What Would You Do ? (Part 2)

A little while ago a friend of mine called me and asked me the following question:

“A past business associate of mine is out looking for a job and has put me down as a reference. While I know times are hard and I do want to be supportive of him, he was not in my opinion a very good employee. On one hand I don’t want to give him a bad recommendation and potentially ruin his chance at a position, but on the other hand I do not want to give a report or recommendation that is not the truth. What should I do?”

This is a situation for our current times. With so much continued upheaval in the job market, I am sure that we all know multiple numbers of people who either are, or have been looking for new positions. I am also reasonably certain that although we many know multiple people who are searching for a new job, we might not be as willing or prepared to vouch for or recommend some of them as we may be for others.

So that brings up the question: What would you do if someone put you down as a reference, and you did not feel comfortable in providing a positive recommendation?

Do you respond to the person by saying that you would not feel comfortable being a reference for them? This would inevitably lead to having to explain why you would not want to provide the reference input. It might lead to hard feelings and someone who in the future might feel they have reason or position to cause you professional issues in the future. Who can truly say they know where they will be working, or who they will be reporting to in the future?

Do you accept and provide a less than glowing reference and potential derail an employment opportunity?

Do you accept and provide a less than fully truthful positive reference?

It’s at times like this that I remember what my dad has told me in the past: “If you can’t say something nice, don’t say anything at all.”

My recommendation to my friend was that if he did not want to directly respond “no” to the request, (which would probably be the proper response) then he should not to respond at all to either the request to be a reference or the request for reference input by whomever his name had been provided to. Let his inaccessibility and silence be his comment. Normally both the reference requestor and the reference input requesting entity should get the message.

People who have something positive to say about someone are normally accessible. Those who don’t have something good to say normally aren’t accessible.

I would say this course of action is the professional equivalent of the “pocket veto”. A pocket veto is a legislative maneuver in United States federal lawmaking that allows the President to indirectly veto a bill. If the president does not want to go on the record as being against a bill, he can hold it with no response until congress adjourns. His “no response” in effect kills the bill without having to take the active measure of vetoing it.

Given the situation that my friend outlined, this was my suggestion. What would you do?

2 thoughts on “What Would You Do ? (Part 2)”

  1. Dang Steve! All I hope for now is if I ever do ask you to back me in an employemnt situation that you will actually reply to my email. I have wondered if you thought I was a good employee at Samsung?
    Your loyal follower,
    Chris Doyle

  2. STeve – I hae often been asked to serve as a reference… and like you, sometimes for folks I couldn’t recommend. But you have to take a stand… so here is mine. I used to tell people “sorry, I often get asked, and rather than turn some down and others not, I just don’t do that anymore”. I no longer use that simple approach… I now tell people I will serve as a reference, but when the call comes to me, I say only things I truly believe. I won’t condemn a person who is looking, but I will only respond to things that i can say positive about the person… chances are it may be someone I hired / fired myself. I can surely speak positively about things that made me hire the person to begin with, such as “he is well spoken and appears to be prepared” or “she has a great rolodex and knows how to network”… I don’t have to mention that while he appeared to be prepared, he rarely was … or that her networking skills often lead to flings!

    So now I will be a reference if asked, and will do my best to tell the potential employer that I will not criticize another person, but will share positive attributes I know fo them, and they can decide from that point onward on their own merits.

    Simple enough!


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