my boss will give me a bad reference

A reader writes:

What do you do when your current manager has shown he or she will purposefully give unflattering references to leaving employees? He won’t directly speak negatively or lie, but will purposefully sound unenthusiastic.

Our department has had significant turnover in the past year, and our department head is not happy about it. A coworker listed our department head on her job application but specifically said for him to not be contacted. The potential employer contacted him anyway, and our manager purposefully gave an unflattering reference. (My coworker has never had less than a glowing review and our manager has always spoken highly of her.) He then approached my coworker and called her unprofessional, saying she should have informed him that she was interviewing elsewhere.

I have two potential job offers coming within the next few weeks. How do I approach this if they ask to speak to my current supervisor before offering me a job? I do not trust him to be honest and not sabotage an offer.

I answer this question — and four others — over at Inc. today, where I’m revisiting letters that have been buried in the archives here from years ago (and sometimes updating/expanding my answers to them). You can read it here.

Other questions I’m answering there today include:

  • Can I apply for a transfer right after starting a new job?
  • Was I wrong not to share job contacts with my friends?
  • My employee won’t copy me on his emails
  • Should I give thank-you gifts to my references?

{ 117 comments… read them below }

  1. Detective Amy Santiago*

    LW #4 wanted their direct reports to copy them on all correspondence??? Did they respond at all in the comments and provide additional context for this that made sense?

    1. Pink Pearl*

      All of my emails that deal with client work are supposed to be cc’d to a group email account – this is so anyone else can pick up the thread should something happen to you. My manager is in that group. So if something went wrong, and you responded just to the client and didn’t include the group account, that could be seen as you trying to skirt past your manager so you wouldn’t get in trouble.

      But emails that aren’t strictly related to work? Those don’t have to be cc’d.

      1. Detective Amy Santiago*

        That seems at least somewhat reasonable. I could set up a rule that directs all of those emails into a separate folder that I can check if the situation arises.

    2. That Would be a Good Band Name*

      I had a manager who did that. It was her first time managing anyone and she wanted all of us (3 reported to her) to copy her on everything. I’m paraphrasing since this has been a few years, but she said that she couldn’t be a good manager unless she knew everything. If anyone ever came to her and said “I talked to Band Name and she said that I could do X” and she didn’t already know about it, she’d flip. So in addition to copying her on all emails, every time you had any kind of conversation with anyone you’d have to email her what it was.

      She was an awful manager in a number of ways, but the micromanaging over communication was right up there at the top of the awful.

      1. Anonymosity*

        Oh good lord. I’ve never been a manager, and even I know there are other ways to stay up to speed with people.

    3. Hamstergirl*

      I had a manager who demanded to be cc’d on every. single. one. of my e-mails. She was a very intense micromanager and even though I had a glowing track record she didn’t trust me to handle my clients, feedback, and tasks without her checking up on me every 5 minutes.
      It was absurd.

      1. Anon For this*

        I had a boss who not only insisted she be copied on every email, but also made all of her subordinates give her access to our email accounts. I still have PTSD from working for her.

        1. Paquita*

          My boss and grand-boss ‘could’ access our emails if needed. I don’t think they ever have though. Boss is out on medical leave right now and grand boss wouldn’t even check her emails when we had an issue. GB just solved the problem another way.

    4. Rulesfor*

      My supervisor has this expectation, based on the belief that she can’t effectively cover for us when we’re out unless she’s cc’d on literally everything.

    5. Thornus67*

      My old boss (one of the co-owners) demanded that she, and the other boss/owner, be copied on all e-mails. She also set up the e-mails so that every e-mail any non-owner got was automatically forwarded to her e-mail account. She demanded to review all documents and to-be-sent correspondence then complained she was too busy reviewing everything to do her own work.

    6. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

      As a manager, I would hate to receive copies of all my reports’ correspondence. I have so much email to wade through, as it is, that this would drive me mad (even with all the smart-filing options in GMail, etc.).

      1. hbc*

        Yeah, the only way I could tolerate it is if I had a filter that moved these emails elsewhere, and I didn’t even have to know about them until I needed them. Which would probably be one email a month at most? But I’ve never been in a job where there shouldn’t have been a better way to get that information than filling up my storage quota—CRM system, cc on particular types of issues, shared email folders, etc..

    7. De Minimis*

      At OldJob, I was expected to “reply all” any time there was more than one person on an e-mail.

      My boss also did want me to CC him on a lot of items, to where it made me feel like he didn’t trust me to do anything [though he didn’t want to do it himself, either.] Looking back, I probably should have looked into a “malicious compliance” type of solution.

    8. Anon Today Anon Tomorrow*

      Yeah, that seems a little ridiculous. I sure as hell don’t want to be cc’d onto all my direct reports emails. Yes, cc me into the critical items, but not everything.

    9. Denkyem*

      I had a manager who wanted this too. Most of my emails were external, and it wasn’t unusual for me to send 25 or 30 very content-heavy emails in a day. When I did cc her, my manager would read each one over carefully word by word, and would frequently send me replies criticizing the emails I’d sent — objecting to how I’d worded something, critiquing the tone of a request, suggesting an alternate formatting, pointing out a typo, etc. IT WAS EXHAUSTING, and insulting and stressful and gave me a huge amount of anxiety about revising and re-revising each email before sending to be perfect in my manager’s eyes, and frankly it meant I got less accomplished each day.

      Over time, I would gradually cc her on less and less just to try to reduce the amount of nitpicky criticism I had to live with each day (because it was HARSH and painful! No compliment sandwiches there — she just never gave me positive feedback at all on anything). In the first couple of years she would freak out about it every couple months and insist I go back to full cc’ing, but eventually she grew out of it. I think she initially thought I was being deliberately antagonistic or disrespectful or something, but eventually she did seem to get better at managing without micromanaging (she was new to management) and chilled out a little. She probably also grew to recognize my competence a bit more over time, and I think started to understand that even though I didn’t do everything exactly the way she would, my way also worked

      I should add that in this scenario I was someone with ten years of professional experience in my field and and an advanced degree, not a brand new intern with no idea what I was doing. I knew how to write a perfectly acceptable email. She and I had different styles of communication and I would have been open to periodic conversations about patterns in my writing (e.g. I want you to take a more deferential tone with this category of person, I notice you using this kind of terminology and I’d like our team overall to use this kind of terminology) but constantly picking me a part as I tried to move through my heavy workload was awful. I wonder if the OP was guilty of anything like this?

    10. Chaordic One*

      I’ve had bosses who did this and I complied. It didn’t really seem like a big deal at the time but it resulted in my emails more stiff and formal than they would have otherwise been because I felt like I was under a microscope.

    11. Long Time Reader, First Time Poster*

      Ugh. We use Basecamp for all client correspondence, which means that my manager is privy to all of my email threads whether I cc: him or not.

      He reads every. single. thing. I write, and will often pipe in to respond to a client before I get a chance to respond (I’m talking within minutes of receipt). Or, he will helpfully send me a Slack message letting me know that the client has messaged me (again, this is within minutes of the incoming message arriving, not hours or days).

      He is also on all of my Slack channels and reads everything I say on there, too.

      FWIW I am a senior manager at my company, with over twenty years of experience. My reviews are all glowing. There is ZERO reason for him to read all of my stuff, he’s just a horrible micromanager.

      I just try to let it go, because otherwise I like my job and my boss. But it so SO ANNOYING.

      1. tangerineRose*

        Sounds like your manager isn’t really getting much done if all he does is micromanage you.

    12. Lora*

      In my job, I cc my boss on most correspondence with other departments and I expect my team and their direct reports to cc a group email address that includes me, my boss and my team when they email another department or a vendor.

      My team generally only email clients and our own department, so if we are going outside the department it is usually for a situation the whole team should be aware of because it’s out of the ordinary.

      I do a lot of emailing with other departments, and the cc to my boss just makes it easier to make sure my boss is in the loop.

    13. Emily K*

      I have a colleague whose boss requires this for any work requests (we can leave the boss off emails that are just a quick question). He is an internal service provider who fields requests from at least a dozen people and has been known to overextend himself in the past, so his boss feels the best/only way he can manage his report’s workload is if he’s looped in every time.

      I hate getting unnecessary email myself, and it’s funny how resistant I am too this without really meaning to be. I’m always thinking to myself, “well, this isn’t a job request yet, it’s just a question about whether a job would be (technically) possible, so I’ll wait until it turns into a formal request to do the job before I include his boss.” But frequently he replies back cc’ing his boss, so I’ve clearly misjudged. It’s like some part of me is constitutionally incapable of believing that anybody really wants to get that much email!

    14. JS*

      When I managed accounts at an agency at the manager level all my coordinators were to cc me on email correspondence concerning the account because at the end of the day I was responsible for it.

    15. AdvertisingAce*

      I would hate to be copied on everything. But I do expect my team to report client contacts into a running log. (Not whole emails even, just “sent the monthly report to Jane”) We frequently have clients claim that “no one EVER connects with me”when they’re actually upset with something else. the logs are the quickest way to refute that when I’m on the phone with them so we can get down to what is actually happening. My reports think it’s a micromanagement move but they also get extremely stressed when I have to ask them for correspondence after a client complaint. There’s no way to please both sides.

  2. Thursday Anon*

    My sympathies to LW4. I have worked for that manager and it is the worst. He was terrified of being out of the loop and didn’t know how to get the information he wanted or actually needed, so he just wanted everything.

      1. Trout 'Waver*

        That’s extremely ungenerous. The LW didn’t specify all e-mails. And there are situations where it makes perfect business sense to copy the boss on everything, or on certain types of e-mails. There are people out there who intentionally leave people off e-mails in order to pursue their our agenda.

        1. Kathleen_A*

          Ordinarily I’d say that asking for this is a clear sign of micromanaging. And perhaps it still is. But what makes me uneasy in this case is that the employee (apparently) just blew the OP off even after the OP gave him specific instructions. Maybe the employee is trying to train the OP not to be a micromanager – but maybe the employee is pursuing some agenda of his own. It’s very hard to say.

          If my boss asked to be CC’ed on everything, I’d CC her on everything. I’d think it was a bad idea under most circumstances, but bosses are allowed to have bad ideas. That doesn’t release me from my duty of following clear instructions, assuming they don’t violate my moral standards or anything.

          1. BRR*

            The letter is so short it’s really difficult to tell exactly what the situation is. We don’t know if the OP is micromanaging or if the direct report is doing something wrong.

            I will say no matter what the situation is, the correct solution is NOT to email all other departments asking them to cc you.

          2. Snark*

            Employee might be insubordinate here, but LW really needs to reconsider this “cc me on all the things” directive, because it’s a waste of his time and everyone else’s.

            1. Kathleen_A*

              Oh, I agree – at least it certainly sounds that way, based on how it’s presented here.

          3. Akcipitrokulo*

            I didn’t get that :) To me, it read as they wanted the employee to do it and suspected them of deliberately undermining them by not… but that they hadn’t actually asked them to yet.

            And yes, if boss required that, I’d do it… but I’d also quit at the earliest opportunity.

        2. Snark*

          I mean….the LW said, “One of my subordinates is trying to sideline me by not copying me on his emails,” which does not qualify with “important emails” or “emails to clients” or “emails on a project that’s due next week,” or whatever. It sure sounds like he means “his emails” without exceptions.

        3. WellRed*

          Actually, they did specify all emails for all subordinates (hate that word in this usage, but whatever). They want to email ALL other departments to “copy me when sending emails to my subordinates.”

        4. Anonymeece*

          I agree. I read it more along the lines of that the LW was asking about a specific scenario where he or she should have been looped in and wasn’t. Their solution, to send out an email to everybody asking them to copy him/her on emails, was bad, but the original scenario didn’t suggest that to me.

          I had a direct report who did not have any power to promise things to the budget, who then casually brought up that she had agreed our department would start paying for additional expenses in an area to the supervisor of another department. I had to have a talk with her, and finally contact the other supervisor, to straighten it all out. That would have been a situation where I would have wanted to be copied in on emails.

      2. Susan Sto Helit*

        Entirely. My manager gets cc’d in on things he actually needs to know about (because he’s been part of the discussion/has specifically asked me to pick something up for him), or when I might need him to weigh in (generally if someone is being difficult and I need him to play bad cop, or if it’s something above my pay grade). When he doesn’t need to be part of the chain he gets removed from the cc field again, sometimes at his own request.

        Most of the time, my manager has much better things to do than be reading my emails.

        1. Akcipitrokulo*

          Exaxtly :) one of main reasons for me is “just in case I need you to be the heavy here…” for some recipients!

      3. Thursday Anon*

        Ack! You’re right. By the time I went to write the comment I forgot it was the manager and not the employee who wrote in. No sympathy for the manager, all of the sympathy for the employee.

    1. JS*

      It depends on the job. In advertising Account Managers are cc’d on all of their Account Coordinator correspondence because they are responsible for the account at the end of the day and need to be looped in. Sales as well.

  3. Burned Once, Wiser for It*

    LW #3, provide your friends with your contact at the staffing firm, and let them take it from there. Providing any information about the client you are working for could backfire on you unpleasantly, up to and including you losing the position there.

    Let your friends show a little initiative and hustle on their own behalf. ;)

    1. Snark*

      Yeah, if we had a temp or intern working for us and they gave out my contact info to their thirsty friends to bug me instead of going through the application? BYEEEE

    2. uranus wars*

      I also think it could potentially ruin the relationship with the agency if the employer the OP was placed at said “hey, Jenny Penny is giving out contact information for our management and has super aggressive friends calling us directly”.

    3. Chaordic One*

      Occasionally, there are situations where if you’ve been there long enough to have a good relationship with a client and if they have a specific need and opening; and you have a friend who is talented, reliable, and who could fill that need and opening; you can play matchmaker and potentially everyone wins.

      What the OP has described does not sound like one of those situations.

    4. ChachkisGalore*

      Yeahhhh… If the LW’s friend’s were particularly pushy they could probably claim that they’re under some sort of confidentiality clause. I always had to sign confidentiality agreements when doing temp work. I don’t think there were any specific clauses regarding contact info, but I’m sure there’s something in there that covers (in a general way) “don’t plaster company contact info all over the place”!

  4. Ashie*

    Love love love the comment to LW#2 about being overqualified vs. differently qualified. I work in an industry where experience matters much more than formal education and it’s so hard to when new grads expect their opinions to be given more weight because they have a degree that their coworkers don’t. Don’t get me wrong, I think education is super important (I have a graduate degree myself) but that doesn’t necessarily mean I’m better at my job.

    1. Bea*

      I’ve had so many awkward situations where someone thought they were qualified for my job because of their fresh degree. Then ask me how I can handle everything myself without much formal training and no schooling.

      They don’t want to start as a clerk because they’re so over qualified! Uh no, a degree qualifies you for that entry level position. Your ability to grow is about experience and the opportunities you make yourself or find yourself. I started as a clerk too. Fifteen years ago. I was one for 14 months, then the opportunity presented itself to advance because I had a track record to point to.

    2. Future Homesteader*

      I came here to say this. I know we’ve had a lot of discussions here about the nature of admin work and whether it’s undervalued, but it bears repeating that just because you know a subject doesn’t mean you necessarily know how to get day-to-day/behind-the-scenes things done. They’re two different skill sets and both important for a functioning organization.

    3. There All Is Aching*

      +1000. Seems like this hierarchical thinking re: non-relevant degrees pops up in admin-related topics a lot.

    4. Lemon Danish*

      Also, having a degree doesn’t always mean you know about how work is carried out in the actual field. It can do. But sometimes not so much.

    5. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

      Yes—my hackles always go up when someone thinks they’re “more qualified” or “overqualified” by virtue of their degree in a field where experience > degree.

      I understand why people make this mistake. We’re told over and over again that higher education is a ticket to upward mobility and a higher start on the ladder of jobs, and in many industries, that’s absolutely true. But it’s not a substitute for experience, and in some jobs, experiential learning far outweighs classroom learning. And in many, you need both.

      1. Snark*

        In my view, it’s like getting a black belt in a martial art. I was always under the impression that a black belt meant “master.” No. A black belt means “I have put in the requisite hard work and practice to make it worth the master’s time to train me directly.” And even then, you spend like a year painting fences and mopping the dojo before he begins sharing with you the secrets of, like, Owl Style Kung Fu or something*.

        *I do not know much about kung fu or dojos

        1. RickTq*

          At my Aikido dojo having a 1st degree Black belt means you serious student who is supposed to know enough to teach techniques to a lower rank student while being supervised by an instructor. Getting to 3rd or 4th degree means you are equipped to teach lower ranks unsupervised.

    6. EA in CA*

      + one on this!

      I am a career administrative professional. As an Executive Assistant (with a Business Management degree), there are a ton of nuances to my position that you won’t learn in school. It takes time, experience, and tons of mistakes to understand the lay of the land. A new grad with no formal experience working in the professional world, would not be able to jump into my role. I’ve had experiences with new grads floundering in even an Administrative Assistant role.

    7. marmalade*

      Thanks for saying it, I was thinking the same thing. If you don’t have much work experience, then no, having a generalist degree doesn’t make you overqualified for an office job. It seems really snobby to think so.

    8. buttercup*

      That’s such a weird attitude. Education gives you the context to learn something in practice. It doesn’t mean you enter a new job already an expert at it, if that makes sense.

  5. Bones*

    Vindictive ex-bosses can kick rocks. Wish there were a way for karma to get them, and for the employees of said bosses to not look difficult when they truthfully speak about the past.

  6. Danger: Gumption Ahead*

    One of my former bosses is just like LW1’s. I am so glad I have enough distance from her that I no longer have to list her as a reference

  7. It me*

    What about a boss who wouldn’t be vindictive, but just sucks at giving references? I had a boss once who absolutely was impressed with my work, but I know wouldn’t have been able to talk anyone up adequately because he just lacked any passion or ability to be insightful about someone’s work. He was notorious for giving performance reviews to top performing staff and saying nothing more than “good job on that”. I would expect him to be super vague when giving a reference to the point where a recruiter might consider it a red flag about the person or wonder if he’s hiding something. Personally I never will use him as a reference because he’s not my most recent boss and I have enough good references but I’m curious about what to do if the situation ever arose where one had to use someone like him as a reference.

    1. Rez123*

      I had a boss like this. I’m dreading to give him as a reference. I wouldn’t be surprised if he said “nice girl, can’t complain” to a potential employer. He actually gave our team feedback once “you are doing good job. If anything changes i will tell you. Till then you should consider that you are doing well”. Only feedback ever given to us.

      1. Pollygrammer*

        It might be too much handholding, but when you alert him when you want to use him as a reference, could you include the job description and what duties you performed while working for him that would be relevant so he could share that?

    2. Sucks at Giving References*

      Oh, gee. This sounds like me. Not too terribly long ago I had someone call me to verify the past employment of a former coworker. He had never asked me to be a reference. I gave them the person’s employment dates and noted that there had been no complaints about him or his work and that he was eligible for rehire. The reference checker pressed me for more information and I couldn’t think of anything to say at the time.

      Until after they hung up. The former employee was a real sweetheart. Kind of shy and introverted, he quietly went about doing his work without calling a lot of attention to himself and he really got a lot done and did very good work. In retrospect I really wish I had said something along those lines.

      1. uranus wars*

        This is why I try to give my references a heads up! This is what happens to me when I am caught off guard – I’m all stumbles and “uhhh, um, sure…”

    1. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

      Is this about the boss who gives bad recommendations? Tortious interference is difficult to validate/prove simply because someone gives a negative or unenthusiastic recommendation. Generally they have to engage in more malicious conduct for tort liability to attach.

      1. Jerry Vandesic*

        Agree completely. One of the most telling bad references is saying that you wouldn’t hire someone again. There’s nothing you could do to attack someone that made such a statement, even though it might torpedo your offer.

      2. Emily K*

        And sadly for LW in the case, it’s a good thing that the standard is higher. Some companies are already too risk adverse to give references at all, which hurts employees who need references. If giving a bad reference was enough to be tortious interference there would be even more bosses refusing to give references at all, I’m sure – or at least refusing to give bad ones which is not good for a hiring manager who is looking for some kind of third party assessment of candidates.

      3. Sevenrider*

        Is giving a false bad reference considered malicious conduct? Would that be slander? I am thinking of someone, say like an office manager, giving a bad reference because they simply did not like an employee.

  8. Teapotty*

    Re #LW4, one way around this would be for all emails for a particular team to be sent through a group account which managers could have read/write access so they can track projects as necessary. This was the system at Old Job with our personal named emails more or less just used for requesting leave or in my instance, confirming my resignation! Some vendors and clients didn’t like using a group email though in case things slipped through the cracks (they didn’t but an understandable concern).

  9. ContentWrangler*

    It seems like bad form for the company in #1 to contact their coworker’s boss even though the coworker had said they were still working there and asked them not to contact them. I think if a company is going to insist on speaking to your current manager before hiring you, they should at least give you the option to opt out.

    1. Bea*

      Absolutely agree

      If it’s a deal breaker, say so. “I see you wrote here not to contact your current manager. We have to, it’s our policy to do so prior to moving forward with the process. Is it possible to talk to him given that information?”

      Then you can remove yourself from the candidacy. Instead of possibly ruining someone’s life. Getting them fired for looking elsewhere or retaliated against etc.

      I wouldn’t work anywhere who pulled this stunt. When I was looking last time, they all asked if my boss knew I was looking and I told them no and they knew that meant he wasn’t to be contacted.

  10. Ruth (UK)*

    1. I had almost exactly this situation when trying to leave my last job – the manager wanted to try to prevent people leaving and gave references that did not put the person at all in a good light, but without outright lying etc. One of my colleagues had an offer pulled following his reference.

    Knowing this when I job searched, I let interviewers know. I offered other references including a co-worker at my current [at the time] job, and someone in a leading position who I work closely with on a local volunteer project that I’m involved in. I told my interviewers at the end of my interview that my current boss had recently given other employees a poor reference while expressing he was unhappy about people leaving the company. I told them I was happy for him to be contacted, but asked that they also contact my other references.

    As it turned out, he gave me an unenthusiastic but not damning reference, while I got great references from my other sources, and a job offer for my now current job, which I’ve been at since December.

    1. Important Moi*

      Thank you. I’ve wanted suggestions to address this. Glad you were successful….gives me hope.

    2. WellRed*

      This is so stupid of managers. Sure, the employee might get stuck there based on his bad reference, but it seems guaranteed to damage the relationship (while the employee ramps up search to get out even faster).

      1. Ruth (UK)*

        I agree… in my case, my manager seemed to believe he was a fantastic manager and it was a great place to work. He often stated how understanding/lenient/flexible/etc he was and how lucky/etc we were to work there. He seemed to sincerely believe it about himself too. He never actually did anything that I would say made him an especially flexible/easy-going/whatever-else-he-claimed-to-be guy.

        In fact, he would do things like grill people on their symptoms if they had a day off sick (even if you missed just 1 day, you had to have a meeting with him when you returned about why you were off). In the 3.5 years I was there, I took 2 sick days in total. On the second one he asked me, “be honest, did you go to a job interview?” (I actually had been off sick). He pushed his own pickiness onto others, such as insisting I re-clean my [own personal] mug [which I had brought from home] before leaving because I hadn’t fully got rid of the tea-stains from within it when I put it away [in my drawer at the end of the day, because we weren’t allowed to leave them on our desks].

        And exactly as you commented, this sort of behaviour, and the way he tried to prevent people leaving, only made me buckle down more in my focus of job searching to leave. (and yeah, turnover was high)

    3. LDN Layabout*

      I’m surprised they gave references beyond just confirming employment. Most companies in the UK now won’t do anything other than that!

      1. Ruth (UK)*

        I wonder if this is dependent on field as I have not ever come across this (except for people mentioning it on this blog, and as I result I in fact thought it was an American thing!).

        While I’m young enough (late 20s) that I may have more limited experience, I’ve had a handful of jobs as I’ve never been out of work (for any notable length of time) since I was 16:
        * several part time retail/food jobs between ages 16-22
        * full time food/service job for 2 years following uni
        * call centre style admin position for 3.5 years
        * current job is admin at a university.

        I’m fairly sure none of my food/retail jobs ever approached references. However, the one I had full time definitely gave me a good reference when I applied to the call centre. It was the call centre manager I referenced in my original comment who gave the bad references.

        From that and my friends etc in other jobs, I have generally gathered that it is the norm for employers to provide proper references when approached. I have definitely heard the myth circulated that “giving a bad reference is illegal” but I’ve never heard of anyone I know working for a company that will only confirm employment.

        My current employer always checks references, and I believe my current manager would give me a full (and positive) reference if I needed one.

        1. LDN Layabout*

          My last manager (only post-uni job, I was there seven years) would have given me a good reference but all my job asked me for was to ask them to confirm employment!

          It is strange, because the not asking for references was backed up by friends who work corporate jobs and also public sector (where I am now)

          1. LDN Layabout*

            Although to be fair my current job’s recruitment process was:

            – Presentation (+ questions)
            – Interview
            – Assignment in person

            So they do go more in-depth than some?

          2. Ruth (UK)*

            I was wondering if this could possibly be a regional thing (eg. north vs south or London vs not London) or something else.

            I asked the opinion of a friend of mine who is based in the east midlands (I’m east Anglia). He’s slightly older than me but has a similar work history. At the moment, he works for the museum service. He says, “Of my previous employers everyone has agreed to give me a reference and I’ve seen some of them which were glowing […] Even the jobs I’ve hated have had at least someone employed within the ranks I’ve been able to go to for a reference. So for instance even though I hated [restaurant] because of the owner, the manager wrote me a good reference. Same with [café chain] where both the assistant manager and manager have written references for me at various points.”

            He also added that his current manager believes it to be illegal to refuse to give a reference (and so will do the confirm-dates thing if he doesn’t feel he can give a positive reference)

          3. Emily K*

            I think you’re most likely to see this in very large companies, especially national/multinationals that are governed by different local laws everywhere they employ people, and the public sector, where there’s a lot of public scrutiny on “the people whose salaries I pay!” (~ Loren Taxpayer). Both those types of employers tend to be more risk averse, and so large that they can’t effectively wield a scalpel (or don’t trust line managers to wield one) and choose a bludgeon instead. It’s overkill, but it does pretty much eliminate the risk.

            Whereas small companies are often notoriously oblivious to risk until something bad happens to them (at which point they will sometimes choose the bludgeon, too, if they don’t have the scalpel expertise).

        2. SarahKay*

          I’m in the UK and both my current company (which admittedly is a global US-owned company) and my previous company (department store chain, now gone bust) had the policy of ‘only HR may give references, and HR will only confirm time with company’.
          In both places, though, managers would be willing to quietly ignore this rule and give references for good employees when needed/asked.

  11. uranus wars*

    Thank you Alison for this statement: Having a degree for a job that doesn’t require one (graduate or otherwise) doesn’t in and of itself make you overqualified. If you have education or experience doing A but you’re in a job doing B, you’re not overqualified. I’m assuming that your masters degree isn’t in office assistance, which means that you might be differently qualified, but you’re probably not overqualified.

    We are hiring for a position now that requires a bachelors degree in a very specific field and a minimum of 3 years work experience doing specific type of work in that field. Think a bachelors in llama breeding with experience developing/facilitating classroom training for llama breeders.

    Quite a few people have approached me who have masters degree in llama breeding but absolutely zero work in llama breeding itself or anything having to do with llamas at all. Some are pretty indignant that the degree makes them overqualified despite the fact they have no experience.

    1. Reba*

      Many jobs ask for things like “experience or x years of education leading to X degree” or “MA degree or equivalent experience”–and degree programs often give a similar impression of being a leg up–so I’m not surprised to read that people feel that the degree should “count,” so to speak, for experience. In your case it sounds like you could explain that it is the specific, hands-on experience in the field that really really counts.

      1. Bea*

        The issue is in the wording.

        If you say “x years experience and a degree in Y.” you want both. The “or equivalent” remarks suck because they’ll take experience over just a degree almost always.

      2. uranus wars*

        HR let me write the job posting since it’s so specific. It says (in bullets):

        Required Qualifications:
        *bachelors degree or higher in llama breeding AND
        *3 years or more writing curriculum and facilitating classroom training in llama breeding

        additional qualifications under that but I am running out of llama references.

        I am not sure how to make it clearer but am definitely open to suggestions if anyone has them!

        1. Persephone Mulberry*

          Is the bachelor’s degree really, truly required – is there state licensure involved, for example? What does the degree tell you about the person’s qualifications for the job that your other requirements don’t?

          If the degree is a must, I’d consider sticking it at the bottom of the list of requirements instead of the top.

  12. mark132*

    Is it really that common to contact your current manager as a reference when job hunting? I haven’t experienced that in the past.

    1. uranus wars*

      I had someone contact my current manager before they even contacted me to let me know they were interested. This was about a year ago.

        1. uranus wars*

          Nothing like walking in on a Monday to your boss saying “so, you applied to X last week, huh?” I can’t even remember how I smoothed things over but I declined the interview.

  13. JessicaTate*

    Allison, THANK YOU for your response to Q4. It was perfect. I hope this type of manager reads it and takes it seriously.

    I was once the employee of a boss who felt it was “insubordinate” if I communicated with anyone without their being CCed and/or having read and approved the email before I hit send (or had a phone call or meeting without their OK – and then possible involvement). I was already a very experienced professional, and it was one of very many reasons that I left within a year – and should have left within a month.

    1. DogTrainer*

      I have also worked for this person. She was a serious micromanager, and asking to be cc’d on ALL emails should have been a red flag for me.

      1. PM Punk*

        I’m so glad I haven’t had quite this experience before. I have, however, been told by a micromanager (not even my manager) to be CC’d on all correspondence between myself and an individual in a different department before. I got away with nodding and smiling and not doing it at all.

        I seriously hope all managers who take this approach see Alison’s reply and take it to heart!

    2. Cordoba*

      I’m deeply suspicious of any manager who uses “insubordination” as a description for their employees not doing what they want. It’s a very grandiose description for behavior that often amounts to “thinks for self, does not blindly follow instructions”.

      If your people are “insubordinate” then you’ve probably asked them to either do something transparently dumb or not explained your request well. Do better next time and you’ll probably get more buy-in.

      This is a private company, not the Marines. There was no swearing-in ceremony or loyalty oath. One of the advantages of being a professional in the business world is the freedom to occasionally ignore your boss’s worst ideas without ending up in the brig or in front of a firing squad.

      1. Bea*

        It’s a word people use when they want to take disciplinary action. And is drilled into managers to use because if you’re fired for insubordination, many states deny your unemployment claims. This is why written warnings exist.

        I agree micromanaging is ridiculous and I’ve pushed back all my life with few consequences. But if you ignore managers repeated requests, you’re going to be fired and screwed out of benefits.

      2. Cedrus Libani*

        Agreed. The one time I had a manager attempt to discipline me for insubordination, I was refusing to do something so stupid that the write-up actually did me a favor. I did the thing, it failed so badly that it attracted unwanted attention, and then this boss tried to blame me. Nope, as it says right here in this write-up, I flatly refused to do it, several times, and I only gave in because you threatened to fire me if I didn’t.

  14. Sara without an H*

    Re Question #1: Many years ago I had a job in a branch library that was part of a larger system within a major private university. (You’d recognize the name.) The branch manager, Nasty, would give notoriously bad references, even for employees she openly disliked and wanted to replace. You’d think if you wanted an employee to leave, you’d give them an neutral reference at least, but no, she trashed even people she wanted to get rid of.

    Fortunately, HR let us all know that, if we needed a reference and couldn’t trust what we’d get from Nasty, we could ask them, and they’d come up with something.

    Of course, a better solution would have been to replace Nasty, but that couldn’t be done, because Reasons.

    1. TardyTardis*

      There was a school district in the south, where teachers warned people not to work for more than a year, because they always gave out such lousy references nobody anywhere else would hire them–except for that district, which was notorious for underpaying and treating teachers horribly. Some eventually broke free, because this district gained the reputation they deserved, but it took work.

  15. Magenta Sky*

    LW #3: Somebody needs to explain to your friends that what they are trying to do will almost guarantee they won’t be hired. Possibly with a slap up the side of the head.

  16. Hiring Mgr*

    Are #4’s employees supposed to conference their boss in on every phone call they make too? i can’t think of anything more absurd than this. OP4, please take AAM’s advice on this, because if not at the very least your “subordinates” will despise you

  17. SarahKay*

    LW5, I wouldn’t expect a thank you gift if I gave a reference, and in fact receiving even a token gift of the type you describe would feel a bit weird to me.
    Honestly, I’m very happy to give references for employees that I’ve valued and all I really want is to know that it was helpful. Although Alison is quite right that it’s always particularly nice to hear that someone got the job!

  18. Canarian*

    Maybe slightly off-topic… I really wanted to read this article. I did not want to watch an autoplay video about Hilary Swank’s struggles with the gender wage gap which cannot be closed or minimized from the corner of the screen where it covers part of the text of the article.

    Come on, Inc. Do you just hate your readers or what?

    1. Cordoba*

      Same here.

      Sites seem to be getting more cleverer with their lamesauce videos and popups; Adblock+ is no longer the miracle solution it once was.

      Is there a new and better option out there to block this sort of thing?

    2. Vermonter*

      I save all Inc. posts to Pocket and read them there for this very reason. (Those autoplay videos often crash my computer.)

    3. WalkedInYourShoes*

      This may provide a solution to Chrome users:
      1. Select Settings from the Chrome menu.
      2. Typing in Popups
      3. Click the Content Settings button.
      4. Click Pop-ups.
      5. Toggle the Pop-ups option to Blocked or delete exceptions.

      1. sb*

        That setting for me is set to Blocked on Chrome and it still happened.

        I got the video to go away by clicking “Block an ad on this site” (Adblock), clicking the left half of the player — for some reason I couldn’t just click the whole thing — and then moving the slider over 3 or 4 clicks until the whole thing disappeared. Works like a charm on reload.

        1. Canarian*

          This worked for me! Thank you so much for the tip. I didn’t know Adblock had that functionality

  19. The Doctor*

    Standard practice with my employer is to give “fair-to-middling” references to the best performers (so other companies won’t want to hire them) and to give great references to low-performers (to get rid of them).

    1. Sam.*

      A previous employer would give stellar references for terrible employees, even if they were just applying for an inter-organizational transfer. That completely baffled me. Lying to and dumping a bad worker on someone you’re very likely to cross paths with in the future? How is that a good idea??

  20. Akcipitrokulo*

    OP4… it sounds like you are worried about pretty serious dysfunctions within your team; you feel a team member is trying to work against your interest and sideline you. That’s pretty big when there is that level of an issue and you have evidence that one of your reports is actively sabotaging you. If that’s the case, then deal with the cause, not a percieved symptom.

    (If you feel there is evidence that you need to move forward with any disciplinary procedure, speak to HR & IT.)

    If this isn’t the case, and there isn’t reason to think your report is working to harm you… then there is a serious dysfunction in your team with the insecurity you feel in your own position and the resulting lack of trust.

    My original response was along lines of “If my manager asked this, I’d be actively job huntong and considering if I had enoigh savings to leave without a new position.”.

    I need to be on the same side as my manager, to have their trust that I am working in the best interests of them and rhe company… if there are suspicions lime “sidelining” in our relationship, that is not a good sign.

    For reference… including my manager as a cc for all my emails would be in breach of our email etiquette guidelines at current job! It’s expected that you cc someone on relevant emails, and don’t spam them with others.

    Would having a 5-10 routine, daily minute catch up with your report help reassure you you are in the loop? Making it a two-way conversation where you both keep the other updated could be a very positive thing.

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