.

    I left her out of my packet and found another position. She on the other hand did not. What did we do before ISR?

    Like

  28. Worried and unemployed says:

    I have wondered this myself. I have been assured by multiple sources that my references in the Job Fair data base are ok and shouldn’t hinder me. I believe I can trust these opinions(what else can I do) but worry that if there were something in there that was bad I would not be allowed to delete it. This seems troublesome as new ones crowed out the older ones and it only takes one troubled relationship with an administrator to paint a bad picture over other what could be good to great references. I think we should be able to control our documents but it appears to be not the case.

    Like

    • paste says:

      Search will let you delete a reference. Probably not a current HoS, but an older one. You should talk about this with your associate (don’t expect they will read it to you), they will advise you.

      Like

  29. Beentheredonethat says:

    Usually I ask a person, “Are you able to give me a good reference?” straight out before I use them. If they hesitate, that’s the end of it. In your case you listed your current director, but it sounds like you didn’t ask him the question first. Ask him. If he says no or vacillates then you had better strike him off.

    Ask the person who has gone cold on you why they seem to have lost interest. Often times they will tell you. Another idea is to have a friendly administrator ask for your references with the idea he will give you a heads up if there is something negative.

    Confront people you suspect are giving you damaging references and ask them if there is anything you should be concerned about. Most folks will either tell you or give it away in their answer.

    Like

  30. John says:

    Change your referee. Use the Principal or your HOD or anyone else. I have seen exactly the same thing weh I was recruiting when I received a reference that was so bad I had to tell the candidate I could not even interview them – and I told him why. I believe that if someone writes a reference they should be able to defend it and he was able to discuss the issue with a very embarrased referee. He then changed the referee and got a new position very quickly

    Like

    • Anonymous says:

      In my experience, recruiters often call referees that you may not even have listed in your paperwork. For example, if you haven’t listed your current supervisor as a reference, the chances are that they will be called anyway.

      My advice: If you know someone who may give you a questionable reference, tell the perspective employer upfront and explain why this person may not be so positive.

      Like

      • expatmanuk says:

        This won’t work, as any negative comment from the applicant on their employer reflects on the applicant – no prospective employer wants an employee willing to make negative comments about a past employer, no matter how honest an appraisal that might be.
        There are only two ways forward – talk to your current referee, or move sideways for a while.

        Like

    • Anonymous says:

      So much for respecting the confidentiality of references. Unless you were sharing an open reference, your action was unprofessional. Perhaps you might have contacted the referee and expressed to him that his reference was limiting the candidate and inquire why he provided such a poor reference. That would have been fair to both parties.

      Like

      • paste says:

        I think that damaging someone’s career is a pretty serious action and merits an answer. If the original referee simply didn’t like the candidate, a basic, simple reference should have been given. If the original referee was so concerned about the performance of the employee, then why did they want to ensure that they keep the employee working there? Clearly the employee wasn’t that toxic.

        Like

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