I don’t want to refer my ex-girlfriend to a previous employer … but I feel guilty about it

A reader writes:

I’m trying to decide whether to refer my ex-girlfriend to my previous employer. They are looking for someone with her background and she really needs the job, but I am worried about a few things.

I dated Jane for two years, and we broke up last year. There was a lot of emotional pain in the relationship, but the breakup itself was pretty amicable. She’s reached out a few times since then trying to establish a friendship, but I’ve told her that I’m not interested.

I ran into her at a social event a few weeks ago, and she mentioned that her current employer is reorganizing, she’s going to be laid off in a few months, and this could affect her visa status and mean she needs to leave the country. She’s lived here on-and-off for over a decade, most of her friends are here, and she wants to stay.

Separately, I left a job earlier this year at company X, which is fairly small (< 100 people). I was there for about three years, and I’m still on good terms with many of my old coworkers who I value as friends and professional contacts. Yesterday I learned that they are in severe need of role Y, which is exactly Jane’s experience.

If it were any other company, I wouldn’t hesitate to point Jane in that direction and in fact last week I did send her a different job posting I came across elsewhere for a similar role. She’s in a tough situation and I wish her well in life! And I want the company to fill the role, which would make my old colleagues’ lives easier. But I’m conflicted.

First, I don’t actually know whether Jane is good at her job. She’s smart and generally capable, but she’s been fired or let go a few times, and some of the stories she has told me about her work made me wonder about her performance. I don’t want to refer a bad candidate to work with a bunch of people I know. It might reflect badly on me, and I want my former co-workers (especially the managers doing the hiring) to be ongoing professional contacts who respect my judgment.

Second, I don’t even know how I would make the referral. I worry that it would be unprofessional to introduce her as my ex-girlfriend, which could reflect badly on me but also make them take her application less seriously. But of course if I introduce her as a friend or I know her socially and then she gets hired, the truth will come out eventually which won’t be good either.

Third, even in the “best case scenario” where she gets hired and its a great fit, I don’t know if I’m happy with that outcome. Basically I don’t want my friendships with my former coworkers to involve her at all — I don’t want to see her when I hang out with them, I don’t want to hear stories about her, I don’t want them to know anything about our relationship besides what I choose to tell them.

I know I don’t have any obligation to make the connection, but it would really help out a few people and some of my reasons not to do it feel kind of selfish. What do you think I should do? Are my worries reasonable? And if I decide to go through with it, how do you think I should proceed?

I think the key part of your letter is this:

“I don’t actually know whether Jane is good at her job … She’s been fired or let go a few times, and some of the stories she has told me about her work made me wonder about her performance.”

When you recommend someone for a job, you’re vouching for them, and you’re putting your own professional reputation on the line. At a minimum, you don’t really know if you can vouch for Jane or not, and that means that you can’t recommend her.

But if that weren’t the case, then I’d tell you that this is relevant too:

“I don’t want my friendships with my former coworkers to involve her at all — I don’t want to see her when I hang out with them, I don’t want to hear stories about her, I don’t want them to know anything about our relationship besides what I choose to tell them.”

In general, you’re not obligated to connect an ex to a job if you don’t want the things that will result from that. It would be nice of you to do it, but you’re also entitled to consider your own interests. In this case, it sounds like you’d be inviting something into your life that you don’t particularly want in it. However … when you put her visa situation in the mix, it gets more complicated. Is your interest in keeping your friendships and professional relationships Jane-free more important than her interest in being able to stay in the country? I’d argue no. If the visa situation weren’t in play, I’d tell you that your former company isn’t the only one in the world where she can work and you don’t need to connect her to the one place where you’d rather she not be. But the visa situation changes that a bit, as it makes her need more urgent.

Another factor in play is how often you see or talk to these former coworkers. If you only talk to them once or twice a year, the impact on you of Jane working with them is going to be pretty limited. If you talk to them regularly, it’s more of a legitimate concern. In that case, you’re allowed to decide that no, you don’t want to disrupt those relationships (although again, the visa complicates it).

Of course, all of this is moot since you shouldn’t be recommending her anyway. But there is another option, which would be to connect them but explicitly not vouch for her work. In that case, you’d say something like, “I know you’re looking for people with a background in X. I actually used to date someone with that experience, but I’ve never worked with her and I can’t vouch for her work. With that caveat in place, would you like me to connect you?” (It’s fine to be up-front about the nature of the relationship. It’s not unprofessional to acknowledge you’ve had girlfriends. It would be much weirder if you were cagey about how you know her.)

There’s still a risk to that approach because if she doesn’t work out, they’re still likely to think of her as your ex who you sent their way. And depending on just how badly things go, it could still impact your reputation (and their interest in taking recommendations from you in the future). In theory that shouldn’t happen because you’ll have been clear with them about the limits of your knowledge about her, but in reality people are going to associate you with the situation anyway.

Considering the situation as a whole, I think this is one where you can pass on referring her and feel okay about it.

{ 140 comments… read them below }

  1. JB (not in Houston)*

    Alternatively, OP, you could tell your ex that the job exists and let her apply on her own. If she asks for a recommendation, you can tell her that you don’t give recommendations to people you haven’t worked with before.

    Like Alison said, there’s nothing wrong with your desire to not mix your ex and your friend group from your old job, but the visa issue complicates things.

    1. Naomi*

      Yes, that’s what I was thinking. She’ll have the same shot at the job as any other applicant and your reputation won’t be on the line for referring her. (And it sounds as though you couldn’t give her a strong recommendation in any case.)

      1. Matilda Jefferies*

        Thirded. Let her know about the job, tell her you can’t offer a reference or a recommendation, and then let the chips fall where they may. If she does end up getting the job, you can set your boundaries around social time with her and the co-workers when the time comes.

      2. Temperance*

        I actually don’t agree with this. If LW tells Jane about the job, and she applies, SHE is going to feel like LW recommended it to her. LW’s rep will be on the line.

        1. Optimistic Prime*

          And she can still casually mention in interviews or in her cover letter that she was pointed to the job by LW, who used to work at Company.

          1. Anon for This*

            Which isn’t the same as the OP reaching out first, and if anyone from past company remembers the OP or reaches out to them, they can say they can’t personally vouch for Jane.

        2. Lindsay J*

          This. If someone I knew pointed out to me that there was a position at a company they used to work at that was looking for someone with my background, I would feel like they were implicitly encouraging me to apply/referring/recommending me.

          If the job is posted and she’s looking for work, she can find it just as easily as anyone else can without the OP’s help. (Perhaps even easier – if she knew OP while he was working there she knows of the company and knows it does work in her field which others job searching may not know).

          And if it’s not posted regularly where any job-seeker might see it, then giving her the information makes it seem even more like you’re referring her.

          I see no win here for the OP or the ex.

    2. Kyrielle*

      Agreed. Also, whether you do this or not, Jane may also find the listing on her own. So be prepared with a line about not giving recommendations for people you haven’t worked with, and also be prepared with what you’ll say if someone from your former employer asks you about her (in case she mentions that she knows you to them) – whether or not you tell her about the opening.

      (“Jane and I used to date; I’ve never worked with her, so I can’t really say anything bad or good about her work performance” maybe?)

      1. Learn from my mistake*

        I think the “I never worked with you so I can’t say anything good or bad about you” line should be used on Jane if she presses for a recommendation / referral.

        I think OP could tell her about the opening, but I don’t think he can ignore the multiple, suspiciously described firings. Consider that in all Jane’s stories about why she had to leave or it wasn’t her fault she got fired, there’s only one person that was always in the story.

        I’ve been the person that recommended someone with the “just a friend, I’ve never worked with him” caveat. I ignored his somewhat spotty work history, and left it to my employer to figure out if he was a good employee. They hired him and it turned out he wasn’t a good employee. He got offended by someone and quit without notice a month after he got hired. I survived and still work there but I’m sure it didn’t help my credibility.

        1. Kyrielle*

          I’m not pushing LW to recommend Jane – I think that would be a mistake – just saying that besides deciding whether or not to mention the opening to Jane, even if the LW doesn’t, Jane may note it and apply – and may mention the LW if she knows LW worked there previously. Thus, there is damage control to be done regardless.

    3. BF50*

      Agreed. You don’t have to refer Jane to the company, but you could refer the company to Jane.

      If she applies, and they interview her, she may well drop the letter writer’s name, but that is not the same as the letter writer referring her.

    4. Barefoot Librarian*

      I came here to say the exact same thing. Don’t refer her, just let her know the job is available and let her take it from there. That way your former employer can evaluate her free of any connection (or obligation) to you and, if they contact her references, they’ll be contacting people who have presumably worked with her and can give them a more accurate evaluation of her work and work ethic.

    5. CisWhiteMale*

      I’m going to have to respectfully disagree with the assertion that the visa status changes things significantly. The facts still are that OP hasn’t worked with her, OP may put himself in an awkward and emotionally painful position, and OP has no obligation to help an ex.

      Yes it would be nice for OP to help, even more so due to the dire need. But that’s like saying OP, or any of us for that matter, are obligated to give up lunch to a starving child. That’s just not the way the world works.

        1. Specialk9*

          “Yes it would be nice for OP to help, even more so due to the dire need. But that’s like saying OP, or any of us for that matter, are obligated to give up lunch to a starving child. That’s just not the way the world works.”

          Uh… Just to verify, you DO NOT think that people have an obligation to skip one meal to feed a freaking actually starving CHILD? That’s your analogy for why the OP doesn’t need to help an ex get a job?

          I’m seriously hoping I have utterly misunderstood what you were saying.

          1. Specialk9*

            Also, don’t get involved with helping the ex get hired.

            When getting pity cases hired, no good deed goes unpunished.

            (Yes, lesson learned the hard way.)

          2. Anita*

            Re: starving child comment, I’m sure it was meant more broadly, along the lines of, “how can you justify [discretionary expenditure] instead of making a charitable donation that would feed a starving child.”

            1. Anion*

              Yeah, it’s not a great analogy, but I understood what was meant by it, too.

              I think a better analogy would be, frex: You’re a hiring manager and have two candidates. Candidate A has a stellar work history, and fantastic ideas for your org. Candidate A is also currently happily employed and just looking around for a better salary. Candidate B has a spottier work history, not-as-great ideas, but a sick child and foreclosure looming.

              As much as it would be nice to hire B, you’re not obligated to do so just because B really needs a job and A does not. You’re still allowed to think of what’s best for you & your org, rather than what would be most charitable even if it’s at your own expense.

              1. Kiwi*

                The way I think of this is I’ll take candidate A and that frees up her current job. Candidate B can apply for that.

          3. Turtle Candle*

            I mean, plenty of people are starving right now, including children, and yet most of us are eating our lunches rather than donating them (or the equivalent amount of money). That’s what I took Roscoe to mean: we all sometimes prioritize our comfort over someone else’s need.

          4. Yorick*

            No, people don’t have that obligation. Are you eating lunch today? Why don’t you go find a starving child to give it to instead?

      1. animaniactoo*

        I think your analogy is somewhat off. It sounds more like giving up *some* of an occasional snack to a starving child and if you happen to know the starving child to boot it’s pretty hard to make the argument to yourself that you’re a decent person who has compassion and so on.

        Are you required? No. But NOT doing it, knowing what you know, is pretty crappy without some exigent circumstances on your own side.

        1. paul*

          You’re not required to help someone by deceiving someone else and giving them a recommendation you don’t feel they deserve though.

          1. Let's Sidebar*

            Paul, I don’t believe anyone has suggested the OP recommend Jane, as they never worked together. Simply connecting the two parties would be the helpful, decent thing to do. Obviously not required by any measure, but decent.

            1. Tuxedo Cat*

              Passing along a job ad is pretty standard in my field. It’s not an endorsement of the potential applicant, just an FYI kind of thing.

            2. paul*

              I read animactoo’s comment as meaning he should be willing to give her a recommendation; if that’s incorrect then my apologies.

        2. Dust Bunny*

          No, it’s not. And that’s a rather extreme analogy. The visa issue is hers, not the OP’s, and OP is not required to fib to save her from it.

          OP said she’d been fired before; maybe those were bad employers, but maybe they weren’t and she should have been more careful if her lifestyle was dependent on employment. It’s not crappy if OP has doubts about her as a prospective employee.

          1. animaniactoo*

            Who is saying to fib about it? I certainly didn’t, the OP of the thread didn’t, and the person I’m responding to didn’t. We’re talking about him letting her know the opening exists and leaving it up to her to pursue on her own. That much and no more.

            1. Temperance*

              I honestly don’t see how that would work. “Jane, there’s a job that fits your skills at my old org, but I know you’ve been fired a bunch, so apply but I can’t recommend you”?

              1. That Would Be a Good Band Name*

                I guess I’d look at this differently. “Jane, I know you have been looking for a job and there is a role open at my old org. Just wanted to let you know in case you are interested.” End of discussion. If she says something about recommending then I would tell her we’ve never worked together and I’d have to tell them that I can’t vouch for your work, just that you are a person who I know that happens to work in this skill set. I’d hope she’d see that wouldn’t mean much on her own at that point.

                1. Anon for This*

                  Exactly. I’m not sure why everyone is complicating this. I think the idea of the recommendation is clouding the discussion. OP is not required to give a recommendation OR tell Jane about the job at old org, but it would not be a nutty thing to tell her about the job and let her figure it out from there.

                2. Lindsay J*


                  But why the need to tell her about the job at all? Presumably if she is desperately searching for a job to stay in the country, she can find the job posting without the OP’s help just like everyone else who finds it and applies for it.

                  And how does passing the job posting along not implicitly say, “I think it would be a good idea for you to apply for this?”

                  And I think most of us, if someone we considered to be a friend or even a networking contact said, “Hey, there’s a job open at my old org. They’re looking for someone with your background. You should apply.” would assume that that meant that they were going to at least mention our candidacy and our connection to the org.

                  I would find it really weird if my ex told me to apply somewhere, and say I got an interview and mentioned said ex and the interviewer said, “Oh, I didn’t know you knew each other!” And then if I brought it up, OP and me would be linked in the interviewer’s mind whether he explicitly recommended me or not.

                  I would assume that if the person didn’t think I would be a good fit for the role/didn’t want to recommend me, that they wouldn’t bring it up to begin with. Why would they bring it up if they weren’t offering to help in some way?

      2. JB (not in Houston)*

        I didn’t say it changes things, I said it complicates things. It doesn’t mean that the OP should feel obligated to refer her. But Alison’s discussion is spot on. In a different situation, the fact that the OP doesn’t want her to have anything to do with their friends from their old job would be enough to say they can do nothing and not feel bad about it. And they don’t necessarily have to feel bad if they don’t do anything this time, either. But it’s a more complicated analysis of whether or not the OP will or should feel guilty about (but not, at Alison said, about whether he should refer her–he shouldn’t do that for sure).

      3. SC in NC*

        While I agree with you that the OP isn’t truly obligated to help his ex, I think the visa situation does influence the situation. Decisions aren’t made in a vacuum. We all have to weigh the impact of those decisions. If the ex was just unhappy in her job but was readily employed then I agree, just stay out of it. However, the ex may be forced to leave the country she’s been living in for the last 10 years. That’s a big deal. Admittedly, it’s ultimately the OP’s call for his pain tolerance from the decision but personally I would have to give serious consideration to the visa. But that’s easy to say when you’re just an outside observer. I wouldn’t criticize the OP if he decided to stay out of it.

      4. Emi.*

        I actually think that if you run into a starving child, you *are* morally obligated to give him or her your lunch (assuming you’re not starving).

        1. Helena*

          Yeah. I mean, I’d give my lunch to a slightly peckish child if there was no other food available and I was the only responsible adult around.

          Who on earth would sit eating a sandwich in front of a hungry child without sharing? I’d think anyone who actually did that was a greedy pig.

          1. Lindsay J*

            What if you see 15 starving people on the way to work every day? Does not feeding them all every day make you a selfish pig, too?

        2. Lindsay J*

          Good luck walking down the street in any major city, then.

          If I were obligated to give money or food to everyone who asked me for it I would never get a chance to eat myself.

          Yes, most of them aren’t children. But I also don’t see how a starving adult is less deserving than a starving child. Making the distinction seems icky, like maybe the starving adult deserves not to eat because they may or may not have made great decisions. First of all, some adults are homeless through no fault of their own. Second, even if you’ve made absolutely shit decisions your life you still deserve to have food, clothing, and shelter.

          It’s like the starfish story (about how even if you just throw one starfish back into the sea from the shore it hasn’t made much of a difference to the world, but it has made a world of difference to the starfish.) Sure, that’s all well and good. And throwing back one starfish one time isn’t going to affect your life much. But if you then feel like you’re morally obligated to throw all the starfish you see back, all you’re going to be doing day in and day out forever is throwing back starfish.

          I could give my lunch up one day a week to one kid. I can afford that. And I can go hungry for one day. But I can’t do it every day. Either I’d be missing half my meals, or I would be packing two meals and drastically increasing my food budget to the point that it wasn’t sustainable. And sure, maybe I could give up frivolous luxuries like eating out or drinking starbucks or whatever and be able to feed more people. But where does it end?

          Am I obligated to do that because I directly see them every day, but a person who lives in a small town in the middle of the country with a low cost of living who has never seen a homeless person in the flesh gets to keep their lunch and continue drinking their Starbucks because “out of sight, out of mind?”

          I know there are people starving and dying all over the country and in probably every country throughout the world right now, as well as a few blocks over from me? Am I obligated to give up my own food and possessions and comfort to feed them? Is everyone else? What about someone making $7.5o an hour and living in subsidized housing and eating from the food pantry and on food stamps in America? They’re still better off than the people living on the street, and way better off than the people in 3rd world countries starving to death, how much of their stuff are they morally obligated to give up?

          Lets make it personal. What is your salary? What are your expenses? How much money have you spent feeding starving children this year? Why aren’t you morally obligated to spend more?

          1. FormerEmployee*

            A starving child is automatically more deserving than a starving adult because if you measure it the same way, such as both haven’t eaten that day, it is much more serious for a child to skip a meal or two than for an adult. That’s why even religions that require fasting do not make that rule applicable to children.

      5. Anion*

        I agree. Jane’s immigration issues are Jane’s problem–and I say that as someone who was a legal immigrant abroad for almost ten years. They don’t put the OP under any special obligation. I feel genuinely bad for Jane, but that still doesn’t mean the OP has to go out of his way and potentially damage his own life/relationships for her.

      6. JamieS*

        I agree with this. Yes if an outside third party had to decide which is more important: Jane staying in the country or OP not wanting to see her around much they’d probably decide Jane’s issue is more important. However her visa issue isn’t OP’s problem and for OP his wants and needs trump Jane’s.

        Also saying her visa is more important in this context implies OP has some responsibility to help her renew her visa. Again that’s not his problem.

          1. JamieS*

            That has nothing to do with my comment. He can ask for advice from anyone he chooses, that doesn’t negate the fact his own self interests are more important than someone else’s as it relates to him.

    6. Jules the Third*

      Y’all are all assuming that AAM is right that Jane’s need for the job beats OP’s desire to not see her, moving from the emotional content of the letter to the solution part.

      OP: Yeah, it hurts and you don’t want back in that. I understand. And yeah, <100 people, you get close, everyone will know her. Your unhappiness is actually enough of a reason to not mention the business to Jane, or Jane to the business.

      That said, there's a whole lot of freedom and relief from no longer giving a sh*t about exes. If the Jane-shaped piece of your life still hurts, consider 1) familiarity may breed apathy and 2) is this pain part of a larger issue that maybe could be alleviated?

      She's also likely to run across this job independently, if she's that good a fit.

      *IF* you choose to introduce your ex to a group that you value and enjoy, then yeah, pointing Jane to the business is better than pointing the business towards Jane.

      1. JB (not in Houston)*

        I don’t think we’re assuming that, or at least I wasn’t. I was saying that OP had another option if they don’t want to refer Jane but feel bad about Jane possibly having to leave the country. The OP apparently feels conflicted, since they’re writing in for advice. I think Jane’s need for a visa is a factor that the OP has to consider in deciding what they think the right thing to do is since it’s not just a case of an an ex being qualified for a job they happen to know about.

      2. Lindsay J*

        I think it also depends on how/why the relationship ended, and how fresh it is.

        The OP says it ended amicably. However, he also says there was a lot of emotional pain in the relationship. It also seems like he doesn’t want her friendship and doesn’t want to even be around her.

        The discrepancies and the vagueness in his comments means that there are like a billion ways and reasons the relationship could have ended that we have no context for.

        Like maybe they got along great and things ended because of some major deal-breaker like kids, religion, etc. Or maybe the just grew apart and weren’t attracted to each other romantically anymore.

        Or maybe she cheated on him, and he is really wounded by it but they managed to me mature adults and separate without throwing things and calling each other names.

        Or maybe he cheated on her and is really embarrassed by how he hurt her and his poor decisions, and, again, they managed to be mature adults and separate without throwing things and calling each other names.

        Or maybe she was the love of his life and she broke it off without much warning the day after he started shopping for an engagement ring.

        Or maybe he thought she was way too serious about the relationship and felt that he was too young to commit at the time.

        Maybe she struggles with mental illness and said terrible things about him during a fight that he wasn’t able to forget even if he knows that she might not have said them if she were in full control of her judgement.

        Maybe his mother insulted her to her face and she wasn’t going to be in a serious relationship with someone who wouldn’t stand up for her when he just let it slide.

        In some of those situations, even if I wasn’t still hung up on my ex, I might not want to be around them or have my friends be around them because I just think they’re a shitty person and would think so if they did those things to another person. Or maybe I wouldn’t want to be around them because it would remind me of the ways that I screwed up.

        Like, my situation is more extreme. I don’t give a fuck about my ex. I don’t care what his family thinks about me. I don’t care what he told our then-mutual friends. I can interact with him if I run into him in public just fine.

        When I broke up with him – especially in the way I did – I conceded to myself that I would be the villain in his story and that there was nothing I could do to change that. I didn’t care. Being free of him was worth that.

        And, honestly, I do wish him the best. He’s engaged again now. Outwardly they seem happy, and I am happy for them.

        From the outside, it looks like he’s changed and grown a lot. I don’t know for sure, because I haven’t spoken to him in years.

        But I would not want him working with ex-coworkers I was close to.

        Our relationship looked fine from the outside to most people. From the inside it was toxic and abusive for close to a decade. It took a long time for me to understand and get through to myself that just because he was great 90% of the time, it didn’t excuse the 10% of the time where he lied to me, emotionally manipulated me, sat in the car outside my friend’s house and called m 3 times every minute until I gave up and went out and went home because he was afraid of losing control of me if I socialized with other people, etc.

        I just wouldn’t want that negativity around place and people that previously had positive associations to me – it would instantly turn it to a negative place in my head.

        And further, I don’t even think it is necessarily gas-lighting or lying. but his version of events and mine are so different so as to be basically mutually exclusive. I worry that people I worked with would hear them and assume that his were correct. Or that they would hear his after hearing mine and assume that I had been lying.

        Like I am pretty sure that his version of the story sounds a bit like the ghost-guy’s story. In his version we were together for 7 years, and then one day he came home and I had taken a bunch of important stuff and left. (Though I did call and explain.)

        In my version, I was unhappy for years. I would tell him that. Behaviors would change for a day or so and then go back to normal. In the last 6 months I had several conversations with him that included the phrase “I am unhappy and am going to leave you unless things change, change significantly, and I see evidence that those changes are going to be permanent” (And, I also detailed exactly what those “things” were). They didn’t change. I made plans to leave. His behavior escalated. I sped up my plans/ He purchased a handgun. I decided to get out the next day and to do it when he was out of the house and not tell him where I was moving to because I was afraid of what he might do if he realized I was leaving/. (To be clear, I don’t think he purchased the gun with the intent of hurting me with it, it tied into interests and career aspirations he had. I just felt like it being around and available in a moment of anger or whatever made the situation that much more volatile.

        That’s the most extreme one. But there are probably hundreds more like it. “She wouldn’t cancel seeing her friend to go on a nice surprise dinner date with me.” He was always actively trying to prevent me from seeing my friends so I only saw them maybe once a year or so even when we lived in the same town. He only planned the dinner so he could try to guilt/persuade/manipulate me into not going to go see them – it wasn’t a coincidence that it was planned the same night. If I agreed to drop seeing my friends the dinner would magically dissapear anyway (probably because I ruined the mood in some way like by having a different opinion than him on something). And I didn’t get to see my friends that day anyway because some emergency cropped up while I was driving there that meant that he needed me at home right now.

        I also don’t think a year after ending a two year relationship in an unreasonable amount of time to not be completely over someone to the extent that you’re okay with incorporating them in a different, entirely new area of your life.

        I definitely agree that there is a lot of value in not giving a crap about your exes, and in doing the work to grieve the relationship and get over them properly so you can move on. But I think you can do that and also not really want them to be incorporated in your social life or professional circles in any way if you can avoid it.

        1. FormerEmployee*

          The thing is that ghosting is acceptable and often recommended in abusive relationships.

          Major difference between your situation and that of the ghost guy.

    7. Jana*

      Agreed. OP, were you dating Jane at the time that you worked at this previous employer? If not, it seems like the easiest option would be to forward her the job announcement without mentioning your connection. Then she can apply and however it plays out is on her. Yes, if she ultimately does get the job, it’s very possible that it will be revealed that you two used to date. That doesn’t mean that you have to interact with one another, but, like Alison, that could be difficult if these former coworkers are people you often see. Also, it’s in no way unprofessional to introduce someone as your ex, so that’s not really an issue.

      It’s possible Jane will find the vacancy on her own, so there’s that, too. And then you’ll probably have to deal with the possibility that people will know you dated. If you find your biggest hang-up is that you simply don’t have the inclination to help her with your job search, that’s fine—you’re not obligated to help her. However, in that case you might skip out on sending her any job postings at all if you don’t want to her to be involved in your life.

    8. animaniactoo*

      Btw, if you do go this route, it’s perfectly fine to cross your fingers and hope that it all works out so she ends up somewhere else.

    9. k.k*

      I like that approach. A quick “Hey, I heard they were hiring, you may want to check that out” is pretty low risk. Totally get that you don’t want to run into or hear about her. But between what you said and the fact that you’re thinking about it so much that you wrote in, it sounds like you’d feel pretty guilty if you didn’t tell her and she ended up having to leave the country. It might be worth it to let her know about the job, just so you can stop stressing about it.

    10. kittymommy*

      Yes this. Telling her about the job is very different than referring her or recommeding her. You obviously can’t do the latter but I dint think outta any different than emailing her links to other jobs you happen to come across.

    11. Erica B*

      this is what I was thinking too. perhaps suggest she visit the company page to check for jobs, but don’t connect her with anyone directly

    12. Amy*

      This is what I was thinking. That way she knows the job exists and can choose to apply, you’re not on the hook for a recommendation or putting your reputation on the line for her, it’s all good.

      If she were to get hired, it would mean your friends who work there would get to know her, and I understand how that could be hard for you. But I agree with Alison that it’s the better option than her potentially losing her visa–that’s a big deal, and not something you want to be left feeling responsible for. (Not that you would be solely responsible for it…but I would feel pretty guilty if I withheld information on a job, and the person later lost their visa due to lack of employment.)

      What if you told your friends something like, “Jane and I used to date, and it’s kind of a painful subject for me. Can you not bring her up with me?” Good friends will generally respect their friends’ emotions and boundaries around this kind of thing. Plus, she’d be their coworker, not their new best friend–it shouldn’t be that hard for them to just not tell you stories about her.

  2. Roscoe*

    Just for personal reasons that you outlined, I wouldn’t do it. It can be awkward when parts of your life you want to keep separate aren’t. To quote Seinfeld “Worlds are Colliding!” I think you are nice to consider her situation, but if its going to make you more unhappy in the long run, I’d say don’t do it. You don’t owe her a referral or recommendation. Also, you don’t want your former co-workers opinion of either of you to be tainted. I don’t know what your breakup was, but I will say often 2 people can have very different opinions on how the exact same situation played out. You don’t want her to be chatting with co-workers and they hear her side and think you are a jerk

    1. Let's Sidebar*

      Haha, can we all agree that George Costanza may not be the best role model? Of course, OP does not OWE Jane anything, but he should connect the two parties directly because it is the decent thing to do and does not put him at any real risk.
      I have serious doubts that Jane will arrive at a new workplace and trash the guy who helped connect her to the job AND is friends with her new coworkers, who probably won’t be very interested in the details of an amicable breakup from a year ago anyway.

      1. Roscoe*

        Its not necessarily “trashing” him. But its the whole, “So you and John dated. He’s a great guy right”, “Well, sometimes, but have you seen his temper”. Like you don’t have to have malicious intent to skew someones opinion. Exes can easily do that.

        So while it is the nice thing to do, I don’t think he should feel bad NOT doing it either.

  3. Let's Sidebar*

    I completely agree with AAM’s advice to connect the two parties without explicitly not vouching for the ex’s work. There is little risk to you and could potentially be a life-changing connection for a person whom you previously must have cared for deeply. You have the potential to help and you really should. It’s the right thing to do.

    1. Cool Papa*

      I agree with this. I’ve referenced personal contacts to professional contacts saying I can’t vouch for their work.
      Depending on how rare hey skills are they could be willing to overlook it.

  4. michelenyc*

    I have worked for a few fashion/sportswear companies where a lot of people want to work. I have been asked both by friends and acquaintances if I would forward their resume to HR. Generally, I do but I unless I have worked with you I do not recommend anyone including good friends. I would always include a note to HR that said I have never actually worked with person so I cannot speak to them professionally.

  5. Bye Academia*

    Is your interest in keeping your friendships and professional relationships Jane-free more important than her interest in being able to stay in the country? I’d argue no.

    I disagree with this statement by Alison. Do I think it sucks that her ability to stay in the country is so closely tied to her job and can be jeopardized by a layoff? Yes. I’d change that if I could. But they’re not dating anymore and her individual visa status is not his problem. (As long as she just wants to stay in the country because she likes it and not because she’s not in any imminent danger or anything from her home country; that’s where it would tip the scales for me.) I think it is very well within the normal boundaries of a breakup to want to keep your ex out of your professional life and he shouldn’t feel obligated to help her get a job.

    I do agree that it would be a kindness to let her know about the opening and see what happens, though.

    1. MK*

      I think I agree. The idea of losing a visa tends to evoke desperation in people’s minds: asylum seekers, political refugees, people being sent back to conditions of abject poverty, people being torn from the homes, friends and families they have built, etc. But that’s not always the case; and it sounds as if Jane simply prefers living in the OP’s country, not that she has any pressing reason to stay there/not return to her home country.

      I guess whether Jane’s need for a visa trump’s the OP’s discomfort depends on information we don’t have. What will she be returning to? A country where women are second-class citizens? An economy in deep recession? A place where it rains 11 months of the year?

      1. Been There, Done That, Got The T-Shirt*

        I respectfully disagree, as someone who has moved a lot internationally. You say “it sounds as if Jane simply prefers living in the OP’s country, not that she has any pressing reason to stay there”, whereas I would say that having lived somewhere for 10 years, having a life, a home, relationships etc IS a very pressing reason. She’d return home to a changed country, with few or no connections, basically a stranger in her ‘own’ land. She’s chosen OP’s land as her home and it is upsetting and highly even traumatic to have to leave, even if you’re not returning somewhere wartorn.

        To bring this back to topic, I think it is a matter of human decency to acknowledge what an upheaval it is to uproot your entire life against your will. Not saying OP should do one thing or another in terms of recommending her, but to get off the proverbial fence, I think they should take this Visa thing into consideration.

        1. FormerEmployee*

          This makes her sound like a DACA kid instead of a grown woman who came to the country voluntarily for work. Why would anyone think that her family is no longer in her home country?

    2. Optimistic Prime*

      Yeah, this is where I’m at too. Of course it would be very nice for her to stay, but unless she’s facing some kind of imminent danger or hardship back in her country, I don’t feel like LW has an obligation to help her at all. She has to manage her own immigration situation. After all, it’s not LW’s fault that she complicated things by having a spotty work history.

      1. JamieS*

        That’s what makes me less sympathetic to Jane. If her staying in the country were that important to her why’d she get fired from several jobs? Yes I know people don’t directly “choose” to be fired but I’d argue more often than not people make that choice through their actions. Yes I know there’s a chance she was fired through zero fault of her own but unless she specifically seeks out toxic employers I’d say the likelihood that happened numerous times is extremely unlikely.

    3. JulieBulie*

      Also agree that OP is not responsible for preserving Jane’s visa status, though it would be nice to let her know about that job.

      Honestly, when I first started reading the letter (having already forgotten the headline), I thought OP was going to ask Alison if he should MARRY Jane to keep her in the country… so giving her a job lead seemed pretty trivial by comparison!

    4. I'll say it*

      I HEARTILY AGREE! I’m glad someone said that. I read Alison’s answer and I was like, really? The visa status changes things? Where does *that* line get drawn? I’m a super empathetic person but this letter writer owes nothing to a former girlfriend, visa or not.

      1. Lissa*

        Yeah I wonder about this too – it isn’t that I don’t think the situation is serious. It absolutely is! But so would somebody who needed a job really desperately because otherwise they couldn’t pay rent in their home country, right? I mean, I think connecting her with the job is fine but I wouldn’t give a reference based on her need for the job because…yeah, where does the line get drawn?

    5. Blue Anne*

      I completely agree with you, Bye Academia.

      I had to leave the UK about a year and a half ago. I’d lived there for my entire adult life. All my friends were there. My job was there. My life was there. It was my home. I thought of myself as Scottish. Then they deported me, and I had to try to learn to live in America.

      A year and a half later, I don’t want to kill myself most days. I mean, that’s dramatic, but… I was at the planning for death stage. I was ready to die. Thank god I have a wonderful fiance.

      Seriously, any chance you can help this person, do it.

      1. Blue Anne*

        Aaaaaaaaaand wow I apparently only read the first line of your reply.

        Well, okay apparently I totally disagree with you, actually.

        This post just made me see red. I am normally a pretty rational person. But this… oh my god. Hits close to home.

        1. Just employed here*

          Yeah, I think those commenters who say “it would just be nice to stay in this country” don’t really get what a huge life change it is to move to another country after 10 years. (It’s a big change even if you do it voluntarily — I can’t imagine being forced to.)

          After 10 years away, you’re also at a big disadvantage for jobs compared to other local candidates who have kept up with current trends and industry developments in the home country, so she might not ne particularly employable at home. Or eligible for unemployment, for that matter.

          Of course it’s still not as bad as being an actual refugee, but it’s certainly a big deal anyway.

          1. Miss Pantalones en Fuego (formerly Floundering Mander)*

            It’s a horrible prospect, and one that I think many people who campaign against immigration just don’t understand. Yes, I only really live here because I like it, and originally it was supposed to be temporary. But now I’ve lived here for over a decade and it would be a huge upset if I had to leave, which is why I bit the bullet and became a citizen. As much as I might like to go back home it would be like going to a foreign country all over again because things have changed and I wasn’t there while it happened.

            But on the other hand I know that my original visa status depended on certain things, and was always intended to be temporary. I’m sympathetic to Jane but it’s a harsh reality that we don’t always get to stay where we want to live. It would be nice of the OP to tell her about the job but I don’t think they are necessarily morally obligated because of Jane’s visa status. They certainly aren’t obligated to provide any kind of recommendation.

      2. Brock*

        Well, I’m an American who moved to the UK in my 20s (and have lived here almost all of my adult life), and I can tell you that I did not at any point assume that I could stay indefinitely until the moment I received my Indefinite Leave to Remain visa (ILR). I had wanted it very badly but did not at any point assume that I was definitely going to get it until I actually had it.

        And even with ILR one is still a guest – technically they can tell you to leave any time.

        Also, I note that the OP says that Jane has “lived here on-and-off for over a decade,” so I suspect she’s a bit more mobile than fully settled in whatever the country in question is.

    6. Amy*

      I don’t think this is fair, really. Being forced to leave your country of residence is a really big deal. For many immigrants, they’ve been in their current country for years. It’s where their life is–their friends, their entire work history and all their references, their educational history, their doctors and medical care, their physical residence, their boyfriend or girlfriend, etc. Some don’t even have much family in their country of birth.

      Even if they aren’t in any danger in their home country, losing a visa often means starting over from scratch. I don’t think people have any obligation to their ex beyond what they would have to any other random person. But I would hope most people, if they hear someone is in danger of losing their visa and have a way to help them maintain that visa, would choose to give that help. That’s not a duty-to-an-ex thing, that’s a human-decency thing.

  6. M is for Mulder*

    Don’t let the “ex” aspect color your view. If you knew anyone else pretty well on a personal level, but had questions about their work ethic due to conflicting second-hand information and lack of first-hand information, would you recommend that person? I wouldn’t.

    1. Turquoisecow*

      Exactly. My husband had this issue with his ex when we first met. He felt obligated to assist her with various things, because he had for a while. It took a while for him to realize that he had no obligation to help her anymore, especially if he wasn’t getting anything out of the relationship, and because there was no relationship, he wasn’t.

      If the OP wants to inform Jane of the job listing and is comfortable with the idea of his former coworkers (now friends) interacting, he can. But it’s worth pointing out the risks and pointing out that there’s no obligation. There’s no relationship anymore, and so there’s no obligation to help her. Obviously there’s a feeling of obligation and consideration and some of that is probably due to being in a relationship with her, but that relationship is over, and so any related considerations are not required.

      Treat her like a random acquaintance, OP. If she has to leave the country, it shouldn’t be your problem.

    2. Miss Pantalones en Fuego (formerly Floundering Mander)*

      This is where I’m at. I probably would (and have in the past) tell someone that I only had a lukewarm at best relationship with about a job opening that I saw at a former employer that I thought they might be interested in. But I wouldn’t have implied that I could be a reference, or that I could say anything meaningful about their work.

  7. Temperance*

    LW, you owe her nothing. You don’t owe her a referral to this job, even if it might put her legal status in jeopardy. She’s an adult, she can figure out another way to get sponsored. You might be burning a bridge if you refer her, and you’d be inviting her into your life, which doesn’t sound good for you.

    To put it in perspective: I have a friend who is looking for a new job, and an org I am acquainted with has an opening that fits her skills. However, she’s been missing a ton of work lately for personal reasons, and I can’t in good conscience recommend her even though she’d make a lot more money at this org, because I know she’d be flaking ou at this job. I feel mildly guilty, but I can’t tarnish my reputation.

  8. nnn*

    If, for whatever reason, you’re reluctant to tell the company (or anyone else, for that matter) that Jane is your ex-girlfriend but something beyond “this is Jane” is required, a good script could be “I know her socially.”

    For example, “I know her socially and she has a background in the area you’re looking for, but I haven’t worked with her so I can’t give you an accurate assessment of her skills.”

    1. Roscoe*

      It would absoulutely come out that they dated. Then it just seems like you are actively trying to hide it.

    2. irritable vowel*

      Yes, I thought about this, if the OP were a woman and wasn’t out at work. I’m assuming that the OP is not a woman, though, because I’m pretty sure Alison would have taken that into consideration when saying “It’s fine to be up-front about the nature of the relationship.” But there are definitely cases where being up-front about the nature of the relationship would not be an option and could further complicate things for the referrer if that became known.

  9. OP*

    OP here, thanks everyone! Looks like there’s a lot of agreement that I should just point her towards the job without actually recommending her or vouching for her work. And if asked by either side, be upfront that we used to date but that I can’t speak to her work.

    That sounds right to me, it’s a nice balance between trying to do the right thing without putting my reputation on the line. Overall I do agree with AAM that my slight discomfort with worlds colliding is less important than her fairly serious life issues.

    1. Bye Academia*

      Thanks for chiming in! I know I said above that it’s not your responsibility to help her with her fairly serious life issues, but you obviously know a lot more about the situation and how dire it is. And you’re the one who ultimately has to live with whatever choice you end up making.

      I hope you’ll send Alison an update in a couple of months and let us know how it goes!

    2. Let's Sidebar*

      I still think connecting the two parties directly (without endorsement) would be ideal to avoid any miscommunication or representation. That way, your role to all involved has been defined in your own words as “I’ve never worked with Jane, but FYI this is her background and maybe she’s a fit!” and can’t possibly be interpreted by Jane to the hiring manager as “Your old buddy OP referred me!”
      Either way, it’s good of you to help out Jane and your old employer!

    3. Blue Anne*

      I agree that you shouldn’t vouch for her work.

      But if there’s any chance that it will help with her visa situation, please, please do what you can.

  10. Long Time Reader, First Time Poster*

    Re: “She’s been fired or let go a few times” — I just want to point out that this could mean a LOT of things.

    In my long career I’ve been laid off a number of times, and none of these were for cause. I’ve been the victim of several mergers where they laid off redundant employees, and also part of companies that were under tough times and underwent related workforce reductions. And then yes, I was fired once — for political reasons.

    So, if you judged me on being let go or fired you’d probably think I was a train wreck. The truth is I have fantastic references from every job I’ve worked at, have never had a negative performance review, and have consistently earned bonuses and promotions throughout my career.

    I just hate when people immediately jump to the conclusion that being let go is a deal breaker.

    1. Perse's Mom*

      I don’t think I’ve ever heard “let go” in an employment context as anything other than a more mild stand-in for ‘fired.’

      1. Safetykats*

        I would disagree – I hear people say “let go” all the time to mean that their contract or task ended and was not renewed, or that they were laid off. Just now a company where I used to work is reducing staff, and I get a call every couple of days from someone who starts the conversation by saying that they are to be “let go” next month. It’s possible that this is industry-specific or even regional, but in my experience it is not necessarily a euphemism for “fired.”

        1. Stellaaaaa*

          “Let go” can mean a whole lot of things and I wouldn’t make any assumption if an acquaintance said she’d been recently let go. However, if your romantic partner says she’s been “let go” and gives you no other information about being “let go” multiple times over the course of a relationship spanning several years…yeah, she was most likely fired more than once in a relatively short span of time. Think about how much you know about the job history of your close friends and past significant others. OP sounds like he honestly doesn’t know the reasons why more than one employer decided to discontinue Jane’s employment. My spidey sense is telling me that Jane deliberately didn’t tell him, and there’s no reason to do that if you’ve merely been laid off.

      2. Where's the Le-Toose?*

        I think it’s where you’re from. My wife was born and raised in Europe and came her to the U.S. for work. When she was laid off, she always referred to it as being “let go.” Most Americans, including myself, would refer to being laid off as being laid off.

        I had to have a discussion with my wife about using the term “pain killers” to describe aspirin or Tylenol. I kept telling her she had to stop using the term with our American friends because they all kept thinking she was referring to opioids and narcotics, the traditional American pain killers. She’s much better at it now with using the right term over here and using “pain killers” back home.

        1. Sam*

          I imagine that there are some parts of the country where this would be true, but I’ve never found that “pain killer” automatically read as “opiate” and thus should never be used casually (for background, I grew up in Texas and have lived in 3 other regions of the country in the past decade). Context is key here; in my experience, people generally assumed that, “I have a headache; do you have any pain killers with you?” meant aleve, advil, tylenol, etc. But I would also read “let go” as a euphemism for “laid off” without a second thought, so perhaps I haven’t spent time in your region of the US.

          1. Sam*

            (I suppose I should clarify that interpreting “let go” as fired vs. laid off would also depend on context. Either usage would be reasonable to me, and I’ve definitely had experiences where someone was described as “let go” and I had to ask a follow-up question to determine what was actually meant by that.)

          2. SarahTheEntwife*

            Same here re: pain killers. What other term would you use? I mean, I could ask “do you have any NSAIDs?” but unless I were at a medical clinic that would be weirdly technical.

            1. JB (not in Houston)*

              I guess this is highly regional, but I live in Texas, and I don’t think I’ve ever heard anyone use the term “pain killers” to refer to OTC stuff. People ask specifically for a type of pain relief, e.g., aspirin, tylenol, aleve, or ibuprofen.

            2. Amy*

              I often hear people ask something like “Do you have any ibuprofen on you?” when they really would be fine with ibuprofen, tylenol, or any other of the various over-the-counter painkillers.

              I also wouldn’t assume ‘pain killer’ meant ‘opiate’ if someone used it in that context, though. There’s probably a lot of regional variation on this.

  11. Prince of Snarkness*

    OP, she’s your ex for a reason. It sounds like you’ve been used and are still being used.

    Quit trying to take car of her, she is no longer your responsibility.

    1. Anna*

      You are making giant assumptions about the nature of the OP and Jane’s past and current relationship. What on earth do you know about what their relationship was like?

      1. I get that*

        OP did mention emotional pain. And that Jane has reached out and OP has said he’s not interested. In fact the whole letter had ‘I don’t want her in any part of my life’ running through it.

        1. Just employed here*

          It’s perfectly possible (and even quite common, I’d say) for there to be emotional pain without anyone being in any way at fault.

        2. Miss Pantalones en Fuego (formerly Floundering Mander)*

          I wouldn’t really want to be friends with some of my exes, but not because they are horrible people or did anything wrong. It’s just because it’s awkward, or because of the major mis-match that developed between our world views as we grew up.

          1. Just employed here*

            Sure, but no one’s asking them to be friends. And plenty of people work together without becoming friends — so even if she did work there, her new colleagues (OP’s colleagues who are now OP’s friends) might not even talk about her outside of the office or hang out with her socially.

      2. Prince of Snarkness*

        Your comment convinces me I’m dead on. Plus the whole thing about pain, and her reaching out to him to “just be friends” but wanting favors. It speaks volumes to anyone with empathy.

    2. bridget*

      Try to remember that most people walking around are somebody’s ex, and often “for a reason.” Doesn’t mean we’re all selfish users, just that relationships don’t work out sometimes (lots of times). OP’s ex doesn’t have to be a bad person for OP to want to avoid running into her, because breakups are personal and emotionally painful situations.

      1. Prince of Snarkness*

        Maybe not all, but it’s a safe bet that when a guy is “friend zoned” after a breakup that was painful to him, it’s a safe bet.

        “Hi, I know I broke your heart and everything, but now I need your help, so if you can stop feeling sorry for yourself long enough to get me a job, I’ll be your friend until I land it, and then get in contact again if I need anything. Thanks, you are such a ***nice*** guy.

        1. Lissa*

          This seems like you might be imagining your own or a friend’s situation here in place of what the OP wrote – we have no indication of details like that here. And I mean, that’s super easy to do and happens all the time but while I agree the OP doesn’t owe Jane anything, the OP being hurt doesn’t=Jane did anything wrong.

  12. Stellaaaaa*

    If OP had doubts about Jane’s work ethic while they were dating and he was viewing her through the most rose-colored glasses possible, she’s probably less competent than that in reality. It’s not about the fact that many good workers get laid off sometimes; it’s about the fact that Jane never seemed to give OP much info about it. If she’d been laid off due to company restructuring (which is actually true for her now), she’d have said so. It’s a red flag that OP is hazy on the details of Jane’s jobs from when they were together.

    Don’t let her use her visa issues to manipulate you into helping her. You’re clearly conflicted about it. You’ve made it clear that you don’t want to be friends with her. However, she seems to have lots of friends in your country, which is why she wants to stay. Any of those actual friends can help her. Besides, even if you connect her to the job without giving her a reference, she may still try to use you as one. She will almost definitely mention you in her cover letter and interview, because that’s what people do when they’ve been alerted to a job by someone they know. If her interviewer asks how she heard about the job opening, she will talk about you. tldr There’s no way to refer her to the job without becoming her referral/reference.

    1. Persephone Mulberry*

      Besides, even if you connect her to the job without giving her a reference, she may still try to use you as one. She will almost definitely mention you in her cover letter and interview, because that’s what people do when they’ve been alerted to a job by someone they know. If her interviewer asks how she heard about the job opening, she will talk about you. tldr There’s no way to refer her to the job without becoming her referral/reference.

      This is exactly what I came to say. Jane is going to name drop you whether you want her to or not. Even if the company comes to you and you give a non-endorsement like “I know she works in your niche but I don’t know anything about her work product” they’re likely going to read between the lines and wonder why you told her about the job in the first place, if you’re not willing to be a reference.

      1. Anna*

        Because people do that every day? Because I pass along job links to my company to people I know who are looking and if the employer asked, I would be honest about not knowing much about their work and they would shrug and say okay and decide on the merits of the information they have because they’re a company who hires people?

        1. Stellaaaaa*

          You’re speaking as the person who’s passing on the job info. Now think about it from the perspective of someone who is using those links to apply for jobs. It doesn’t matter what YOU say to the employer. Your acquaintances are going to honestly mention that you referred them for the job, because that’s something that comes up in interviews and it’s not sinister or dishonest to mention the fact that you gave them the link. If you don’t want people to use you as a referral, don’t refer them, and absolutely don’t send links to people whose job performance you’re unsure about.

          1. Miss Pantalones en Fuego (formerly Floundering Mander)*

            Eh, I think we’re assuming too much malicious and/or manipulative intent on Jane’s part. I’ve certainly had people tell me about jobs, in which case I’d mention that “my friend Esmerelda who used to work for you told me about this” in the appropriate context. It is of course designed to give me some tiny bit of an “in” or a favorable impression; however, I’m not going to put Esmerelda down as a reference or expect her to be one if we didn’t actually work together. A vague knowledge that I work in the right field isn’t enough to be a reference, and I’d imagine that Jane is smart enough to know that.

      2. Not So NewReader*

        I would take preemptive measures by telling the person, “IF they call and ask me about your work, I will tell them that I have no first hand knowledge of it.”
        I’d nip this one before it even starts.

        Conversely, OP could go with a gentler thing such as, “Jane, I hate the fact that your visa is expiring. I can give you the name of this employer where I worked, I know they are hiring. However, I can’t make any statements to the employer about your work, because we did not work together.”

        Most people are surprisingly accepting of another person’s limitations especially if the person says it clearly and says it upfront. Jane might think that OP is very kind and let the rest go.

        1. Stellaaaaa*

          That doesn’t stop her (or anyone) from naming OP as her referral. Because he is her referral. That’s what you are when you refer someone for a job. You can be a referral without being a reference. If you don’t want to be a referral, don’t refer people.

          refer refer refer refer refer

          1. Miss Pantalones en Fuego (formerly Floundering Mander)*

            Well, if Jane puts the OP down as a reference, that’s Jane’s problem. I think there’s a big difference between truthfully answering that so-and-so told me about this job opening at an interview, and trying to get someone you know but never actually worked with to be a formal reference for you. If Jane did this without consulting the OP or despite the OP telling her that they couldn’t be a reference because they don’t have any first-hand knowledge of her work, then that’s Jane’s problem to deal with when the OP tells the employer “sorry, I can’t help you”.

  13. Not So NewReader*

    Just a general comment. We get some letters that say X is happening and I feel Y about it. How do I stop feeling Y.
    We are supposed to have emotions, we are supposed to feel happy/sad, guilty/vindicated, tense/relieved. The real problem comes in when we let our emotions decide our course of actions. Up to that point, emotions are benign they impact no one. But once emotions run our lives then the real problems start.

    I think it’s helpful to keep in mind that sometimes we make decisions that we don’t like, such as we have to fire someone or we have to cut payroll and so on. It’s helpful to dig deeper and realize that the fair thing or the right thing is not always comfortable. We can still feel bad and forge ahead anyway because we know logically this is this how the situation must be handled. Using OP’s situation here, OP’s answer might have been, “I feel like a jerk but I really cannot help this woman for a, b and c reasons.” Notice the feeling is still there, but OP went and did what was necessary anyway. It’s good to realize that we are not in charge of remedying all problems other people have.

    Not all situations are resolved by following ethical guidelines of the industry or laws of the industry because the situation is unique. There is nothing in the books to tell us what to do. It’s pretty normal to have a mixed bag of emotions and thoughts when working in these uncharted territories. We can allow this mixed bag to help us sort things out until we find our answer.

  14. Jiya*

    I’m kind of surprised at how many folks seem to assume that a long-term resident’s loss of a visa is a small thing. I know that we’re very “take care of your emotional health first” here, and I support that, but to say that the visa situation doesn’t weigh in at all seems pretty wild to me. That’s her whole life she’d have to pack up. OP, good on you for trying to weigh your emotional needs against the possibility of helping someone who needs it.

    1. Drama Llama*

      The visa situation doesn’t exactly trump everything else either. LW isn’t under obligation to refer Jane particularly if he has doubts about her candidacy. Jane is an adult, and she should be doing her own job search anyway. It’s not like Jane is going to be deported immediately unless she gets this job and this job only. LW has valid concerns about referring Jane. It’s not a cavalier dismissal of her personal situation if he chooses not to recommend her for the job based on these concerns.

      1. JB (not in Houston)*

        No, and it doesn’t seem like Jiya is saying that it trumps everything or that the OP is under an obligation to refer Jane. They just seemed to be disagreeing with people who “seem to assume that a long-term resident’s loss of a visa is a small thing.” It’s a big thing. It’s a big deal. That absolutely does not mean the OP is under any obligation to do anything about it. But whenever we make decisions we weigh pros and cons, and some factors weigh more heavily than others in our decision making. Jiya is pointing out that the visa issue is not a small thing, not that it trumps everything else.

  15. Drama Llama*

    I would be cautious about even letting her know about the job opening.

    Recently I had an applicant mention “John Jones”, my coworker, recommended her for this job and even listed John as a personal referee. The applicant wasn’t a strong candidate but I did reach out to her on the basis that John referred her for this job. When I later spoke to John it turns out he’d never even met this woman, and only had some vague Facebook connection. He was surprised she would make it sound like he personally recommended her. I’ve had similar situations previously as well.

    If you do alert her to the job vacancy maybe make it clear you don’t want to be named as a reference (unless you want to).

    1. Tealeaves*

      Maybe it would be better if companies just disregarded namedropping in cover letters by the applicant, and pay attention only if the referrer highlights the applicant to them. It’s really easy to find names of important people off Google and pretend you ran into them somewhere. Or even if they did speak, telling someone about a job opening is common and simply recommending the jobseeker to try applying for the position based on whatever info was exchanged (“Oh Random Stranger at a Party, you have a few years of experience in teapot design? Why not you try applying for our Senior Teapot Designer opening?”). But it doesn’t count for anything unless they told the company to look out for this applicant.

  16. Discordia Angel Jones*

    Hey, OP, I don’t know what country you live in but I’m going to go ahead and assume it’s the US. I’ve done substantial research into work visas for the US recently, because I live in the UK and will be moving over to the US next year.

    If your former company is small (you mentioned fewer than 100 employees) they may not be able to help your ex with her visa in any event. If you do connect your ex with your former company, you may want to mention to the company that she needs a work visa. This could head it off at an early stage if they won’t be able to help with that.

    Obviously I don’t know all the circumstances but it is something to think about.

  17. Been There, Done That, Got The T-Shirt*

    I don’t want to tell you what to do but here’s my similar story with a happy ending: One year ago, I recommended my ex for an internship at my best friend’s company. Ex and I had worked together before and I was upfront with my friend about both his strengths and his weaknesses, knowing that it was ultimately in her hands to make the hiring decision after interviews. She hired him and he excelled to the point that he was offered a permanent position and was then promoted within a year of joining. Although his boss is my best friend, there is no overlap between our lives unless I directly ask my friend how he’s doing. Everyone has been highly professional and it’s worked out really well.

  18. Chrissy*

    I’m very late to the party on this one, but I just have to say that you sound like an amazing person, OP. I haven’t read all of the previous comments, so I don’t know if there was an update on this story, but you sound like a true professional and someone who is very compassionate. I’ve been stung in the past by recommending a friend for a job that didn’t work out and I was judged for her failure. You have all the right concerns and are asking all of the right questions. I hope things worked out for the best for everyone.

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