Asking Someone to Serve as Your Reference

Updated on July 11, 2009
M.S. asks from Chicago, IL
6 answers

I recently received a call from a recruiter regarding a former summer associate from two years ago. I have mixed feelings about this summer associate and was surprised to have the recruiter call me. The former summer associate did not call me to give me a heads up. I do not want to give a glowing reference because I think her performance was average. She did not receive an offer from the firm. I called her and asked her to call me to tell me about the position she was applying to so I could see if it made sense for me to serve as her reference. Proper protocol is to ask someone to serve as your reference and certainly to give them a heads up - especially after two years. I feel it is the right thing to do to be honest with the recruiter, but that means I am probably keeping this young woman from receiving a job offer. Because of the guilt, I feel obligated to give an average review. Anyone else been in this situation before and what did you do? Thank you.

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A.R.

answers from Chicago on

Hi M.:

I would have to agree with the previous poster and say that your former summer associate probably filled out a work history and listed your name and number with no expectation that her recruiter was actually going to contact you. Also, if you are not thrilled with her work she probably has an idea and wouldn't put you as a reference. :-)

A few years ago, I was faced with a similar situation for a summer intern. She wasn't horrible but she was probably average to slightly below, BUT she did come through for me when I really needed her to. She asked me to write her a recommendation for a top school. I absolutely REFUSE to lie but I just wrote down all of the positive things that she did do and focused on those aspects. (She was accepted.) I figure that this is her chance to change....and no one appointed me judge and jury. :-)

Your never know what is going on in the associate's life...personal problems, maybe the job wasn't a fit etc. Now, if your summer associate was really bad e.g. lost you a client, plagerized, stormed out of a meeting with partners/c level officers...i don't know came to work drunk...this is a different story. If she was just average though, I would give her the benefit of the doubt. The job market is tough and, ultimately, she could have changed and matured in two years. The ultimate hiring decision is up to her future employer you are just allowing her to get her foot through the door.

Good luck,
A.

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J.

answers from Chicago on

I have been in that situation, except that the person was someone I would never give a good reference to. In that instance, I told the recruiter that HR did not allow me to give a business reference and that I didn't know the candidate well enough to give a personal reference. It sounds like you aren't able to weasel out of it like I did, though.

I would definitely tell her to leave you off her reference list for the future. And if you can get away with it, feel free to say, "I don't feel that I know her well enough to comment in detail about her work, but I can tell you that she did not receive an offer from the firm."

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S.Q.

answers from Chicago on

I would confirm her work history, say, "Yes, she did work for us for those months", but tell them that they will need to contact your HR department for additional information. When I did a supervisor training a few years back we were told to defer all inquiries to HR. You don't want to be accused of slander, I was told, in case the employee comes back and says that you said something about their performance that THEY (the employee) consider to be untrue. If she wanted to use YOU personally as a reference then she absolutely should have contacted you by phone or writing to get your permission.

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D.N.

answers from Chicago on

When I was job hunting, all the applications asked for former managers or reports and their numbers. I know that most places did call those people directly, rather than Human Resources as most large companies prefer. When I gave the info for an actual reference, I had asked before hand to make sure they would not mind. I think if this person put you in the spaces for a reference, she definitely should have mentioned it to you.

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E.S.

answers from Chicago on

I completely agree with Scarlet about what you should say and also that it's doubtful that you were listed as a "reference" but rather a "direct supervisor" for her previous employment. Those job placement places do call every direct supervisor listed on the application to verify previous employment. I have had calls myself. Just verify her work history and say nothing else except the standard "we do not divulge any additional information other than verifying that X worked here from Y to Z dates". Believe me, that's what every employer says now.

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S.E.

answers from Chicago on

The fact is etiquette wise, a person should ask if they can use someone as a reference. Do not feel guilty for being honest. You need to have a clear mind after you give a recommendation, so if you felt she was not someone you would hire again by all means convey that is a very tactful business like manner.
You are also right to address this with the person who put you down as a reference. Very politely tell her I really do not like being put in that position and please do not use me as a reference again.

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