Employer Insights

How to NOT Give a Useless Job Reference

Posted by Kirstie
min read
Joseph Frank Xgc 1e H Zgi Unsplash

Dear referee, A reference is a discussion whereby we ask you some questions about an employee's performance and you answer those questions honestly and with consideration. If we leave a message for you, we inevitably tell you what it is about in the message, and some of us are even considerate enough to give you an indication of how long we need to speak to you so we can adequately obtain the reference with the detail required. So if you return our call, don't think it is EVER acceptable to tell us that you have thirty seconds and then hang up before we have asked all the required questions – you are messing with the livelihood and future of your employee/former employee, and if you have agreed to give a reference, then, for crying out loud, please be respectful. I loathe references myself – but I think that referee may need a slap.  Many of you don't treat the reference process with anything like respect.  

There are those of you who don't actually want to be a referee, but you don't bother to tell the employee and damn them to a future of trying to overcome the mediocrity of your comments.  There are those of you who have NO idea of your responsibility to provide honest and factual information that pertains specifically to the employment of that employee and instead throw in innuendo, gossip and hints of dire events, which you are unable to substantiate because, well, they just aren't true. And as for those of you who can only ever seem to provide one word answers to questions, I have this to say: your reference is as useful as a slap in the face with a wet fish.  

Don't bother telling me she was 'good', because I don’t know what that means – you have to give me some context.  Your 'good' might be another employer’s 'brilliant' or (hideously) another employer's 'completely useless'. Refer to my comments above – if you have agreed to be a referee, then be respectful and treat the process with some thought. Remember: your comments affect that person's ability to move their career forward.  I don't say that so you can get a cheap thrill from having that power; I say it so that you remember the seriousness of the process.   

Don't mess up someone's life because you can't be bothered to make an effort on their behalf.