why won’t my old job that almost fired me give me a reference?

A reader writes:

I’m a recent college graduate who’s looking for my first job. I’ve had steady employment since I was 18 and I have two summer internships under my belt. I also have good interview skills, but what worries me the most are my references.

At my most recent job, I worked part-time at my university’s library for about 15 months, yet I had some issues with the job. I went through a very difficult time in my life for about 7 months (my parents almost lost their home, I had major roommate problems, I had to send money to my family so they could stay afloat and I contracted mononucleosis) and I had to have an intervention because it was showing in my work: I was showing up late, calling out of work two to three times a month, I wasn’t the most pleasant with patrons and I didn’t necessarily get along with certain co-workers, plus I wasn’t up and eager to do work. My two supervisors told me I had to change or I would lose my job. I had no excuses for my behavior, even though I was sick, stressed out and frustrated. Not wanting to lose the job, I took their advice and I improved my work and I became much more punctual, even though my outside issues were still present. The things I did at my job were due to immaturity and inability to control my emotions. People had it worse than I did, but I let it impact my work. But I have learned my lesson, I’ve matured and I left the job on decent terms when I graduated.

Now that I’m searching for a job, I e-mailed my two supervisors to see if they could possibly serve as references. I figured I could include them because they said that they have seen an “improvement in my work” since the intervention and they were noticing my improvement. But both have e-mailed me back and they said that they would not serve as references for me. They didn’t even give me a reason why! I e-mailed them back to ask them why and they have not answered the e-mail in over a week.

I appreciate their honesty and I can kind of understand why they did it, but I’m scared as to what this might mean for my future job offers. I don’t know if I hammered the nail into my coffin with my work issues, but does this mean that I’m doomed if companies ask for a reference from this job or they call outside of my reference list? Do they call outside of a reference list if I’m going for entry-level work? How should I go about doing damage control? I don’t want employers to contact them and speak to my former supervisors. Should I contact HR about this?

I also want to keep the job on my resume because I gained many valuable skills, so should I keep it?

Also, I have a former co-worker from that job who said that she would provide a reference for me (she came after the intervention), would that be sufficient if a company or headhunter asked for a reference from that job?

I really hope I didn’t do myself in with my past issues. I have changed and grown during this time period and I hope my rocky period won’t ruin my chances of finding employment.

I’m going to be blunt here, and then we’ll get to solving your problem: You don’t sound like you’ve actually learned from the experience. You’re kind of defending the way you handled that job, and you don’t fully seem to realize that of course your managers aren’t going to give you a good reference after you spent seven months showing up late, calling out of work regularly, not being pleasant with patrons, not getting along with coworkers, and not being “eager to do work.”  You’re surprised that they’re not jumping to answer your emails, and you’re actually thinking that maybe you should go to HR about their refusal to give you a reference?

This was a job. It wasn’t camp, or school, or some other experience arranged for your benefit. It was a job, and you were hired to work there. You behaved really poorly, for quite a while. You’re actually lucky they didn’t fire you. And you don’t seem to realize any of this. Yes, you had things going on in your life outside work — but at a job, that’s not their problem; you’re still expected to show up and be professional, or at least to ask for some time away while you deal with whatever is getting in you way of doing that. I think you’re thinking of this like school, and it’s nothing like school. It’s a job, you’re accountable for your behavior, end of story.

Now, lots of people have experiences like this when they’re first entering the work world — I certainly did. I left a certain Mrs. Fields Cookies store high and dry once when I was 18 because I got sick of coming into work. And I have plenty of other early-adult-life stories of irresponsibility. Lots of people do. The problem here is that you don’t seem to realize that there are consequences to those choices, and that no one owes you any help in lessening the impact of those consequences. I’m sorry to say this, but you’re coming across as naive and entitled.

Okay, lecture over. Here’s the good news: This can be a good lesson, if you let it. You can let this be the thing that teaches you what professionalism means, and that a job’s expectations don’t disappear when you’re having outside difficulties, and that the way you behave on a job can have consequences that follow you around for a long time. That’s an important lesson, and one some people don’t ever learn. Use this to learn it, and you’ll be better off.

And now we can finally get to your question: what to do about the references from this job. First, no, don’t use your former coworker as your reference. That will just invite prospective employers to ask why you’re not using your manager instead. You have two options, basically: You can leave the job off your resume, thus avoiding the problem entirely, or you can be up-front with employers about it, explaining that you weren’t a great worker during that time, partly due to family and health issues, and partly due to being inexperienced in the work world, but that you’ve learned a ton from the experience about how to be professional and responsible. This second option will only work, though, if you really have learned those lessons; if you talk about it the way you did in your letter, it’ll be the kiss of death.

So all roads lead back to recalibrating your take on what happened at that job, and why that bridge is burned. If you can truly get that, without the defensiveness or excuses, you’ll be well positioned to move forward from it.

{ 152 comments… read them below }

  1. Tai*

    I don’t think your response is entirely warranted.

    The OP openly admits what she did wrong and that she corrected her behavior. She said she was immature. Her naivete shows through her surprise at not getting a reference, but she doesn’t sound entitled to me. She just sounds young and not sure how to handle this situation.

    1. moe*

      The parts that move it into “entitled” territory to me are when OP emailed the references back to ask why they wouldn’t be references (duh!), and then actually thinking it might be appropriate to contact HR as though the supervisors are in the wrong here. Learning from the lesson would be accepting that yes, it makes her a bigger risk to future employers–the whole point of the references exercise is for prospective employers to learn what kind of worker you have been. And people who she did a terrible job for, should not be expected to pretend it was otherwise.

      Hopefully she has other references to balance this out. Agree with Anonymous that career-relevant internships are likely to carry more weight… but yes, valuable now to learn the consequences of doing a bad job!

      1. fposte*

        I had that line highlighted: “I e-mailed them back to ask them why and they have not answered the e-mail in over a week.”

        OP, you *know* why. You’ve just posted why. You emailed them in the hope that you could argue them out of the refusal.

    2. Ask a Manager* Post author

      What Moe said! And the issue that I saw with her letter is that she doesn’t sound like she truly believes her performance warrants the consequence. That’s a big deal — she’s still making excuses for it and surprised that she’s running into issues from it now.

      1. moe*

        Yes, and that’s one big difference between school and work–how far “personal problems” will take you. I don’t think professors do students any favors by giving extensions so liberally for pretty much anything; it gives kids a really skewed view about life and responsibilities being suspended when things get rough.

        There are of course sympathetic managers, PTO and FMLA in the work world, but it can be a shock to find out that grandma being sick doesn’t change the realities of deadlines and workload outside the confines of school. OP is actually fairly lucky to find that out now, if such was her (very common) misconception.

        1. jmkenrick*

          I actually disagree that lenient teachers are the issue.

          I think the main difference between school & work is that there aren’t any really concrete consequences. Yeah, you can get a bad grade, but that only really affects you, and you have to do pretty poorly to get kicked out of school. Even though a teacher/student realtionship can resemble a manager/employee relationship, the money is moving the opposite direction, so it’s really not the same on a fundamental level.

          It was a rude awakening when I got to work and realized that when I made a mistake, OTHER people had to work harder to make up for it. Mistakes at work just affect your relationships & life in a way that mistakes at school don’t.*

          *disclaimer: obviously, you can screw up at school and it can be a big problem, but I think you get much more slack, mostly because your performance as a student doesn’t really affect anyone but you.

          1. Anonymous*

            And because you are there to learn, and if you did everything perfectly the first time, you’d be wasting your money.

      2. JPT*

        I couldn’t shut myself up on this one because I supervise part-time student employees. We expect a lot of them (unlike some other campus jobs), and since most of them are seniors we’re often asked for job references or letters of recommendation for graduate school.

        With students, you always have the problem that their lives are chaos. Sometimes they miss the bus. Sometimes they forget their schedule. All this takes is one e-mail or phone call to say they’re going to be late or ask if they can have time off to deal with a personal or school-related issue, and I try to be very understanding of that and let them know it’s OK as long as it’s not something that happens all the time. Everyone sets their alarm incorrectly once or double books by accident. When it’s constantly, that’s when we threaten action.

        If I were asked to be a reference for someone who did what the OP described, there is no freaking way. So far, the students that have asked me for recommendations are luckily the ones that go above and beyond, help pick up extra shifts, and volunteer for additional projects. With most of the others, even if they weren’t standouts, I would provide an honest account of their experience and performance. But if it’s someone who was a total flake, regardless of the reason I would not be their reference (since if it were for problems like those described, but they were honest with me about it, I wouldn’t hold that against them). And they wouldn’t deserve a response to that e-mail, since it’s preposterous (although I would respond anyway just out of courtesy). Just having had a job under me does not guarantee a reference. Allowing someone to list you on their resume can be a long-term commitment, and if someone didn’t value my time I’m not going to put in that effort for them.

    3. Anonymous*

      The OP is currently complaining on her blog about how AAM was “a total jerk” to her, so I guess you can infer a bit about how much she’s matured.

        1. Shannon Terry*

          Oh my, indeed!

          Maybe I misread this one after all . . . and now she needs to be made aware of how her social media foot print in her job search can bite her just as bad in this digital age if she’s bad mouthing AAM on her blog! When I worked for a college career center I had to repeatedly remind students of this sort of thing . . .

        2. Anonymous*

          I’m the OP.

          I am very sorry for making that comment. I know it was really immature and rude to make. You’re right: I haven’t grown up as much as I thought. I got defensive because I don’t like it when people criticize me. I didn’t think anybody would blow the whistle, but somebody did.

          I appreciate the advice and you were right on about everything.

            1. Shannon Terry*

              To the OP, I was actually pretty supportive, so I assume your additional comments in this thread are addressed to AAM.

              There is also a comment somewhere in here about how work expectations during times of personal crisis are really uncaring and unrealistic (my paraphrase) in our culture, and I agree 100% for too many employers (not all). So I also feel for your struggle.

              Look for my posts, they may be helpful.

              Good luck!

            2. Amy*

              I once had AAM post a question on here I asked…and all the comments were so direct! And blunt, and interesting, some people were short and honest…etc – BUT I did get a little upset and get defensive. I had to remember what my work has on their social media policy: “Sometimes the best response is silence” :)

          1. Charles*

            Well, I wasn’t going to pile on you OP like everyone else as I would have nothing further to add; BUT, you thought no one would “blow the whistle”? Are you for real? (AAM, are you pulling our leg with this post? Can anyone really be acting this way? Or is this your April Fool’s post a little early?)

            OP, you’ve been given opportunities that others would die for. Two, Yes, TWO summer internships – some of us didn’t get any! Some of us have been working and being responsible since day one without all the “youthful mistakes” that you took advantage of. Some of us have been working since BEFORE 18 to earn money for college; and we learned years ago that means being responsible, owning up to mistakes, yada, yada, yada.

            Here’s my advice to you:

            Excuses are like armpits, everybody’s got two, and unwashed they tend to stink!

            Clean up your act, take responsibility for your actions and move on. You blew the library job, you blew the follow up, and now you’ve blown this seeking advice from AAM. And you’re still making excuse for your own bad behaviour! (“I didn’t think anybody would blow the whistle, but somebody did.”THAT”S an excuse! just stop it.)

            Lastly, I would like to add for everyone else’s benefit; this is NOT a generational thing, this is NOT a youthful mistake thing, this is NOT an our-educational-system-is-failing-us thing. This, if for real, is someone who is just plain out of touch with reality.

            P.S. sorry all for getting “nasty.” Wait, you know what, forget that apology, I take it back – Lord, how some folks just piss me off! With the job market the way it is there are plenty of folks more deserving of opportunities than others. I just hope employers see this and hire the right folks.

              1. MaryTerry*

                You could probably get away with one – so many real situations are practically unbelievable.

      1. Anonymous*

        And below in the comments, I was trying to be a little more on the OP’s side, but if she is really taking it to the Internet like how that other intern had who went overseas, then she rightfully deserves a reference rejection. She obviously hasn’t matured as much as she had thought, and even then, she probably hasn’t at all.

        Where’s the link? What’s the blog’s name?

  2. Anonymous*

    If you’re a recent college graduate your internships related to your actual degree should be listed before your work-study type job, and I’m sure employers will be much more interested in your performance at those jobs than they are in your library job… unless you majored in library science or something.

    I worked as a Desk Assistant all through college and I had it on my resume, however no one ever asked me for a reference for the position nor was it the focus of any interviews. If anything employers were just impressed that I went to school full-time, had internships during the school year and summer, and always also had a part-time job.

  3. Katie*

    I become very frusterated when my peers act this way. Behavior such as this has given my entire generation a terrible reputation, which can be difficult to disprove during a job interview.

    However, and I know it sounds terrible, but it also gives me a leg up on my competition.

    1. Natalie*

      If it makes you feel any better, I’m fairly certain that each generation of 20 somethings has a terrible reputation to their elders.

        1. EJ*

          I’m fairly certain, no matter what age we are in, the younger generation always has a bad reputation with their elders.

  4. Ellie H.*

    I often think that advice people give from the perspective of the “working world” can be kind of harsh to students (i.e. from the viewpoint “work” is always more important than “school” which somehow facilitates immaturity and frivolity) but I really think AAM is spot on with this. Even if the letter writer improved a lot and left on decent terms I think having required an intervention really says it all. Do you really WANT those people to say, in their reference for you, “His or her performance used to be so terrible we had to have an intervention”? They were being polite by not giving a reason why! Despite marked improvement, “passable” terms aren’t really good enough for a reference and this sounds like barely passable terms and like an overall negative experience for all. Most students would kill for a library job so I find this a little off-putting.

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      This is very minor, but I thought the use of the word “intervention” was telling. Interventions are something your family and friends do, not your job.

      1. Kelly O*

        That’s the word that resonated with me. Interventions are when things are very out of control and you become concerned about more than just calling in a bit too frequently.

        1. moe*

          What’s weird to me is the word implies an emotional buy-in that probably wasn’t there. I mean, I’m sure they *cared* that OP was having personal problems, but what they were really after was warning her her employment was in jeopardy. Just an odd choice of word for a professional come-to-Jesus meeting…

          1. A Bug!*

            In the context of the rest of the OP’s post I’m not surprised she viewed it as an ‘intervention’ as opposed to a performance warning. It sounds like she believed there was something a little more than an employment relationship at play, which is why she’s surprised at the refusal to provide references.

            She may have come out of the experience feeling proud of her improvement and is now surprised that the supervisors aren’t going by the same measurement of success. She seems unable to separate her personal accomplishments (and your improvement, OP is a pretty big personal accomplishment, make no mistake) from her professional accomplishments, which is topping out at “meets expectations,” but only after being threatened with the loss of her job.

            1. Anonymouse*

              Two things: It could be that the OP was told it was an intervention, and she’s simply using the same terminology. She also didn’t say who conducted the said intervention. It could be concerned co-workers getting involved, and not a top-down disciplinary meeting at all.

              We are all calling her OP by convention, when in fact she didn’t post anything.

              1. Anonymous*

                OP here.

                1) Yes, it was referred to as an ‘intervention.’ My supervisor called it as such.

                2) The intervention was done by the two supervisors that I mentioned in my question. My place of employment was fairly impersonal and supervisors were coming and going all the time. None of them really knew me too well, including the two of them. I had many different shifts, so each one had a different supervisor. I only considered using them because they kept giving me encouragement and praise for the turnaround that I had.

                I realize that I was stupid for asking them in the first place and that I shouldn’t have asked them why, but I was confused why they wouldn’t do it if they kept saying how good of a job I was doing. But yes, I was wrong for asking.

              2. fposte*

                OP, you weren’t wrong for asking whether people would give you references if you genuinely thought it was a possibility. The mistake was in chasing them after they’d said “No.”

      2. Another Brit*

        yes, jobs give you “disciplinary meetings” and “verbal/written warnings”.

        Not anywhere near as fun.

  5. Joey*

    The way to mitigate the poor reference is to get a job, any job. Don’t just focus on degree related jobs. It hurts more when employers see trouble at your most recent job. If they are able to get a good reference from your current job they’re more likely to believe you’ve changed.

    1. fposte*

      Yup, redraw the starting line. You’re farther behind than you would have been with a successful job behind you now, but that’s overcomable.

  6. anonymous*

    I actually have a similar question, if anyone has any thoughts, about my experience with a college internship. It was supposed to be a yearlong position, but after an extremely rough fall semester (depression, heavy course-load, family stuff, financial necessity of part-time job, the list goes on), I spoke to my supervisor about drastically scaling back my commitment in the spring. And then never went back. Oops? I’m not proud of that, and if I was able to go back and re-do everything, I absolutely would. Believe me, I learned my lesson.

    I am completely fine with leaving this position off of my resume. I learned some nifty software, but it doesn’t relate to the field where I’m interested in working. (It was, in fact, a great “thank god I did this so I know for sure I’m no longer interested in this industry” experience.) But some online job applications have work history sections where they instruct you to list every job you’ve ever had. I put it on those, including my supervisor’s phone number as required, but it makes my skin crawl because I KNOW the way I left that job does not reflect the employee that I have been in every position I had before that, and every job I have had since. So do I have to include it? Should I mention it to interviewers ahead of time?

    FWIW, my performance in the actual internship was fine. I originally planned to flat-out quit, but my supervisor begged me to stay, and offered the solution of reduced hours in order to keep me. (Why why WHY did I not stick to my guns, thereby avoiding this whole thing?)

    1. Joey*

      You’re going to have to put it if the application asks for it otherwise you risk being fired for falsifying your app. Don’t mention it unless you’re asked about it. The older it is the less they’ll care.

      1. Anon*

        I would say that an internship may or may not be “work” history depending on if they were paid for the experience. I don’t consider internships as employment.

          1. Dan*

            Paid or not, who cares. The trick with telling lies is to not get caught. If I had another job or school to “cover” for a part-time job (paid or not) that I didn’t want to talk about, I’d simply leave it off.

            Leaving things off without a cover requires a decent story to explain the gap on the resume/application.

            I guess there are two ways one could get caught leaving something off the app: The future employer pulls tax transcripts, which would have evidence of a paid job, or some reference from way back in the day brings up the part time job that I “forgot” to disclose.

    2. anonymous*

      Thanks to everyone (including AAM! I feel like I’ve had a brush with celebrity) for the advice. I’ll just start omitting the internship, since it was unpaid, and I’ve only applied for one or two jobs with any interest in the requisite software anyway.

  7. Anonymous*

    I, personally, tend to think that AAM overestimates the percentage of employers who take the time to call references – particularly for an entry-level position. I think you should leave the job on the resume, assemble a list of references that does not include anyone from that job, and do NOT preemptively mention your poor performance at the job unless you are specifically asked for a reference from that job.

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      There are definitely employers who don’t check references, but the majority do. There was a study from SHRM a while ago that found that close to 90% of employers do. The numbers were lower (but still the majority) for part-time and temp positions.

      1. Josh S*

        That SHRM number seems WAY inflated to me. Perhaps they’re trying to encourage best practice?

        I’ve been asked to be a reference for a handful of people I’ve managed and/or been co-owners/co-leaders of an organization with (non-profit stuff where I was a Director of Development and the person I was giving a reference for was the President of Operations; essentially both C-level folks). I can think of at least 5 people who have gotten jobs where I was one of their listed references, and I have never been contacted for a reference.

        I’ve actually been looking forward to giving my first reference. I think it would be fun, and the folks I’m talking about are superb, so it’s a pleasure to vouch for them. But no dice.

        So yeah, 0-for-5. Certainly not 90%.

        1. Ask a Manager* Post author

          My hunch is that a lot of people say “yes, we check references” when asked on these surveys because they know they SHOULD check references, and maybe they even intend to check references, but don’t actually do it and they don’t like to admit it.

          But keep in mind too that some people will check 1 or 2 references (like the most recent or the most significant) and then stop, rather than calling everyone on the list.

          1. Dan*

            That explains something. When I got out of grad school, one of my references bailed at the last minute. He was a pro bono beneficiary of some school work that I was doing, and I asked him to serve as a reference for me. I was specifically interested in having him vouch for the fact that my geeky mumbo jumbo was something he can understand. (Kind of a recurring problem in the technical field.) He was the beneficiary of a few drafts and presentations of what I was doing.

            I never once promised him anything by a certain date. “Hope to’s” are subject to change, and it sure wasn’t his timeline to control. Academic work is done when it’s done. But when the reference calls started coming in, he said he didn’t want to say anything until I turned in my final copy.

            Way to screw me dude. But the two jobs I really wanted made me offers without ever mentioning that guy. I never figured out what gave.

          2. Laura M.*

            I think that’s a really valid point, as most employers probably don’t want to admit to not checking references. However, I think that a fair bit of hiring is done through referrals. If someone who is well known vouches for a candidate, reference checking is less important. I know that when I was hired for the current position I’m in, none of my references were checked, but I had an employee in the department that hired me refer me.

          3. The Bookworm*

            It may be slightly off topic – but I wonder how many companies contract out the background checks? Would it be possible that the contractor isn’t doing a good job of checking references? But the employer believes it is being done?

        2. JPT*

          But… that’s employing that statistically 90% is true for every individual person, and not the truth, which is likely that it’s the result of a national survey… meaning not every employer would have been surveyed, it’s just the best estimate of what the percentage is based on a random sampling of employers. 90% doesn’t mean 90% of every employer, not really, just that it’s one possible outcome. I’m not great with statistics but I’m sure there is a margin of error for these results. And even if 10% don’t call references, and you’re talking about 5 instances, 10% is likely a lot of employers and it’s possible for your employees to have fallen in that percent.

          1. Anonymous*

            10% of 5 is 0.5. That’s half an employer. Even if we round up to 1 employer, that’s not “a lot.” It is, as you say, “possible,” but statistics regarding prevelance are not statistics regarding possibility. There is undoubtedly a margin of error, but if the sample size is large enough, that’s not going to bring the stats down significantly. (I just gave it a 10-point margin, which is pretty big, and it still only amounted to 1 employer.)

            My references have always been checked, though not necessarily all of them. That’s still just anecdotal, however. It’s common for people to trust their own experience more than they do statistics, but if the statistics are reputable, that’s a logical fallacy. Without statistics we’re mostly just making stuff up.

              1. JPT*

                Haha… you said that much more eloquently than me. I feel like people take statistics out of context and think that it actually means a certain percent of all people, when it’s really a certain percent of the people selected through whatever sampling method they used. In this case, it seems to say, this is what most people are most likely to experience.

                Also, the past two jobs I’ve had they checked references, although not necessarily ALL of the references. Generally it’s been two out of three based on the relevance to the position. Especially if there are multiple candidates, they might only use one.

            1. Josh S*

              Right, Liz T. I getcha on the stats. I’m a researcher by trade, so I get the limitations of statistics.

              But if the rate of contacting references is actually 90%, that’s 9-in-10 chance of being contacted. To figure out the probability of that, you take the inverse of the chance of NOT being contacted.

              The odds of not being contacted in a single listing = 1/10
              The odds of not being contacted in N listings = (1/10)^N

              (1/10)^5 = 0.00001 chance of NOT being contacted = a 99.99% chance of being contacted AT LEAST once. That’s a pretty strong result.

              Now, it could be that there are other factors at play–the people for whom I was a reference did not actually list me, or that I was at the bottom of the list each time and they only called the first one or two references, or something else.

              But if 90% of references (for those who get hired) get a call, then I would expect (all things being equal) to have gotten a call. So I think the 90% figure is high.

        3. Anonymous*

          They could also be calling non-listed references – if I get two good non-listed references, I may only call one listed one.

        4. Anonymous*

          I think it’s more of a debate as to how the employer checks the references than whether they do to begin with. Do they just verify employment or do they ask the right questions to get the person’s opinion?

        5. Lisa M*

          Josh, my experience has been just the opposite. I’ve had ~10 people use me as a reference over the last 5 years and have answered 9 checks.

      2. Joey*

        Don’t get me started on SHRM. Most of their data is only representative of members so it’s skewed. And since its not cheap to be a member there’s a high likelihood that they care more about these things that non members. Although I still think most employers check references I don’t think it’s anywhere near what SHRM claims.

        1. Dan*

          Considering that employers don’t usually start reference checks until after the interview process, one good “Do you have any questions for me?” question would be: “Yeah, is your HR head a member of SHRM?”

      3. ncd*

        The practice at my place of employment is ask for 3 references, but only call 2 (unless you really still can’t decide), and also ask around to get the unlisted opinion.

  8. Cruella Da Boss*


    The sooner this irresponsible person learns the lesson that their actions have consequences, no matter the “outside issues,” the better! An excuse is an excuse, regardless of what caused it. I agree that the OP is lucky not to have been fired. In my organization, it wouldn’t have gone on very long at all.

    And where was I when the memo went out that everyone is now “entitled” to different things? Oh yeah, I was WORKING and EARNING what I got. (Sorry, this is my numero uno pet peeve with young people today, my children included of course.) The concept that you can reap the benefits and rewards without actually working for them is lost on me.

    The supervisors do not -{owe}- this person a reference, nor do they owe an explanation. The OP should take their silence as a sign that what they have to say about this person would be less than pleasant.

    I would consider this a burned bridge.

    1. Liz T*

      Can we lay off the “young people today?” As someone remarked above, everyone has always thought that about people in their 20s. I’m 30 now, and the interns where I work are all hard-working, intelligent, totally charming, and eager to learn. When I was starting jobs not long ago, my friends and I took very little for granted (except maybe that our BAs would be worth anything, which at the time, luckily, they were). Any mistake I made tormented me–every typo, or miscommunication, made me resolve fiercely to do better.

      And I knew grad students/recent grads who were total snots. People are people.

    2. Mike C.*

      Please get over yourself. You’re not somehow a better or more moral person than the OP.

        1. Mike C.*

          If you don’t find the phrase “get over yourself” to be civil, I’ll stop using it. I felt it was rather mild, but it’s my mistake and I won’t use similar phrases in the future.

          I’m still going to call out someone who stereotypes whole groups of people. With respect to Cruella’s post, all young people are not categorically lazy, feel entitled to things they haven’t earned or somehow otherwise morally or ethically lacking when compared to previous generations. She even includes her own children in this category, this perception is that pervasive!

          I’m sick and tired of seeing it. I hear over and over again how people born between roughly 1980 to 2000 are somehow uniquely deficient and have had life too easy and don’t understand the value of hard work. I see article after article about how they grow up too slowly and how previous generations did much more at their age and so on, while completely ignoring the economic changes that have happened between one generation and the next.

          You personally don’t do this, and I appreciate it greatly. People who are inexperienced often screw up or need to be shown the error of their ways and that’s something *everyone* goes through. Yet I see it in plenty of comments and articles all over the business blogosphere. I see it in smaller blogs and in large newspapers of record. I’m tired of it and it needs to stop.

          If I may finish with a 2,400 year old anecdote –

          “The children now love luxury; they have bad manners, contempt for authority; they show disrespect for elders and love chatter in place of exercise. Children are now tyrants, not the servants of their households. They no longer rise when elders enter the room. They contradict their parents, chatter before company, gobble up dainties at the table, cross their legs, and tyrannize their teachers.”

          Socrates, as attributed by Plato.

          1. Ask a Manager* Post author

            The phrase does seem harsh to me, so thanks!

            You’re absolutely right that you can’t stereotype whole groups of people. I see the opposite of this one all the time too and it galls me just as much — tons of articles about “how to manage Millenials” and “what Millenials want at work” and so forth, and I’m always irked by them.

            That said, every generation goes through this when they’re in their 20s (as your Socrates quote makes clear). As a Gen X’er, we were all supposedly slackers who just wanted to work in coffeeshops and live like Douglas Copeland characters. It’ll go away once this generation ages out of the hot seat and a new one takes its place. I agree that it’s still silly though.

          2. Anonymous*

            I don’t know how old you are, but I was born in the mid-80s, which basically makes me a 90s kid. And trust me, no matter how well we did for ourselves in our 20s, we’ll look back and see some of the adjectives that have been attributed to our generation – whether it is something in our personal lives, our professional lives, or wherever. And furthermore, we will be saying it about the next group, just as the group ahead of us probably had it as well. We were just too young and unknowing to hear it.

            I use to take offense to it as well, but as long as you take care of yourself, you should/can prevail over it. I know plenty of people who have, and I know plenty of people who can’t get over their immature ways.

          3. fposte*

            I was going to go looking for the Plato, Mike; thanks for posting it. To add a dimension, I first heard it quoted on “My Three Sons,” in a response to complaining about young Boomers.

            1. Cruella Da Boss*

              Apologies All….that should be “pet peeve with SOME young people”, but my children are still included. I blame my in-laws for spoiling them terribly.


  9. Ellen M.*

    To the OP: Never disappoint a librarian. <– remember this!

    and re: this: "I think you’re thinking of this like school, and it’s nothing like school. It’s a job, you’re accountable for your behavior, end of story."

    A-MEN! And I think students should be accountable for their behavior also, but in many MANY schools, they are not (up to and including graduate school). It's a rude awakening when these students graduate!

    Entitlement can certainly hinder a job search and a career.

    1. Cassie*

      We have some student employees (doing technical work related to their majors) and I firmly believe we (the school) are not just preparing them for their future in whatever technical field they choose, but also for life. I’ve had students not turn in timesheets and then be surprised when they didn’t get paid on payday!

      Granted, we all have moments where we forget to pay a bill or something, but if it’s happening over and over again, it’s up to the student to do something about it. And that doesn’t mean coming in the day after payday and asking for a rush check each month.

      These students are (mostly) graduate students, not undergrads – meaning they’re in the mid-20s! How did they survive this long in the real world? And some of the professors/advisors do tend to be more forgiving on stuff like this (though they are more strict when it comes to the actual research beign done). It comes down to us admin staff to say stuff like “I can get this back to you by tomorrow, I’m not going to stop everything else I’m doing just because you decide to wait til the very last minute. Next time you should plan ahead.” and hope that those lessons stick with the students after they graduate.

  10. Anonymous*

    Since you’re a recent grad, couldn’t you also consider using some of your former professors as references, particularly if there are any who got to know you pretty well and/or whose fields are at least tangentially related to your future career aspirations?

    I did this for my first “real” postcollege job (well, and second–but only because it was at my alma mater and my future employers knew the people in question), and my references were happy to be listed when I asked them. When you don’t have a lot of work experience, employers are mainly going to be interested in someone who can speak to your thinking skills and responsibility level, which a former professor should be able to do.

    1. JPT*

      Agreed, especially if you’ve done courses with a lot of hands-on activities or some kind of experiential learning.

    2. Ask a Manager* Post author

      This is definitely an option, but it’s more of an option if you don’t have other choices. I talk to professors only as a last resort, because they’re typically not able to provide the sort of insight that employers can provide. Lots of people thrive in a class but aren’t great on the job, and vice versa, and typically employers are better able to speak to the kind of things references want to know.

  11. Shannon Terry*

    I didn’t read the OP’s note the way AAM did, though I seem to be in the minority. I agree with Tai’s comment, “The OP openly admits what she did wrong and that she corrected her behavior. She said she was immature. Her naivete shows through her surprise at not getting a reference, but she doesn’t sound entitled to me. She just sounds young and not sure how to handle this situation.”

    And I would add, OP is also turning to a reputable expert source for guidance (and has the discernment to determine this IS a great resource for advice on this issue), which I think speaks to her sincerity in CONTINUING to learn from and improve her situation. She’s not saying “Screw them, they just don’t understand!” She’s saying “I’ve learned a lot, but there are still things (as a 22-ish year old) that I just don’t understand or know how to handle professionally – would you be willing to help me? ” I think there is some humility to that. That’s how I perceived her letter.

    I think if she decides to be open about it as AAM mentioned is an option (I agree), that the way it will likely be perceived is just about tweaking your word choices (assuming they match your genuine feelings and attitudes) and your tone & delivery, which none of us can truly discern in writing (we haven’t tone & attitude expressive fonts — yet! :))

    Therefore, you may find it valuable to practice talking about it in a mock interview with an interview coach (at your college career center, or other professional job search/interview coach) so you can get feedback on how you come across verbally and/or in person.

    My recommendation is to absolutely learn from this situation, but not to let it worry or stress you to the point of additional negative effects on your job search now, because employers might sense your discomfort and though they don’t know what it’s about necessarily, they’ll sense SOMETHING is up & it could become a yellow or red flag for them as some sort of ‘gut feeling’ even if the issue itself doesn’t come up. Again, I’m not mentioning this possibility to further stress you out, just for awareness so you can work through your fear, and/or practice talking about it in a mock interview as mentioned if you feel it would further help you.

    It happened. It’s over. You are continuing to learn from it.

    Like AAM said, soooo many of have had these learning experiences in our careers, in our early 20’s — or later, too.

    Good luck to you!


      1. Shannon Terry*

        What your opinion, Alison, on practicing with friends/family vs. a professional? In my experience f & f mean well, but may not have the most professional or seasoned perspective or input (or it can just be too awkward to practice with someone you know, which seems counter-intuitive but is something I am told a lot). A professional has no personal feelings/relationship to consider (and vice versa) & will give the client honest and (hopefully!) helpful feedback.

        I did read your recent input on some college career centers being out of touch with hiring practices (so true, though mine, luckily, was awesome) so I thought OP could at least go see what she thinks, as alumni are usually welcome.)

        1. Ask a Manager* Post author

          I think two things are key: The person has to be someone whose input on this will be on-target (i.e., your mom might see you as great no matter what, and a 20-something friend might not have the same perspective as a hiring manager), and they have to be someone who’s willing to tell you the truth, even if it’s awkward or uncomfortable. If it’s hard to find someone who meets both criteria in your circle (and it often is), then a professional might be a good answer.

          I think you’re absolutely right, though, that it’s sometimes awkward to practice this stuff with people you know, and that’s another reason why a professional could be a good choice.

    1. Anonymouse*

      I got pretty much the same thing as you did. She didn’t seem indignant at their refusal to be references, she seemed genuinely shocked that what she saw as marked and commendable improvement was not perceived the same way as others. Though the distance was great, it wasn’t from rock bottom to rock star. Perhaps she merely raised herself to an idling level of adequacy.

      In the student world, marked change is cheered and encouraged, as long as it’s upward. This is not the way the working world works, and I think that’s *starting* to sink in. Alas, going from an F to a C+ in the working world isn’t going to earn you any references.

      I do think she’s learned from it, in a way that many a person her age would. She’s guilty of understanding the world in the same way she always has. I think of a lot of us at that age were absolutely mystified by how different the working world was (I think AAM’s take on this was really well-put). With time, she will continue to reflect and learn more.

      I think if she continues to focus on improvement and is open and honest with future employers: “I have changed and grown during this time period and I hope my rocky period won’t ruin my chances of finding employment,” she stands a good chance of continuing an upward trend.

      I would say to the OP, that Private problems need to be handled in your Private life. You will continue to have life issues, everyone does, but you must find a constructive way to confront them. This definitely means you can’t take it out at work. Good Luck.

  12. Lindsay H.*

    I had a “deep” discussion with a co-worker while in HR at Target about information given for references. Target’s policy is they don’t give any sort-of reference information beyhond an employment verification, which tends to be the case with larger corporations. My fellow team member was upset because she wanted a reference for a job she was applying to.

    My sentiment was, and is, most people overestimate how well they’re doing and can be unpleasantly surprised at either a bad or even luke-warm review. I thought maybe this was just a Target thing, but I handled the employee reviews while at Bobcat. A vast majority of people rated themselves significantly higher than what their managers had rated them.

    Anyway, the OP also isn’t endearing him-/herself by repeated follow up. You got your “no.” Be gracious and focus on other tools you can bring to help you find a new job.

    1. Joey*

      But one huge reason why people overestimate their performance is that their supervisors aren’t forthright with them. I just don’t understand how managers can’t bring themselves to talk to the actual employee about their shortcomings, but have no problem gossiping with everyone else about how crappy of an employee Jane is. Most of the time the supervisor deserves the blame, not the employee.

      1. Lindsay H.*

        This is very true. Managers either ignore the problem or, I have often come across this, try and make a joke out of it. Passive-aggressive behavior. I took a course in college about Conflict Management and Resolution, which I feel would be a very beneficial class for graduating seniors as they head into the working world.

    2. Anonymous*

      I have heard of companies in which employees are supposed to rate themselves, and in these evaluations, the company tells them what they can and cannot use on the rating scale. The rating scale might go from 1 to 5, 5 being the best. They won’t be allowed to rate themselves with either 4 or 5 unless they can prove there is an exceptional circumstance where the employee went above and beyond.

      Anyway, I agree with Joey. If you have a boss who doesn’t say “you suck” than of course you are going to be surprised when your reference is only lukewarm. Usually the saying is “no news is good news” so if you’re not getting reprimanded by the boss, you would take it as your doing the job well enough to be left alone. But unfortunately that’s not always the case.

      1. Lindsay H.*

        Oh, this is my former employer to a T!! You basically have to be inventing a completely new device or bringing thousands of dollars in revenue to be on the 4 to 5 range of things.

        I see both sides: Is it frustrating to people to hear, “Yeaaaah, you’re not good enough. Let’s establish that right off the bat.”? Yes. But, I’ve also had people try to justify why they’re a 5 by using such examples as, “I always show up to work on time and I’m a good worker.” That’s awesome, but that maybe doesn’t warrant an “outstanding.”

  13. Anonymous*

    I’m in the minority as well.

    The OP writes that she worked at the library for 15 months, and for 7 of those months, she went through this rough period in her life. Were those 7 months in the beginning, middle, or towards the end? Reason I ask is that if it was more towards the beginning, I would be questioning the reference rejection as well.

    Anyway, this intervention – it sounds more like a “shape up or ship out” sort of scenario instead of offering counseling (since it was at college, they could recommend she sees the school’s psychologist for example). Now I know companies in the real world do that (some sort of an employee assistance program). That crossed my mind.

    I do believe the OP understands what happened, and I hope the OP has resources to know how to handle stressful life situations in the future. Just because she knows she screwed up this time doesn’t mean it won’t happen again – all because she doesn’t know how to handle it in the future. This is where I err on the side of the references, but once again, it leads to when that 7 months fell within the 15 months.

    1. Anonymous*

      And if anything I wrote above is not understood, please ask and I will clarify. Right now, I’m sitting through an allergy fog, and might not have written things clearly. I apologize ahead of time.

    2. fposte*

      By her own account, the employee sucked for almost half of her job. There is no reason to question why somebody wouldn’t want to write her a reference. It is possible, had she been otherwise absolutely brilliant (and I don’t think becoming “much more punctual” suggests awesomeness, to be honest), that somebody might have still have wished to write her a reference based on such an awesome turnaround, but that still doesn’t leave any doubt as to why they would choose not to. It took a huge meeting before this employee stopped sucking. She was not a good employee. They’re not going to tell somebody she was.

      And her *literal* emailing the people to question why is the reason I’m with Alison on the cold dose of reality. You don’t get to get indignant that people you were horrible to aren’t going to do you a big favor for you.

      1. Anonymous*

        Yes, for more than half the job, but I want to know if it was in the beginning or more towards the middle/end. If it was the beginning, then it might have been an immaturity issue which she straightened out for the last 8 months.

        Only the OP can answer that, and if this is the case, then I would wonder why the supervisors haven’t come around. Furthermore, I would question why they didn’t fire her. Quite frankly, I believe we do not have the whole picture here.

        1. Ask a Manager* Post author

          I’d guess that it’s because the vast majority of under-performers aren’t fired — because their managers are bad at managing, overly passive, etc.

          1. fposte*

            Especially with student employees, since they’re easily cycled out at the end of the year anyway.

          2. Anonymous*

            While the OP here has a bad reputation preceding her, and from what I have seen others write on her about an apparent blog bashing you, I can see how her behavior does not earn her a reference. My first question was about the timing. That would be relevant if it was how she started the job but improved dramatically. I don’t know if that is the case.

            Then, my other concern is how these managers are, whether it is the library staff or anyone else dealing with bad managers. They act passively because they hate conflict, but they realize they hold the card when it comes to giving references. Just because it took them 7 months to finally nip the OP’s problem in the bud…it doesn’t seem fair; it doesn’t seem right. I think both are wrong in this whole situation.

            It’s a cold, cruel world out there…

        2. fposte*

          I can understand that you might be constructing a different picture if she sucked in the first half. I’m just staying that it’s not a different enough picture for a non-reference to be a surprise.

          The supervisors *did* come around–they didn’t fire her. But she didn’t earn more than that. If people are assuming that as long as they haven’t been fired they’re valued employees who deserve a reference, they need to stop that. If they’re assuming that despite having been disciplined for performance failure, they need to be spoken to firmly. Which is what AAM did.

      2. JPT*

        ‘I don’t think becoming “much more punctual” suggests awesomeness.’ – Gold star for that! While it might be a question of, “Hmm, I thought I had a good relationship with this person so I wonder why they didn’t respond,” the concept of being on time for work is a MINIMAL expectation. Punctuality is the STATUS QUO. If you have to be talked to about it, you’re not meeting the minimum requirements of being employed there. You work up to things like effectively communicating with coworkers and mastering certain skills. Not showing up on time.

        It sounds like she had some issues that were obviously affecting every aspect of her life, and I think at some point that happens to everyone. It’s not reasonable to expect work problems based on those things to be acceptable, though, when it wasn’t brought to their attention so that they could attempt to accommodate. It might have been suggested that she take some time off until things were resolved… but only if it was obvious that person would be a good employee if not for those issues. If it’s a job that isn’t understanding of a need to take time to make sure you’re healthy physically and mentally, it’s probably not the best place to work. So who knows, maybe it’s a situation like that where she didn’t think it would be acceptable, or that she might lose her job (but sounds like she almost lost her job anyway, right?).

        And on another note… I don’t think “young people these days” are acting any more entitled than past generations. I feel like people just out of college have always been this way, because we’re fed this dream that we’ll get a fantastic job after we graduate. It’s just less and less true the more college grads there are and the fewer jobs, so it seems even more ridiculous for them to expect so much. But we all come out of college with this super happy idea of getting a great job in our chosen field just because we have that degree. If you’re denying it, you’re probably living it. :)

      3. Emily*

        Though I’m not defending the OP’s actions (especially not her actions following AAM’s response!), I do wonder why the library kept her on as an employee for seven months. That’s more than half a calendar year and nearly 2/3 of an academic year—a long time for such poor behavior to go unchecked! I know management and feedback for part-time/temporary employees, especially students, has its own challenges and timelines, but at some point, the supervisor(s) could have said, “if you miss another shift, we’ll have to ask you not to come back at all.”

        If, instead, they handled the performance issues so gently that it was interpreted as an “intervention” then I can understand how the OP might have a warmer, fuzzier perspective on her overall experience than they do. I hope the OP learns two lessons here: one about professionalism and one about how to take that cold dose of reality when you have it coming.

        1. MB*

          Sometimes we are discouraged by management from getting rid of problem student worker employees.

          Also, at my college, for example there are certain amount of available positions at the beginning of the semester. There are more student workers than there are open positions. Once filled, some students are left without jobs.

          If we ‘fire’ a student worker during the semester, they may be unable to find any other opening. They are out the money that they would have earned during the remaining time. Which leads us to use ‘firing’ as a very last resort.

          However, and capitalized for emphasis: REFERENCES ARE A PRIVILEGE AND NOT A RIGHT!

    3. Ellen M.*

      I disagree – she was so bad for about half of the time she was there, that her employer gave her an intervention and she nearly got FIRED. She managed to improve enough to not get fired but clearly did not understand that her behavior at work was not acceptable and still doesn’t get that SHE is the one who did something wrong here and not her former supervisors who are refusing to give her a reference.

      I wouldn’t give her a reference either. If I nearly had to fire an employee? Nope, no reference.

      BTW, no one is EVER obligated to give a good reference for anyone, nor does the person asked have to give a reason why. If someone says “No”, that’s the end of it. If I asked someone for a reference and that person declined, I would be really concerned about my own judgment, if my perception of the situation was so far from accurate.

      If the OP is smart she’ll change the way she thinks and behaves and drop the entitlement, or her experience at that job will be repeated, repeatedly, at subsequent jobs.

      As part of my job, I counsel job hunters of all ages, and see this kind of entitlement in lots of people, of all ages. It’s definitely not just millennials. And the people who exhibit the worst entitled behavior are genuinely surprised at the thought that they could possibly be perceived as entitled; they think they are being perfectly reasonable in their expectations and demands.

      Sometimes all I can say is, “Well, good luck to you.” You can lead a horse to water…

      1. Ask a Manager* Post author

        One other point that this reminds me of: If someone isn’t enthusiastic about giving you a reference the first time you ask, you really don’t want a reference from that person anyway. If you have to push them into it, it’s not going to be a reference you want.

  14. Riki*

    Take a breath, OP. How ever your job search turns out, it will unlikely be as horrible as what you’re imagining. Take this as a lesson learned and, you know, learn from it. Don’t call HR. Don’t spend anymore time getting upset or stressed out. Understand that while a supervisor may sympathize with you personally, professionally, they really can’t afford to be understanding about everything, all the time. Bizarre behavior, a bad attitude, excessive missed days, etc. can effect an entire office, not just that one person.

    Be glad that this is happening now, not when you’re 30! Seriously. The job market may not be in the best shape, but as very young person who recently graduated, having a hole in your resume will not bite you in the rear the way it would someone 10 years older. As for references, I’m going to echo what other posters have already said. Your internships, favorite professors, volunteer supervisors, coaches, etc. There is a way around this.

    1. anon.*

      I like this answer Riki. Good advice and perspective for the OP.
      (but, OP.. be sure to take in what all the other commenters have said as well!)

  15. bob*

    What the hell, Mrs. Fields has RETAIL stores??! I didn’t realize until now I have been living a deprived life.

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      Oh yes! And they served really delicious sandwiches on fresh bread too. I can’t believe I walked away from that job, as they gave me a delicious free sandwich every shift.

      1. Stacy*

        A free sandwich is such a morale booster! More companies really should consider investing in this. ;)

        I have cupcakes baking in the oven right now to use as bait for my happiness trap.

  16. Alice*

    I’m surprised and somewhat saddened by a number of the responses on this thread and for once, the response by AAM. I think (and hope) that this is a uniquely american phenomenon, where people are repeatedly criticised for not behaving like an automaton at work – and where multiple factors in a person’s life are expected not to affect them at work. This is massively unrealistic across the board and even more so in younger employees who are usually less mature and naive of workplace expectations.

    I’m not defending the behaviours of this person and I believe they could have handled the issues better at the time, but I think the organisation itself has an equal responsibility to ensure that employees have information available and publicised procedures that employees can follow in times of need. Employment is not a one way relationship.

    I hope that each of you slamming the OP know who to speak to in your organisation when your partner is in stage 4 cancer and you simply cannot hold it together – or you know what support you can get from your employer when you’re that stressed out because you’re paying your parents mortgage as well as your own. These are not excuses, they’re horrible things that happen in life and to expect that you’ll blithely carry on smiling through them is a damning indictment of an organisation and the management that expects that.

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      I don’t think anyone here is arguing that your personal life can never impact your work. To the contrary, we had a post just a few days ago about how a reader whose parent is dying of cancer could work out accommodations with the reader’s employer. However, no, it’s not acceptable to behave in the way that this OP describes behaving — when you see yourself doing that, you talk to your boss and you work something out, even if it’s just “hey, be aware that this is going on in my life and it’s probably going to show at work for a while.” You don’t let it go on for seven months and then be surprised when your employer doesn’t want to recommend you.

      1. Alice*

        I agree up to a point.

        Some time ago an employer wrote in about their two new young interns or employees, I forget which. Among other things they were turning up late and the OP was exasperated. You advised him to sit them down and be specific about the job requirements including punctuality and that by taking on young employees, it was his job to teach them the basics. I don’t see much difference in this case – except that it took them seven months to do this and they are obviously bitter about it in hindsight – it’s a harsh outcome for this OP – and some of the comments here are equally harsh, in my opinion.

        The organisation is as much to blame about what happened – if they had stamped out the bad behaviour early on and started a dialogue about it then there would have been no need for it to go on for seven months and no need for there to be issues around a reference.

        1. Ask a Manager* Post author

          Ah, the difference is that in that case the manager wrote to me and in this case the employee did. Based on what’s here, would I tell that manager that they should have talked to the OP much, much sooner? Absolutely. But they’re not writing to me, and the OP is — and she has responsibilities and obligations on her side too.

        2. fposte*

          Does the organization take some responsibility? Yes. Are they “as much to blame”? No. The employee is the one ultimately in charge of the employee’s work. And I don’t agree that the organization’s taking some responsibility would have made her into a good employee earlier–most likely it would have resulted in her simply losing the job. I have student employees, and that is why I bristle when people start the “young people today” lament, because my staff is more diligent and talented than I am by far. And I definitely would have intervened considerably earlier in the cycle and sent them to the relevant school supports–and replaced them. Otherwise how is that work going to get done? I can’t afford to hire additional people to cover a staffer who can’t do the work, I’m not prepared to lose my evenings and weekends to do a job that somebody else is getting paid to do, and I’m certainly not going to require another student do it for free. So what, in the OP’s case, do the students who need library materials to pass their classes do?

          I do think that it’s really tough that a workplace can turf somebody who’s given to the organization for years and is running into some personal problems, but that’s not the situation here. It’s not a workplace’s job to sponsor a short-term employee who not only is leaving her work to somebody else but is making other people’s work actively harder, and who even with a complete turnaround will at best give a year or so back to the organization. There are capable, eager people who it breaks my heart not to hire; I’m sorry if an incumbent is so troubled she can’t work and is making other people miserable and I will try to get her support, but I’m not going to keep paying her instead of one of those capable, eager people.

    2. Community Chica*

      When my grand mom died, I was in another continent, just starting out my job as part of a company’s graduate program. I took a day or two off, then spend about 2-3 months in a fog of grief. But I never slacked on my job.

  17. Amy*

    There is a lot going on here, I say just leave it off the resume unless you are in “library science” — its not worth the potential bad reference if someone does call, if they are on the resume. I read a comment from OP stating it was the software she learned. Well, she sort of lucked out….this job was during college- a great reason to not be working…forget about the software, and just say you were in school. Its kind of a learning thing here.

  18. EngineerGirl*

    I think the thing that is bothering me is that the OP refused to accept the “no” from the supervisors. She asked for a favor. The favor places the supervisors reputation at stake (as a reference really is an endorsement). The supervisors actually were kind enough to respond. She received all the consideration she was entitled to. People are allowed to say “no” to favors. No penalties.

    Something to learn in the work world and life in general.

    1. Charles*

      And not only did they respond; but it seemed like the OP wanted to “tattle” or something on them. (i.e. talk to HR) That’s annoying – she just cannot seem to accept “NO.”

      1. Anonymous*

        Charles, I have accepted “No” for an answer and I am moving on. I only mentioned talking to HR to see if there was any way to use them to confirm dates of employment IF employers did reference checks on my job. I wasn’t using them to tattle on their answer.

        Please stop putting words in my mouth.

        1. Ask a Manager* Post author

          OP: You have galled most people here because you wrote a letter that sounded very entitled. If you can take the feedback and be humble about it, you can turn this around for yourself. It’s normal to feel defensive when you have a bunch of people criticizing you, but you will be doing yourself such a service if you can bring humility to this, I promise you.

          1. JPT*

            I think there’s a big difference between criticism and judging. I don’t think anyone here has judged her for having problems that affected her work, just saying that she handled them incorrectly. But if you send a question to a public place asking for advice, you’re opening yourself up to all of it.

        2. moe*

          To be fair, that meaning wasn’t clear at all, and in context Charles’ interpretation was the one many of us came away with.

          I understand this all may suck to hear Often I find that when feedback stings, there’s either an uncomfortable nugget of truth in it, or I need to work harder at making myself heard the way I intend. I do think it’s useful for you to figure out how to “package” this experience in a way that won’t rankle people, should it come up in your job search.

          No one means you ill will. The first humbling on-the-job experience comes to everyone, and in the grand scheme of things this one isn’t terrible and it won’t follow you forever.

          1. Anonymous*

            I agree that the OP’s writing in the HR section was not clear. She wrote:
            “How should I go about doing damage control? I don’t want employers to contact them and speak to my former supervisors. Should I contact HR about this?”

            Using ‘this’ when you mean something more specific can lead to misunderstandings. “Should I contact HR about what their standard procedure is when prospective employers call for references?” might have been better.

            Good luck to you, OP. I’m living proof that messing up at a job when you’re very young won’t completely ruin your life. I was fired at age 19 for not showing up to work. If you put it behind you and perform well at your next job, all will be well.

  19. Ellen M.*

    I have to wonder how the OP would have reacted if she actually did get fired from that job. Would *that* have opened her eyes, that she had behaved in a way that was unacceptable, or would she have just thought, “Nope, they were mean, they were wrong, this is so unfair” etc. and continued on her merry not-MY-fault entitled way? Would she have complained to HR in that case?

  20. Sean*

    I honestly sometimes wonder about people. No offence to the OP but to be honest it just sounds like another “I should be entitled to…” situation. I’m 24, I’m part of the so-called new generation of kids who think they should get everything and I honestly think it’s crap. I really wonder these days where my age group got this notion that they should get every job they apply for, and that everyone should like them. Obviously I try to make friends with everyone but I know it just doesn’t work that way all the time. People, and not necessarily JUST my age group, need to understand we have to work to get what we want, we can’t just say “hey I should get this this and that, oh good I got it!”. It’s just sad.

    1. Mike C.*

      I have a hard time calling a kid supporting his parents and suffering from mono as “entitled”, but that’s just me.

      1. L. A.*

        That’s not the part that makes them “entitled.” They weren’t entitled when they positively took the feedback and turned their job performance around. They’re coming across as “entitled” when they wonder why they aren’t going to be getting a reference from this position because by-golly EVERYONE has to give you a reference (which isn’t a unique thought to this OP, no one ever told me you could say you’d rather not give a reference when I was in school, I just assumed you did regardless)

      2. anon.*

        Yes – THIS. I agree that a kid supporting parents is entitled – and in fact, I don’t see how the entire ‘entitled’ characterization has grabbed hold here. I do think (as someone who has been following AaM for a long time) that there are definately times when people start commenting on other comments without really ready what an OP is actually saying/paying attention to the context of an OP’s actual situation. Notice I keep saying ACTUAL..

        A few comments back someone said they didn’t see judgement in the comments. I beg to differ – there has been alot of judgement, especially for this blog.

        This OP is young – and handled her/his WORKlife poorly while handling a HUGE personal load – a plate Overflowing – health/financial/family(who knows the issues/pressures?!)/school/work…

        I agree with Mike C.

        AND enough with the bashing of OP for being young and not handling EVERY AREA of life correctly. And for those that are all ‘well I wouldn’t do it that way and I had a much harder life BLAHBLAHBLAH..’ Good for you. Not everyone is you.

        Sorry Alison, had to be a bit harsh here on the commenters. It was necessary.

        1. Ask a Manager* Post author

          I don’t think anyone is saying the OP is a bad person (in fact, many of us have acknowledged behaving similarly poorly at that age, myself included). But she wrote in about a situation in which, yes, she was acting entitled (entitled to a reference that she hadn’t earned). You can act entitled in one area of life (work) and be a saint in another area (personal life or whatever); they aren’t mutually exclusive and they don’t cancel each other out.

          She did act entitled in her letter and in her expectation that she deserved a reference, and then there’s the whole badmouthing me on her blog after she didn’t get the answer she wanted (while simultaneously claiming to have learned a lesson). This doesn’t make her a bad person, but it does make her someone who isn’t seeing clearly and is going to hear that when she asks a community of fairly straight-talkers for advice.

        2. moe*

          But it’s a blog for career advice. I think you’d find some “softer” feedback (probably even from the same commenters) if the OP were asking for feedback on how she handled her life at this time, but that’s not what she requested: she specifically wanted to know about using these references in a work context.

          She got that advice.

  21. Amy*

    Just thinking here…I’ve found when I do separate from a job, I will hear from the manager “Feel free to use me for a reference” or “Any future employment you have, I can serve as a reference” If i don’t hear that volunteered, I don’t really put them down. I would never email and ask, only because if i’m asking, I’m doubting…I mean, I know my performance somewhere. I feel like references are people that can really speak highly of you…not just people you have worked for. I will maybe email to say they are being used as a reference, that’s all. I’m seeing a lot of that in response, which is how it should be. I only put things on my resume that make me look top notch.

    1. JPT*

      That’s a good point. I had a boss for a part time student job as an undergrad (12 or so years ago) that said exactly that. I worked there for a few years. And as a supervisor now, I often say that to students. I know they’re getting ready to graduate and jobhunting. The ones that are serious about their career and have been good employees (not PERFECT employees, but responsible, helpful, willing to learn, etc.), I’ll mention it to them. Or if they tell me offhand about something they’re applying for, I’ll say they can list me as a reference before they even ask.

    2. Ellen M.*

      I would still ask, even if the person has offered in the past and/or you are just about 100% sure he/she would say “yes”. It’s just common courtesy and respect, and there maybe some people who would be happy to be a reference for you but might not think to offer it. Another reason it is good to ask, even if someone had offered, is to check that the person is *still* willing to be a reference, esp. if some time has passed since the offer.

      Always give your references a heads-up if they may be called in the near future, too, so they’ll be ready when a phone call comes from a hiring manager. This just makes it easier for the person to be a reference for you. It is much better to have the reference ready for the call than to have even a moment of “Who? Oh, yes, I was her supervisor…” because the person being called was caught off guard.

      “Thank you”s, too, are a good idea, if someone praises you as a reference. I would say e-mail is fine right after the person has spoken to the hiring manager, and if you get the job, you might want to send a snail-mail card or note.

      Showing respect and appreciation to those in your network is always a good idea.

      1. JPT*

        Yeah true. I prefer it when, even if I’ve offered in the past, they give me a heads up when they’re applying for something and using my name. Gives me time to think about what I want to say about their performance.

  22. Heather*

    Oh this brings back so many memories of early days in the work force. Being 19, a self-professed “hippie” with the attitude of “damn the man”. The conditions of that job and the people I dealt with working cash at the grocery store of course did suck, but in truth it was really my attitude of entitlement and thinking I could quit at any time without considering the consequences that sucked more. I did give them two weeks’ notice so I never actually walked out, but the attitude I left with certainly burned bridges that thankfully have not impacted my career path now. Being young is for making mistakes, but like AAM said OP you must learn from them and clearly see them for what they are without justifications. This might take a while but you’ll probably look back on it and be able to see really clearly why you’re receiving this criticism now. Try to take it in and use to to propel yourself forward in a positive way. Good luck :-)

  23. mh_76*

    I agree with those who admonished the OP. Everyone goes through hard times in life and at work. Work can be a welcome distraction from life’s problems and it is never acceptable to take out your anger or frustration on anyone.

    We all slip up occasionally and when that happens, an immediate apology is in order. To slip up for 7 months…well, you’re very lucky that they gave you a second chance.

    In a job search or two, that job won’t be on your resume anymore and now, your best bet is to focus on jobs you’ve held successfully. And when you do find that next job, remember: don’t let the problems of life or work affect the way you treat anyone else or the way you perform in either setting. It’s not always easy and you will no doubt have to face other problems down the road, we all do.

    Treat others as you yourself want to be treated, whether in life, at work, or in any setting at all.

  24. L. A.*

    People always say that it is polite to say three things in response to a person relaying a story before jumping in and telling your own – I’m going to break protocol here and add my two cents. I’ve noticed that the OP has responded multiple times in the comments admitting defeat and berating themself. First, stop it. Stop calling yourself stupid for asking. Stop saying you’re right, you didn’t learn anything. You’re still coming across as defensive and entitled. It’s hard to take criticism, but we really are just trying to help you by providing some constructive criticisms. A lot of us have even been in the same situation.

    I had two situations occur when I was in college that were a lot like the above.

    In my junior year, I had an internship in my school’s development office. I enjoyed the work so much that after my semester long internship was up I decided to continue working with the director for second semester. I also took on a high-level editorial position at my school’s newspaper that same time and booked myself for 18 credit hours. Something had to fall by the wayside and as I worked overnight, I often missed my 8:30 am meeting with the development director. Thankfully, she was incredibly understanding and oftentimes told me I was burning the candle at both ends WAY too often. We scaled my commitment back, especially as I was unpaid and not receiving credit at that point. She’s still one of my professional mentors and we’re still close. Thankfully that one didn’t bite me too much.

    I also held two internships at a local newspaper during college. I spent a summer in the Features department where I made a lot of great professional contacts and spent the entire time growing and developing under a nurturing presence. The paper asked me to come back during my final semester in school and I was transferred to the Community section. I had been warned that many summer interns found the move from 40 hours a week to 15 hours a week to be incredibly difficult. And working 15 hours a week is near impossible as a journalist as your sources are calling you at any hour of the day or night. I spent my first three weeks overachieving and working overtime to the point that I was told to stop it – if the story wasn’t in by the time I had to leave for the day, it wasn’t in. Unfortunately, that meant that my stories often never came in since not many sources get back to you by 11 am. Feature stories, however, are much easier to write at a leisurely pace so I was shuttled back to Features to help them out and write a Business column. In the meantime, my senior thesis failed (which is ANOTHER oh shit I think I just screwed myself moment) and I was told I might not graduate – while I was at work. i.e. they tried to email my school email address but accidentally emailed my work email address so I didn’t see it for four days. Tears of anguish obviously ensued and I left my internship for three days to get it figured out. When I came back I was told I wasn’t motivated and they had issues with my integrity.

    Am I still like you? Yes. I believe I was screwed over on my senior theseis, and I believe the Community section editors didn’t get to know me at all, my Features editor, who I still speak with regularly, told me they often saw intern’s journalism careers cross the divide to Community to die because of their actions and responses to interns. I was told by him that he never had an issue with my performance or integrity, that I was one of the best he intern’s he’d ever had. Thankfully both of these internships occurred at the same place so I leave both on my resume but only lead them to one former supervisor.

    Do I go in to interviews with my guns blazing ready to tell everyone this story? Of course not. Do I speak up and tell people that I think I got the shaft? Holy crap, no (except here, and only to make a point). Don’t be a martyr. We all have bad stuff happen in our lives. We all make bad work related decisions one time or another. Stop making excuses, man up, and find a professor that can vouch for your work. Get a part time job and rectify the situation. But don’t sit here crying because AAM told you the truth.

    We’re not defined by the mistakes we make. We’re defined by how we respond to them. Now go keep the positive momentum going in your response!

        1. L. A.*

          Thank you. I wasn’t sure when I reread it after posting it if I was too harsh. Or too long. (I’ll admit to it being poorly edited. Oops, I was in the moment.) But, I really wish I had had someone tell me to get over myself when I was graduating. It’s not that I believe “young people these days” are entitled or naive or anything of the sort. I’m 3 years removed from college, so I still lump myself in to that “young people today” group.

          But that first professional mistake seems like it is going to ruin your entire life and I think it’s wonderful that AaM and all of the commenters are here to tell younger employees that we’ve all been there and we’ve all survived it. I bet when the OP is a few years removed from the situation they’ll look back and realize what I’ve realized too – it’s not that big of a deal and if you keep a positive attitude about it instead of being all “woe is me” then things DO in fact get better.

  25. Mark*

    Hey AAM,

    I don’t know if you get notifications when we comment, especially since this post is quite out of date. But I believe I stumbled upon the OP (girl who flubbed the job), complaining on an internet forum about how a temp agency wouldn’t give her a job because of a bad reference and asking for advice. If it’s not her, it’s someone who has identical circumstances, which although possible, I find unlikely. I gave her some advice and I linked her to this post. She doesn’t appear to have gotten the point about taking responsibility.

    1. Susanna- From fair chance post*

      I really don’t know you but do you have that much time on your hands to try to start problems? I read this post because I think you need to leave this young person alone. I have made a lot of job mistakes in my life but to just keep on after this person has moved on isn’t something most people do. I personally think highly of Alison and appreciate her advice but please leave this young lady alone. It really isn’t your business or mine.

        1. Susanna- From fair chance post*

          Thank you Alison. I just felt a little protective of this young person. I am sure she is worried about getting a job and I just felt bad for her.

  26. Anonymous*

    Your advice to simply leave the “questionable” employer off your resume sounds like a good “out,” but isn’t it easy for prospective employers to do a work history background check and locate every place you’ve ever worked since high school? Or is it possible that employers seldom, if ever, do this? Also, you leave a gap in employment that you’ll then have to explain away. My question is, “which is the lesser of two evils?”

    Thanks for your blog and your comments.

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      No, it’s not easy or common for them to be able to locate everywhere you’ve ever worked. In fact, it would be impossible without your authorization.

  27. OP*

    Hey Allison, it’s OP.

    I wanted to thank you for your advice. While I did not accept it or take it as well as I should have, I had some time and reflection to realize that yes, I was being naive and entitled. I can go on about all the excuses that happened during that period, but at the end of the day, it came down to me to act like an adult. And I did not.

    Anyway, can I send you an update e-mail?

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