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What referees do you give when...

(23 Posts)
PhDlifeNeedsaNewLife Tue 08-Jul-08 12:05:03

I've done some admin work in my time - various jobs, 1987-94 and then again 2000-02. Since then I've worked at a professional level and been out of work for 2 years. But now it looks like I'm going to have to go back to admin work.

I've got one referee who was the boss of the Department where I adminned here. Could probably also get woman who has since become school manager (though she wasn't when I worked there, and while friendly we didn't actually work together at all, iirc). Who else do I use??

PhDlifeNeedsaNewLife Tue 08-Jul-08 12:22:51


Martha200 Tue 08-Jul-08 13:24:59

Is there a number you can call to talk about the vacancy and ask them about your situation?

chrysantheMum Tue 08-Jul-08 13:29:45

any professional friends who could give a character reference? i've done that befreo, they just have to say how long they've known you and in what capacity. the "more" professional they are the better, ie headteacher, lawyer etc

flowerybeanbag Tue 08-Jul-08 19:20:34

If you've been out of work two years then give whoever your most recent employer was two years ago. It doesn't matter if that position wasn't admin, it's still a recent(ish) reference giving an indication of you in a work environment, reliability, attitude, etc

As you have one admin one as well that should be fine.

If I am recruiting and someone doesn't give their most recent employmnet as a reference, regardless of how relevant they think it is, I immediately raise an eyebrow and wonder if the employment relationship ended badly.

PhDlifeNeedsaNewLife Tue 08-Jul-08 20:06:47

ok thanks flowery, that's helpful

I could do most recent employer and the one before that (who supervised me in several capacities/positions over 8 years).

For #3 then I have a choice: it could be former admin colleague, OR someone I worked for yeeeeeaarrs ago, who still works in the institution I want to go back to. (hope that makes sense!)

Is there any benefit to having a high-placed referee in same institution? (Same country, come to that!)

flowerybeanbag Tue 08-Jul-08 20:14:48

First two options sound good.

Probably either of your choices for third option would be fine. Could well be an advantage having someone high-placed in same institution giving a reference, yes.

I wouldn't worry too much about them needing a referee who has known you working specifically in an admin position tbh, attitude more important, assuming your ability to do the job isn't really in question too much.

PhDlifeNeedsaNewLife Tue 08-Jul-08 20:27:29

thanks again.

convincing them I have the ability to do the job is going to be an uphill battle, I reckon.

The admin work I've done before has been at a rather lower level than this post; as a professional, I've gained the requisite knowledge but from the other side of the table, iykwim. Plus a lot of the experience I've gained has been here, where they do things rather differently than there.

Thus there are some skills I def don't have, but I know I could easily pcik up - the problem is that ime admin ppl think academics are woolly-headed, self-centered, impractical and don't know how to do admin.

flowerybeanbag Tue 08-Jul-08 20:32:20

Is that not true then? winkgrin

What you need is a proactive approach to how you will fill your skills gap quickly, and with no detrimental effect on your potential employer. Ideally a proactive approach that you are doing now rather than when in post. That way you can put on your application that you are doing x, y and z to update/improve your skills.

PhDlifeNeedsaNewLife Tue 08-Jul-08 20:45:00

I always thought my experience working in admin would make me a better academic; the other way round seems to be a disadvantage.

think I may just have to set my sights lower. not really in a position to do x, y or z atm.

thanks for advice - just saved me writing a pointless application. <sigh>

flowerybeanbag Tue 08-Jul-08 21:45:57

Oh I didn't want to put you off! Sorry. Really no use?

PhDlifeNeedsaNewLife Tue 08-Jul-08 21:59:12

don't worry your advice was good - it's just me damn ishoos getting in the way.


TheMagnificent7 Tue 08-Jul-08 22:25:15

Oh Blimey PHD, sounds like you've had a couple of let downs. I've been in recruitment for years, and there is a definite sense of people being over qualified etc. and employers not wanting to take on someone with huge intellect and potential in a role that would seem to be beneaththeir ability. The reason is longevity, i.e. why would an academic want to be in a role like that, surely they will leave as soon as something else comes along. I don't think for a minute that this is true of them, but it's very common. I did an article for the MENSA magazine, answering the question about demonstrating intellect being a hindrance to your work rather than a benefit. I'm sorry to say the advice is still the same, dumb down. It's an ends to a means, and comes from a misconception, so I don't feel bad about recommending people hide away their true intellectual capacity, because invariably it frightens managers etc.

Flowery is right about the references. Most recent company, regardless of whether the person is still there. This is because HR will hold employment dates, job titles, etc., so can confirm the basic details. References are not the same as many years ago, and some companies are loathe to put any personal opinion on at all. The best thing to do if you have no other recent (3-5 years) companies is, as suggested, someone that is a professional that will vouch for you in a written reference.

I'd need a bit more detail, as I'm not sure I've followed you properly, so forgive if not. Are you saying you've been out of work for two years, or bringing up a child for two years. That's quite a difference. Also, and I really am playing devil's advocate to try to highlight the point, you're fretting and worrying about the details, and talking yourself out of the application, which is saying to me that you're thinking too much, which is entirely their point. But they don't need to know half of the detail you are worrying about. Your CV, and again i'm just guessing here but I've done this for 10 years now, I bet it is full of your academic record, publications, papers, etc. Probably quite a lot of it. My advice is that your CV is a tool to get a job, save the details for your autobiography. Your future employer wants to see experience, and a bit of potential. Very, very few will appreciate how hard and laborious your PHD was (I'm impressed by the way). Ditch the detail. Make sure each time period is covered. Be honest. But really, no manager wants a superbrain to fill an admin post. They need to know you are reliable, intelligent, and can do the post, largely a structured, detailed approach for an admin post. Save the pride in your magnificent qualification for people that understand.

It's awful having to think in that way, but you're not giving the jobs out. If you are short of a skill, and again i'm not sure which, then it's worth being up front about it, and depending on what it is, then stretching your current knowledge with a crash course of gleaning info from the net to get the basics so you at least have an awareness of whats happening. Employers have a genuine desire to recruit the right person, and that means person, not skillset. What I would want to see is that you will fit in, and i'd help the right person with the necessary skills. If it's something simple like Excel, then there are hundreds of web pages with guides on.

Again, not sure if i;ve read this right but are you going to work somewhere you've worked before ? If not, then I often find that academics are very well accepted in most public sector and voluntary sector organisations, where the emphasis fundamentally is on help. Commercial institutions are more cutthroat and more inclined to opinion based decision making. Are there any Universities or colleges near you ? Museums are always great. Libraries (rubbish money though). Trade Union bodies, places that are basically non-profit making.

Don't ever stop aiming high at positions you know you can do. It's easier to fall than climb, and often, some of the better positions aren't advertised because employers don't know what's available talent wise. Admin and project coordination are exactly the same things but with different goals. I'd suggest you go on a website like specifically as they have the best admin positions, and I'd scout through the Guardian jobs website, as it carries all positions from all public sector/voluntary sector organisations. And if you have a PHD I'd assume that there is an association or giverning body linked with your skill, and often you'll find all of the best jobs in their in-house publications.

You know you can do it, it's just the presentation that needs work.

And if you want to read a great book about the pitfalls of intelligence then Daniel Keyes 'Flowers For Algernon' is fantastic.

TheMagnificent7 Tue 08-Jul-08 22:25:55

Oh crikey. I appear to have written a book. Must get a social life smile

PhDlifeNeedsaNewLife Tue 08-Jul-08 22:56:10

crikey, TM7, that's almost as long as my phd wink

thanks for kind words and advice which I will definitely keep and consider. I mostly hear what you're saying but my ishoo (as you've already spotted) is ambivalence - in my heart of hearts, I think I still want to be an academic, I just can't see it happening.

oh dear, this has made me sad, will go to bed now.

thank you though.

TheMagnificent7 Wed 09-Jul-08 10:27:24

I always sleep on these things. What is your PHD in ? There must be a way to cross over the skills. I've mainly done public sector for the last 10 years, and it's a relatively common problem, but does have solutions.

PhDlifeNeedsaNewLife Wed 09-Jul-08 20:58:42

Trust me, my phd topic was beyond useless - and I really do get about dumbing down my cv. (My academic cv is 8pp, civvy one is 3! grin)

I would've thought my skills - which boil down to research, organisation, white-hot written and verbal communications, teaching (adults only!) - were a dime a dozen.

For any serious admin job I'd need more practical skills, it's just not feasible now. Or for at least the next 6m.

And there is still the wretched question of motivation. My biggest problem, I reckon, is not being able to resolve what I want. Or possibly impatience.

thanks for your help Magnificent7, may well come back to plague you when I have more of a clue.


TheMagnificent7 Wed 09-Jul-08 22:26:04

Anytime. Lots of people go through this. Resolving the intellectual want/need conflict is fundamental to tour happiness. If it helps, i'm currently changing everything about my work so I can work from home, look after the children without childminders, do some volunteering for the literacy gaps in the local schools, and maintain a decent but less extravagent lifestyle. I'm bored of working in the manner I was before, but can't find exactly what I want to do in the way I want to do it. If I had the choice, I'd run a non-profit bookshop, or be a physicist, but there's no money in it and I'm unlikely to catch up with Hawking at this stage of my life.

I think you have the idea about skills completely reversed, so I'm thinking you could do with a longer conversation with a recruiter or someone in a big HR department.

And you don't seem to be proud of your PHD. It wasn't Klingon was it ? grin

PhDlifeNeedsaNewLife Thu 10-Jul-08 21:38:42

Klingon grin not quite that bad. But, since you ask, it was about concepts of play. It was very, very theoretical.

I am proud of the dissertation itself and, unusually, still quite in love with the topic. I would desperately like to write the book of it. At the same time, I'm on the fence about having done it: it was a huge effort, one that cost myself and my dh dearly, and right now, I can't see that it's going to help me anyhow.

not sure what you mean about having my idea of skills reversed?

re. discussing with a recruiter. Probably a good idea. But I had a bad experience the one time I tried an employment agency. They said they specialised in education, but when I phoned and asked what I could do with my eight years of HE teaching experience, they basically said, "It's hard to say - education is a pretty closed sector. I mean, I guess you must have some transferable skills; it's just a matter of persuading prospective employers of them." No, really?! hmm hmm

re. your own life directions - I bequeath you my genius idea for managing those things wink

and if you want to be a physicist, I know a good one. (seriously!)

TheMagnificent7 Thu 10-Jul-08 23:20:18

<<intellectual side is all ears>>

I mean that your ideas about academic, research, and verbal communication etc. are not dime a dozen, quite the opposite. People with those skills are rare. Good, and I mean really good, admin people are more available, but don't always command the same sort of salaries.

I just read your other thread, and thanks for that. Some people are so miserable aren't they! Some of the ideas are great (and the Ellen Degeneres show is great, and based largely around the same idea). I'm a book collector, it's my absolute passion, and I buy them from all over the world via e_bay and when I get the chance to travel. I collect fiction and non-fiction, and cannot begin to explain how important they are in my life. In my work I have earned good money, very good at times, but have suffered some personal losses over the last couple of years and found that money is the very least important thing in my life. This is difficult to marry up to a mortgage, but I now spend less than two thirds of what I did, and spend much more time with my family. My love of books has meant my children have a love of reading, and are just as happy to sit quietly and read as they are to watch TV or play games, and neither of them are allowed to use the internet to reasearch homework before they have checked for information in the book collection (yes, I do have a few!).

What I'm doing now is working from home to save premises costs, and utilising just my best clients. I've done a lot of work with programmes for intellectual asset management, and i'm developing the programmes so they can be sold on. I'm only really interested in working with clients that do work I believe in, so that cuts down the workload and provides a little soul polishing. I'm volunteering via my local council's volunteering programme, with schools to assist in literacy and numeracy development with children, and life skills and literacy with young adults via another programme. It's a couple of hours each week, but within school times so it's easy. Ultimately I want to write more arts based training programmes for children, that can be government funded, and utilise volunteers to deliver them. I'm particularly thinking of creative writing and popular music history. There is some money in the development of these.

Am I reading it correctly that you are in Australia ? Lol, i know a lot of recruiters that went out there, and your experience is probably very typical. I don't know how to give you my details privately on here, but i'd be happy to call and give you advice, and don't mind paying for the call.

You sound bright and happy when ideas appeal to you, and I'm getting that you are a bit down about your job search at the moment. My suggestion for your bookshop/cafe idea is to register a company as a charity, then appeal for local businesses or rich philanthropists to lease you some space for 3-5 years at no rent. Investigate funding for community projects thoroughly in your area, state, and country. In the UK there are many opportunities for funding, and some of them are not places you'd expect (like GMTV for instance). Many people have a passion for reading like I do, and many are very willing to help. The conflict on your other thread came from the idea that it had to make money, but it doesn't. Overheads need covering like utilities, but staff can volunteer, books can be donated, and a swap library is perfect for people to join in with. If it is to appeal to mums and dads then it only needs to open during school hours, and if you get people to 'join' by donating 10 swappable books, chances are the books donated will appeal to the people that are coming in. A toy swap is a perfect idea too as toys are very expensive, and children get so many that they just don't play with them all. Encouraging children to attend, personally, I think is crucial. The peopple that wanted peace and quiet have local libraries. Your idea sounds a social as it does literacy based. Selling coffee and cakes is stupidly profitable, especially if you make the cakes yourself, so overheads would be likely to covered. Importantly, i'd be tempted to make the prices much less so that your shop would appeal to all, and those people that have less cash aren't excluded.

It sounds really idealistic, but you don't have to run it on your own. So if you did get a job elsewhere, it could be time-shared with this.

I'd love to be a physicist, but i'm not seriously going to get work in that area. I would REALLY like to talk to a structural engineering expert that could help me with the mechanics of stress and load bearing for a shoe/boot that i've an idea for to help diabetics that suffer from pressure ulcers on their feet. I'm convinced it can be cured, and I've suffered with it myself for nearly twenty years. If that works and I patent it i'll rent your book shop space for you.

Oh, and don't put of the book idea from your dissertaion. Just write down your ideas, once a day maybe, and at the end of every month through all the notes together. Itll be easy once it's all written down.

TheMagnificent7 Thu 10-Jul-08 23:27:30

I'd like to thoroughly apologise for the rubbish spelling and grammar in that post. You'd never believe I've read a book grin

PhDlifeNeedsaNewLife Fri 11-Jul-08 23:07:02

lol, don't worry about typos - I'm not that pedantic wink

not in Australia yet, moving at the end of the year. dh and I both want jobs sufficient to be able to afford a mortgage - I am really very fed up with renting, but because I've spent so long studying we've never been able to get on the property ladder. It's a tension for me (one I've just realised, thanks to talking with you!) - suspect I'm not motivated at all by money - am a real "for the love of it" person - only these days, I'm getting to be motivated by the lack of it! In the past ten years I've only had a proper wage for two of them; the rest of the time I've earned about £3000. I struggle to resolve this with needing to care about what I'm doing - that's why I get so sad about admin type jobs, and sad sad about the prospect of not being an academic.

Also realised, talking to you, that I'm making myself more than necessary, trying (once again) to sort out the future before it gets here. I can't imagine what I might do, but I want to be sure I'm doing something, even apart from the money. Think I need to figure out how to get paid for writing, that'd solve everything!

sorry I can't help with the structural engineer. I have many nerdy acquaintences, but not one of those

I did used to work with someone who is like you about books though. His dream is to open a book-and-cheese store. And we have a good friend who collects first edition British SF. Part of the reason they recently had to move to a much bigger flat! We are big readers in this house. Trying to teach ds, but so far all he wants to do is turn the pages really really fast...

TheMagnificent7 Sat 12-Jul-08 02:24:56

I have a lot of British SciFi, but my heart is in classic American SciFi currently. And it's ridiculously expensive... I'm tied to the idea of people writing the future, like Arthur C Clarke inventing sattelites, and that sort of thing. We adapt to the idea of Brave New World and 1984's suggestions, until we make it happen. We constatnly pour money into robotics, because we all want to live like the Jetsons.

Oops. Off again.

Is there any parts of your dissertation that can be singled into saleable, or trainable ideas ? Having not read it, it's difficult to comment, but it suggests some ideas on activities and motivation for play ? I did some marketing work with a big childrens charity who had invented (well, re-invented) a game, but used it's rules to highlight social exclusion in a very major way. Beautifully simple idea. They wanted to utilise their intellectual assets within their social enterprise side. Could you use your knowledge to teach individual, tangible lessons ?

It's interesting if you are moving abroad, as the skills shortages in different countries give different value to your skills. You've probably looked at it, but if not, you could explore the area where you are moving to and see if they have a need for academics.

I think if it makes you feel that down that you should take a quick, structured approach. Make a list of everywhere within travelling distance that could provide you with the intellectual fodder you need. So all the libraries, publishers, research organisations, local authorities, anywhere you think could have some sort of department you would want to work in. When you have your list, go to every website for every company. Invariably they will have a list of available jobs, or the process for applying out of the blue. Remember to search for every organisation, and look at what they do, rather than the mechanics of how you think they work. First things first.

prepare a covering letter, and you should find examples on places like and similar. Prepare an email, or follow their procedure, and write to all of them. Explain that you are looking for a role within an organisation that can suppport your ideals, and without going into vast detail, explain that you think your experience in academia will lend to the value of your position. Short and sweet. I'd use your 3 pager, and then the information on publications and research can be held in a seperate document, to be sent when you think it's relevant. Lots of places have paid research jobs.

The only way to look at it positively is to put yourself in their shoes rather than yours. Succinctly, imagine what you would look for in an employee. Imagine how your CV sounds when it is read out, and you'll get a picture of what they see. It's a tool, and as such should be used to it's maximum effect. Nothing out of the ordinary on it. 3 pages is fine. Make sure every word on it is relevant to a job. Be honest about your hobbies and interests, It's a list basically. Your covering letter should explain what you want to do.

Activity is the key to your success. The more you put out, the more you'll get back. If you concentrate on getting any job, rather than beat yourself up about one job, then it's easier.

Personally, I wouldn't mention the Australia thing at first.

And tell your friend the cheese will make the books smell.

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