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Does your boss (or coworker) have a right to have a say in your career?

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Re: Does your boss (or coworker) have a right to have a say in your career?

Postby Nate W. » Thu Jun 01, 2017 11:28 am

Dick Woodward wrote:Nate:

As someone who has hired a number of people, I would not view a lack of a reference from one's immediate previous industrial supervisor to be a problem - after all, it is uncommon to announce that you are looking for a position. I would be a bit concerned if there were not references from supervisors or colleagues from a previous position.

On the other hand, if someone coming to me from academia did not have references from either a PI or, in the case of a graduating PhD, from thesis committee members, this would cause me a great deal of concern. I would specifically be concerned that this person could not "play well with other children", and would probably look at alternative candidates.

As far as DX' comment that company personnel do not go out of their way to sabotage other's careers, that is absolutely true. There is, however, the power of the hiring manager's network - for example (true story), I was interviewing X for a sales position. I also had an trusted acquaintance who had worked with X at another company. I asked about X and how X fit in. The reply - "X is good enough, although not great. However, at trade shows, X is generally found at the hotel pool - especially when there is set-up or tear-down to be done." Guess what - X did not get the job due to questions about work ethic.

As is often stated on this forum, there are many, many applicants for every position. Anything that raises a question about an employee's fitness for the position may be enough to derail an application.

You also suggest the possibility of legal action in certain cases. I am aware of a situation where an applicant actually informed the hiring manager that the applicant had sued a previous supervisor for harassment. According to the manager, based on what the candidate divulged, the supervisor deserved it. However, the hiring manager told me that when she polled all of the other interviewers, words like "brittle", "overly sensitive", "potential for problems" and the like were used. Someone else got the position. If you are in the unfortunate position of taking legal action against a supervisor, the word will get out and it will negatively impact your career.

Dick


Thanks Dick for the advice. Have you heard or been in situation where your boss was asked to leave because his superior disliked him and then wanted to get rid of anyone associated with him. So then your boss's supervisor took it one step further out of anger at your boss to blacklist any of your former boss's employees from reapplying to the University. This was accomplished through a mechanism whereby when you list your former employer and department on an application; HR calls the former department and coordinates a check between the old department and new prospective department done by an administrative HR representative that works in the departments. Apparently, your boss's supervisor puts the word out through his HR department administrator not to hire anybody associated with your boss; even after 4 years. You asked the boss's supervisor about this in a polite way who says you are guilty by association but you didn't do anything else wrong. You push him by saying this has nothing to with me; I can't control my boss's behavior and how well the two of you get along. Of note, your boss is a difficult person to get along with and you can understand where the boss's supervisor is coming from and why he asked him to leave. However, you accomplished a lot for him and he is a PI listed on your publications. Because of this silly disagreement, your former PI of many years will not provide an accurate or honest reference for any of the five people who stayed behind. Or not provide one at all. Some former employees have gotten the former supervisor to say nothing and the University likewise will now say nothing; but the boss's supervisor still has his block in place (since he and his HR supervisor are still there).

There is more to the backstory of why the two professors don't get along but nobody will talk openly after 4 years. It is all rumors and gossip. Even former residents seem fearful to talk about it. When the former employees left behind ask senior administrators about it, they dodge the questions and seem annoyed that you asked. Nobody among the administrators has said you or the five left behind did anything wrong; but some say they agree with supervisor's BS about "guilt by association."

However, you are trying to compete elsewhere in the University but you have this supervisor block and no letter from your former PI and thesis advisor. You have obtained two positions since then and you have the support of all your former coworkers/and other thesis advisors. Further, you have your former supervisor's evaluations which are positive. You have 3 publications to show. How can you explain this situation without disparaging your former boss or his supervisor while sounding professional?

What would you do in this situation? Does the supervisor (or former boss) have a right to interfere in my career over something as silly as this? How do you get people involved to talk about this?

{these two guys are really unreasonable and some senior administrators at this University are "feel" like they are beyond reproach}
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Re: Does your boss (or coworker) have a right to have a say in your career?

Postby Nate W. » Thu Jun 01, 2017 12:16 pm

D.X. wrote:
Nate W. wrote:
You are right about something. Academia is horrible at leadership and management issues. Why? This is not brain surgery even Forest Gump can figure how to lead or motivate other people.

[/b]


Hi Nate,

This is a very wrong assumption. Leading and motivating People is an art as much as it can be considered a science. Even those who may have some Level of innate leadership (usually linked to lead by example behaviors) Need development and understanding here on how to have others follow their lead willingly while ensuring high Motivation and performance. And this is why both on the industry side there is alot of Training here, in fact there there is a whole industry here that includes academicians in the world of psychology and Business sciences actively researching and understanding this and even though we think we know alot we continue to learn.



The other Point to mention, some of These bad behaviors are in the minority of PIs to be honest - especially today ist more and more common for Folks to be looking externally to academia, ist not a suprise anymore in my opinion and the majority of Folks i've met didn't have such issues so lets just contextualize it. Alot of it is also perception driven - i remember thinking my PI would have never supported me to move out of academia and I resisted talking ot her about it, it was not until I was in my post-doc that I approached - know what I found...a completely supportive Person willing to bat for me whereever I had interest. Wow. What if I approached sooner? That was only because of fear and my persception that I didn't Approach sooner.

Also when you're looking for a Job outside academia during Transition, rare the reference of the PI will be solicited - like we do on the corporate side, they don't expect you to have a reference from your direct current employer so if you treat it like that then go to go. Dick mentioned that.



Follow the advice Dick gave.

Best,

DX


DX, thanks for the reply. I didn't want to make this post about leadership. It is my opinion that this skill is mostly innate, determined by your personality, values, and upbringing. You have it or you don't.

In regards to PI reactions to references: This is a problem in the life sciences because of this unfounded feeling among some PIs that the private sector is second rate to academia and that the trainees owe it to the academy to stay in the system to repay their training costs. Notice how references are not a big deal in other programs where you pay the training costs and tuition (e.g. medicine, law, business, pharmacy, etc.). Think about it, there is no incentive for a PI to help a productive trainee to find a job outside of the academy; he only gains if that person stays in his lab. Only a kind hearted PI would help the trainee, especially if it meant losing that person from his lab. Likewise, I can see where a "jerk" of a PI would go the opposite way and do anything to keep that person in his lab even lie, distort, or providing misleading information in a reference.

DX, I have come across some of these jerks. The question is what can you do about it and how can you avoid in the first place? To say it is just how academics are is not too reassuring to a trainee that is a victim of this behavior. It is actually unlawful. I am dumbfounded by a PI who would insist on any reference disagreement; let it go, say nothing or don't agree to provide it in the first place. The jerks PIs should talk with an employment attorney in the real world and understand the concept of reciprocity to those who have helped your career in the lab.

If you don't think it happens due to financial constraints and pressures to publish, survey this forum history and ask many post-docs. Some PIs might feel this is justified given the competition to publish; but no it is wrong and rude to your trainees. This is an academic life science problem due to these pressures on a PI nowadays in light of the funding situation. But it still wrong to hold someone back or undermine someone's right to find work or maintain employment, no excuses!
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Re: Does your boss (or coworker) have a right to have a say in your career?

Postby PG » Thu Jun 01, 2017 12:31 pm

If you are looking for an industry position most companies will not care about talking to or asking for reference letters from a supervisor that you had a long time ago since you have had more than one position since then. Usually it is mostly interesting to talk with a more recent reference. If you at all need to deal with it I would just say that due to a conflict between two other people that you were not directly involved in professor X is unlikely to provide a reference. Instead you recommend that they talk with people at the two other position that you have had since then and for those two you can provide multiple references including both managers and collegues. From the time at X lab they can talk with somebody else such as x or y.

Regarding giving negative references I will do my best to avoid doing this but I will not lie and if I get get questions from my personal network I will try to provide a more complete view than what I might do if an unknown person calls me asking questions. As an example I got a call from a network Contact asking about a former collegue. I focused on the positive sides and also mentioned that the position he was hiring for was very different from the position that the person had when working in the same Company as me. My network Contact continued to ask questions and after a while said something like "OK now you have to stop talking around the topic. If you had a position available of the same type that this person held Before would you hire him?". My honest reply to that question was no, again with the comment that this was a very different type of position.

Since this was a couple of years ago I know that he proceeded with the hire anyway and the person hired is still working in that position.
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Re: Does your boss (or coworker) have a right to have a say in your career?

Postby Dave Jensen » Fri Jun 02, 2017 12:15 pm

Steven Z. wrote:I just wanted to add that in the private sector most companies have policies not to give references at all beyond confirming titles and dates of employment and certainly not give negative ones.


While this is true, references go on, because no one pays attention to that policy. They simply close the door or call from their cell phone and provide the reference regardless. Those policies never stopped anything. I can't remember more than one or two people EVER bringing that up, and I check references all the time. When they do bring it up, it's a problem because their inability to provide a reference is actually perceived as a NEGATIVE reference, not a "zero."

Dave
"One of the most powerful networking practices is to provide immediate value to a new connection. This means the moment you identify a way to help someone, take action." - Lewis Howes
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Re: Does your boss (or coworker) have a right to have a say in your career?

Postby Nate W. » Mon Jun 05, 2017 11:36 am

PG wrote:If you are looking for an industry position most companies will not care about talking to or asking for reference letters from a supervisor that you had a long time ago since you have had more than one position since then. Usually it is mostly interesting to talk with a more recent reference. If you at all need to deal with it I would just say that due to a conflict between two other people that you were not directly involved in professor X is unlikely to provide a reference. Instead you recommend that they talk with people at the two other position that you have had since then and for those two you can provide multiple references including both managers and collegues. From the time at X lab they can talk with somebody else such as x or y.

Regarding giving negative references I will do my best to avoid doing this but I will not lie and if I get get questions from my personal network I will try to provide a more complete view than what I might do if an unknown person calls me asking questions. As an example I got a call from a network Contact asking about a former collegue. I focused on the positive sides and also mentioned that the position he was hiring for was very different from the position that the person had when working in the same Company as me. My network Contact continued to ask questions and after a while said something like "OK now you have to stop talking around the topic. If you had a position available of the same type that this person held Before would you hire him?". My honest reply to that question was no, again with the comment that this was a very different type of position.

Since this was a couple of years ago I know that he proceeded with the hire anyway and the person hired is still working in that position.


PG, thanks I like that answer. Hopefully, they will not push me for explanation. If they ask, I might say "no matter how politely I explain this, I might have to say something that might be misconstrued or viewed in a negative light. Therefore, I can provide......"

As I reflect on my career, I have worked with many different scientists in both academia and the private sector. I have noticed a few trends. Academics take reference more seriously than the private sector. Why?
It also appears that the quality of the reference one receives often is a reflection of the personality, demeanor, and degree of reasonableness of the reference provider than a true reflection of one's abilities and performance. Further, I also believe the emotional state of the reference provider can also influence the quality of the reference; the reference provider was denied tenure or is sweating his grants. For example, once I performed considerably well and accomplished more for what some would call a "unreasonable" supervisor and never got the reference that I got from a "nicer more reasonable" supervisor that I once worked for before. If I got the same accomplished for the nicer supervisor, that reference would have been near perfect.

Should one factor this in when deciding to accept a job? Are there questions that I can ask that will allow me to tease out the demeanor of the supervisor? Can I bargain out an agreement with a new supervisor over references before accepting a job (i.e. consistent with my philosophy)?
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Re: Does your boss (or coworker) have a right to have a say in your career?

Postby Nate W. » Mon Jun 05, 2017 12:06 pm

Dave Jensen wrote:
Steven Z. wrote:I just wanted to add that in the private sector most companies have policies not to give references at all beyond confirming titles and dates of employment and certainly not give negative ones.


While this is true, references go on, because no one pays attention to that policy. They simply close the door or call from their cell phone and provide the reference regardless. Those policies never stopped anything. I can't remember more than one or two people EVER bringing that up, and I check references all the time. When they do bring it up, it's a problem because their inability to provide a reference is actually perceived as a NEGATIVE reference, not a "zero."

Dave



Sometimes such a hesitation is worse that a slightly negative reference or a NO reference.

In the private sector, I have noticed that people are more reasonable about references. Most private sector managers will draft and show you a copy of your reference if you ask for it, especially among smaller employers. They will even bargain with you before a job offer or when you are leaving a job (i.e. layoff, resigned, or fired). Also, I think among private managers, when dealing with references, they are more likely to let minor mistakes and personal differences go and not mention them in a reference.....because I think professionally trained managers have a better EQ and realize these things happen and/or they realize these items are overall not relevant for a reference.

I have come to the conclusion that reference are just not that informative and can often just reflect the personality/friendship of the reference provider (with the candidate; or a favor between two parties), not the ability and skills of the job candidate. The exception to this is when the reference is factual in nature and can point to specific accomplishments.
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Re: Does your boss (or coworker) have a right to have a say in your career?

Postby PG » Mon Jun 05, 2017 1:22 pm

I agree that references as in written recomendation letters have limited use and I usually dont even read them when I hire someone. However, I do find references as in talking with previous supervisors/collegues and asking direct questions being very valuble. These questions happens after the first interview with the applicant and can be used to get more information about any questions that may exist from the interview such as how does person X handle this type of situations or to get confirmation of statements that the applicant have made such as " I personally designed study y and supervised 4 technicians performing the experiments"
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Re: Does your boss (or coworker) have a right to have a say in your career?

Postby Rich Lemert » Mon Jun 05, 2017 2:46 pm

As I reflect on my career, I have worked with many different scientists in both academia and the private sector. I have noticed a few trends. Academics take reference more seriously than the private sector. Why?


I suspect this has to do with how 'credentials' are so much more important in academia; academics are always talking about how "I earned my degree from Prof. Blah at MIT". And, to a certain extent, this is understandable. It may take years before the value of your work proves itself, but Prof. Blah's reputation gives people some immediate idea of your abilities.

In industry, there are many more opportunities to objectively demonstrate your abilities and skills, so your are effectively developing you own 'credentials'.
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Re: Does your boss (or coworker) have a right to have a say in your career?

Postby Nate W. » Mon Jun 05, 2017 5:00 pm

Rich Lemert wrote:
As I reflect on my career, I have worked with many different scientists in both academia and the private sector. I have noticed a few trends. Academics take reference more seriously than the private sector. Why?


I suspect this has to do with how 'credentials' are so much more important in academia; academics are always talking about how "I earned my degree from Prof. Blah at MIT". And, to a certain extent, this is understandable. It may take years before the value of your work proves itself, but Prof. Blah's reputation gives people some immediate idea of your abilities.

In industry, there are many more opportunities to objectively demonstrate your abilities and skills, so your are effectively developing you own 'credentials'.


There is a way credentials should stand on their own within academia. In many professions, like an artist, architect, or some business professionals, one can point to a body of work done by the professional and/or a portfolio of business to substantiate their credentials. In the academic life sciences, one's portfolio of publications should minimize any bias in their references and objectively demonstrate one's area of expertise and technical abilities rather clearly. In trying to demonstrate the inaccuracy in my reference, I tried to point to my publications and dissertation; however, most academics always wanted to talk with the leading thesis advisor or PI on my most current publication. As a job candidate, I like the idea of a professional portfolio and being able to use this material in a job interview to make my points.

Rich, I don't know where this pedigree argument comes from. Frankly, who cares whether you worked for Dr. BigShot at Nobel Laureate University. Do you have the relevant expertise and skills for the open position? Working for Dr. Bigshot or MIT does not necessarily give you these skills needed. However, having a relevant portfolio of publications and coursework is far more important to me (should be for most scientific managers) because it objectively points to several items; area of expertise, what you accomplished, your technical skills, writing ability, project management skills, and organization w/o dealing with someone else's opinion or bias (i.e. BS). Plus, a manager can ask more appropriate questions after reviewing a portfolio and/or tell who did what in the paper, after interviewing the candidate and the PI. The decision is more objective with a portfolio of publications. But most academics disagree with me on this one. Why? I think their counterargument is obtuse because they should recognize that if you are a productive scientist in the lab that there is a strong possibility that there will be a bias to either keep you in their lab or within academia. Unless you have work out something with the PI beforehand and/or the PI can easily replace you because their lab is well recognized. It is always the PI who thinks he is a BigShot and/or has a questionable reputation that acts like a stinker when dealing with his staff.

Rich, it is also a two way street in academia. Work with someone who has a questionable reputation as a manager or mentor, and often you will be judged by the company you keep. I think it is important to do some due-diligence on a PI before joining their lab; talking with former staff- post-docs, residents, students, and techs. Still it can be difficult. My mistake has been too trusting of PIs and not using my gut instincts about people and what works best for me. Tell them what you want and your non-negotiables after the offer; be willing to walk away if they don't at least seem reasonable.
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Re: Does your boss (or coworker) have a right to have a say in your career?

Postby RSD » Tue Jun 27, 2017 11:45 am

Hopefully not beating a dead horse here.....but I don't think it's your formal references that one needs to be concerned about. If I am contacting your references, that means you are a final, or THE final candidate for the job, and if you have even a decent rationale for me to not contact your current boss/PI, I will respect that. I find informal references much more telling and informative. For example, I had a candidate that looked great on paper, and really gave a nice first impression in the phone screen. But the biotech world is small, even in a biotech hub, so I asked a couple of coworkers and another person in my network, each of whom worked with this candidate previously. Each of them independently gave a very strong negative recommendation that this person was difficult to work with and was not a solid contributor. The candidate did not get the position.

Actual formal reference checks are the last step, and if you are loosing positions due to poor references you are doing it wrong.
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