Tuesday, July 24, 2007

On (Not) Burning Bridges

So, I went on an interview yesterday afternoon--a big group interview at one of the places I volunteer. I love this organization, and I want the job on offer badly. I'd gladly put off grad school for a few years to do this job. I want this job. Are we clear on that? Good.

Now, I haven't actually heard yet whether I'll be getting a second interview or not, but if I am, I'll need to bring with me three references, at least two of which should be professional. The problem, of course, is that no one at my current company knows I went on this interview, for obvious reasons.

Theoretically, I could approach the editor with whom I work most closely and say, "Look, I'm not interviewing around--I'm just interested in this one organization, and if I don't get this job I'm not going to go on any other interviews. Can you recommend me?" The problem, of course, is that if I don't get this job I'm proceeding with grad school applications, and I feel like it's disingenuous.

But my other options are limited:

My boss from my art magazine internship, the one who loved me? Gone. I could try to track her down, but it might or might not work.
My boss from the public relations office at school? Gone. She's definitely not trackable. I could ask, instead, the director of alumni relations, who asked me to write a couple of pieces for the alumni magazine, but I didn't generally work closely with him.
My work on a major student event? Didn't have a "boss"--it was run by a student committee. I could give them the name of a friend who worked on the committee, who would happily tell them about how hard I worked despite having emergency surgery during the run-up to the event, but she's my age and I wonder about how much credence they'd give her recommendation.

And it seems bizarre to omit my current job, which has gotten so much more of my energy and effort than any previous employment. I could theoretically ask someone with whom I don't work as closely and in whom I feel comfortable confiding, but I'm not convinced that will carry the same weight.

I don't really know what to do here. My only hope is that I'm reasonably well-known to the organization from my volunteer work (like, I'd met all of the staff members in the room yesterday), and if I explain the situation, they may waive the requirement.

Fingers crossed.


MissGoldBug said...

I've had the same problem. I think you should explain the situation just as you have here and give them whatever references that you can scrape up and will still be good. You're young, employers should understand that you haven't developed huge network of working professionals yet. Good Luck!

Addy said...

I've had this same problem and ended up using a friend that I had worked on a ton of class projects with as a reference. My boss did call her, but only as a formality, and he didn't care one bit who she was as long as I'd actually worked with her and she didn't say anything negative (I had, and she didn't).

MS said...

I would focus on teachers and faculty you worked with, even if they weren't that close (as long as they will speak well of you). If you can track down your supervisor from the internship, that would be even better. I agree with missgoldbug, they don't expect you to cut your ties at your current company before you have an offer.

Strange Bird said...

Hm, that is a tough one. I agree with Miss Goldbug that you should explain to them your situation: most organizations will understand the need for undercover interviewing, and they realize they are working with a young candidate who may not have a lot of other sources to go to for references. And maybe, if you have a volunteer coordinator or someone that you work with where you are interviewing, you can ask that person for a reference?

Hazygrey said...

In my industry, you don't need to get references until you actually have an offer (contingent on the references). Why don't you explain the situation, give them references from other people and tell them that once you have an offer, you'd be happy to provide references from your current job?

Anonymous said...

It sounds like you should do whatever it takes to get this job. Any job that makes you this excited is worth fighting for. And I think it's a great idea to postpone school...all that can happen is that you actually become more certain that you want/need the degree rather than just going back to school as a default or regretting the degree and student debt.

Regarding references...

Your potential employer is used to not being able to get reference from people's current employers. They know that most people don't advertise their job searches. So, either explain this to the people hiring or ask someone you trust at your current job to act as a reference who you trust will keep it confidential.

Find your art magazine boss! It's so easy to find people these days. Use the internet - it's a miracle worker. Call everyone you can get at the magazine until someone knows where she is. Ask everyone you might know in common.

Also, it's probably worth an internet search and a call to the PR office to try to track down your old boss.

The student org leader might also work. She can certainly speak well about your work. And the employer won't know her age from a letter of recommendation or a phone interview, especially if she currently has an impressive job.

Also, think outside the box of anyone who knows you in a professional setting. It can be anyone who likes you and is willing to go to bat for you who is willing to rave about you on the phone or in a letter. Even if they didn't directly supervise you or if you didn't do major work for them, anyone willing to talk someone up can make them sound impressive. I am an employer, and I do this all the time for people who left a good impression on me.

Anonymous said...

Also, if you haven't done so already, I highly suggest that you make it very clear to this employer that you want the job and that you would accept it if offered. Send a thank you note for the interview. Shoot anyone you know there an email to tell them how excited you are about the chance to work there. I know that if I am facing a close call between candidates, I'd rather choose the person I know is into the job and who will take it.

beth said...

I can't help you. I'd love to get a new job, but I made the mistake of staying in one job too long, and now all work-related references would be from co-workers, whom I don't want to know that I'm interviewing. The other suggestions here are great, though.

Anonymous said...

What about one (or more) of your fellow volunteers, who aren't applying for the job? I work in nonprofit fundraising, and references from volunteers/clients rank highly.

And same as above: Find those folks that you would have asked for references, and keep in touch with them from now on. Grad school or no, networks are VITAL.

Anonymous said...

It is kind of a moot point now, but I still thought I might share this about references and all. I learnt it from a colleague a few years ago. At the time, she was getting laid off because our company was overstaffed and needed to cut back. She asked our supervisor to write her a reference letter that she could take with her. Just a general letter that she could use if need be.

I thought it was a great idea because at times like these when you need a reference and you can't track anyone down, it is very helpful. It saves you quite a bit of hassle too. In any case, it is a padding. Its there when you need it. I'd really, really recommend doing this. A lot of my old supervisors have now moved on and it really sucks when I need to get a reference. The other problem with me is that if its been a long time and I really haven't been in touch with them, I feel as if I am imposing somehow and I don't like that.

Anyway, good luck!

P.S. First time reader here! Your blog's pretty interesting... I gotta say!

pomo housewife said...

also a bit late, but... people know each other. It is a small world, professionally. How worse would it be if your employer found out out-of-the-blue from a third party?

I feel you ought to let them know, be totally upfront that you value your current job but the interviewed position is something of a dream job for you. Nobody is that unrealistic that they think they will keep you forever, if you are a great employee.

Better to risk them seeing you as expendable but honest than have them blindsided by your leaving.

I read a very good article on this somewhere - I wish I could remember where. Try googling it.