a terrible employee asked me for a reference

A reader writes:

I have received a reference request for one of our former employees. I had told this student that I was not hiring her back because she wasn’t reliable. She would cancel her shifts at the last minute, not making an effort to find a replacement. She wouldn’t do anything unless I told her to. She had good attendance the first year I had her, but wasn’t motivated and had to be reminded constantly. The last semester she worked, she was terrible.

She turned around and used me for a reference where the employer sends you a form asking you to fill out an online form. I have completely ignored both emails because I cannot give her a good reference. I’m stumped by the fact that she thought I would be a good reference, and I was never contacted by her asking to be a reference.

How do other supervisors handle reference checks for employees that you’ll never rehire, etc.? I’m in shock that she thought I would give her a good reference after the talk I gave her.

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:

  • New hire said I’m too relaxed to be a manager
  • Bragging about disputing unemployment claims
  • I got blacklisted from a job after emailing the CEO directly
  • Should we interview an internal candidate we’re unlikely to hire?

{ 182 comments… read them below or add one }

    1. Anonymous Hippo*

      Honestly, I’d lean towards this one. I’d give the person a heads up, but I’d be honest.

      IMO, people tend to ask for references in these situations because they know how hard it is for people to speak badly of people (at least in an official capacity). No one really wants to do it, and they are banking on this. There maybe a small subset of people who think it is just a verification of actually being an employee here, but I think the vast majority are doing it on purpose.

      Reply
      1. Pommette!*

        I think that some people also do it out of sheer desperation.
        It’s common for employers to ask for contact information for three referees. If you don’t have enough good references to satisfy that requirement (which is true for lots of early-career people, for those who have worked in the same place for a loooong time, and for people who have a bad employment history), your options are limited.
        If you refuse, you’ll automatically be taken out of the running. If you give bad references, you at least have a chance that the employer won’t check with them, that will do so but will stick to superficial employment-verification type questions. And there’s even a small chance that they’ll hear about the bad but will choose to overlook it.

        Reply
        1. Something Something Whomp Whomp*

          Yup. It sounds like OP’s employee was a student when this all went down, so they may not even have three separate jobs for which they can get references to begin with! The other thing is that early-career people don’t always realize that there are non-manager references that can be appropriate as a professional reference, such as a professor you worked with closely, a volunteer coordinator or supervisor at one of you longer-term volunteer gigs, etc.

          Reply
        2. JF*

          If it’s the same one I’ve gotten, it asked for 5 and 2-3 were to be supervisors, so I can definitely see that this person might not have had any other options, especially since she’s most likely recently graduated.

          Reply
          1. Ace in the Hole*

            Yeesh. I wouldn’t be able to do that even if I gave my current supervisor as a reference. I’ve worked at the same place for 6 years under 2 supervisors. My last supervisor is retired now and very difficult to contact. My previous jobs were in high turnover environments like fast food and seasonal work – not great for serious references even if I could track down someone I worked with for three months ten years ago.

            That’s the kind of application process that seems designed to get bad results. They’re actively screening out anyone who’s been in a stable long-term position at a job with low turnover!

            Reply
        3. Deliliah*

          When I was first in the working world and asked for references, I just listed the managers from my previous jobs because I didn’t realize they were going to be asked how I performed. I just thought they’d literally confirm that I worked there and that that would be that. It took a few jobs before I realized what “references” truly meant.

          Reply
        4. Paul Zagieboylo*

          Gotta say, any company that outright demands 3 references for an entry-level position and automatically rejects anyone that doesn’t provide them is near-guaranteed to be so detached from reality that you definitely do not want to work there. Right up there with “hires right out of college, must have 4 years of experience”.

          On the other hand, sometimes people really are that clueless about who to ask for references. I’ve done it.

          Reply
    2. Georgina Fredrika*

      lol I had students ask for a reference after they completely ghosted on their job.

      it happened to people who were otherwise dependable like clockwork every semester…
      they’d get overwhelmed with schoolwork,
      then they’d get overwhelmed by work,
      then instead of responding to my emails with “yeah I can’t handle this,” which would’ve been fine, they would assure me they could handle it and turn it in late… then completely ghost and I wouldn’t hear back from them for a month (this was contract writing so, not like an hourly job)

      I was okay with giving rec’s so long as I didn’t have to lie about it – maybe that’s wrong but I didn’t feel like ghosting on a remote writing job during their semester was a normal part of their personality, just some weird stress reaction some of them had and were unlikely to do at their in-person internships.

      Reply
      1. Georgina Fredrika*

        oh I didn’t even realize this was nesting under another comment augh… luckily seems to fit the topic!

        Reply
    3. Bagpuss*

      I am not 100% sure she *does* know how she performed. People are not always great at assessing their own performance- even when they have had clear feedback, and perhaps especially if they have also had positive feedback about some aspects of the role

      Reply
      1. Another freelancer*

        This, and it’s possible they may think that OP would give a reference that is sort of generic, or at least won’t reveal their flaws and shortcomings.

        Reply
  1. Jennifer*

    She didn’t do anything unless she was told to? I mean, I know it’s better to go above and beyond, but that’s what a lot of people do at work.

    Reply
    1. Blaise*

      Depends on the job. If you have to tell a waitress every time she has a new table or to go check on each table individually, etc… that’s probably worth a firing eventually.

      Reply
    2. fposte*

      I think that phrase can mean a lot of different things, but in this case it meant something like “Jane was told from the start that her duties included getting the mail but needed to be told every day to go and get it.”

      Reply
      1. The New Wanderer*

        That’s how I read it too, that Jane had daily tasks assigned to her and were a clear part of the job, but still had to be told to, for example, file the folders piling up on her desk because she wouldn’t do it otherwise.

        Reply
      2. JSPA*

        I took it to mean, “she would be playing on her phone or staring out the window for hours, unless I reminded her that she was at work, and there was work to be done.” That is, she literally did Nothing. At all.

        Reply
      3. NotAnotherManager!*

        Yeah, I had someone who was responsible for performing a specific set of five tasks every day, and I inevitably had to prompt them to do at least three of them near daily. (Or I’d get an email late in the day saying they couldn’t do X or Y because of some easily-resolvable IT problem and would have to tell them to call IT and get it fixed.)

        Drove me nuts – their predecessor had left them a checklist, we went over each task and they demonstrated a good understanding of each one, and then they just never did them all unless asked. I guess at least they mixed it up with which ones they decided to do any given day?

        Reply
    3. NoLongerStuckInRetailHell*

      It depends. For example, if she didn’t answer the phone until told “that’s part of your job” and after that she answered it, that would be fine and in line with what you are saying. But, if even after being told that, if she ignored the phone every time it rang unless someone specifically said “answer that!” then that would be a problem. That is the sense I get from the LW.

      Reply
    4. Turquoisecow*

      I took this to mean she showed no initiative. In many jobs, there’s always something to do if you look for it, and after a bit of time a seasoned employee should see what needs doing and just do it without needing to be told to do it. An employee who just twiddled their thumbs until specifically given a task would not do well in many jobs.

      Reply
    5. Jennifer*

      I read it as she did the tasks she was told to do and waited for further instructions once she was done. Ideally, you would ask for more work or look for other things to do or team members that need help, but I don’t think you’re necessarily a terrible employee if you don’t.

      If her job was answering phones and she had to be told every single time the phone rang to answer it, I highly doubt she would have lasted a year there. That’s pretty extreme.

      Reply
      1. Bibliovore*

        no I had an employee who had to be told everyday that they needed to retrieve the mail from the receiving department. They lasted because of our PIP procedures.

        Reply
      2. NoLongerStuckInRetailHell*

        I wasn’t serious I used the phone example as an extreme just for illustration purposes (but according to a comment down below that actually happened!). And your point that they wouldn’t last a year if they did so isn’t really valid: this wasn’t a regular employee but a student worker with a set time period (sounds like a semester at a time). Such workers can be virtually impossible to fire due to the temporary nature of the position and the fact that they are students—they would have to do far worse to merit firing and the process generally takes longer than the employment period.

        Reply
    6. LQ*

      I guess this could mean a bunch of things but if one year they were able to do the work that they needed to do and then they were subsequently no longer able to do that I took that to mean there was a list or set of expectations. Like when you get a ticket, do a minimum amount of research before passing it along, answer the phone when it rings every time seriously, you’ll always have to make sure the safe is locked at the end of the day, maybe it’s a checklist of things, maybe it’s the job description. But if I have to tell someone every single time that’s not ok.

      Reply
    7. Firecat*

      I agree for a university student job where the understandong is “If I finish I start homework/studying unless there are other task on my list”

      Reply
    8. employment lawyah*

      Yes, but a lot of those people are pretty bad employees!

      I see it as the difference between someone who is “expecting to work” and who is “just there to be paid.”

      People who are expecting to work will of course take breaks, but their general expectation is that they should be doing something. They will let you know when they’re done; they will take on work to fill gaps; etc. They are there to get paid, of course, but to some degree they also view themselves as one side of a partnership: they are people who you want on your team.

      People who are just there to be paid will certainly do work if you tell them. But they think of work entirely as an obligation and not a partnership. They will do the minimum amount of work required to try to keep the job. If you schedule them for 5 hours of work on an 8 hour day, they will happily sit there for three hours, etc. They can be perfectly nice people and for some job/pay arrangements you may never get anyone better, but few people would recommend them.

      Reply
    9. The Man, Becky Lynch*

      Well I was given a job after initially being passed over because the person was the sort that didn’t do anything unless they were told.

      Example, she let the phone ring…sitting right there in front of her, despite being hired to answer phones as one of the main duties.

      Imagine if your duties included gathering the mail and you needed to be told every day to go check the mailbox, yikes.

      Reply
    10. Observer*

      And they are not generally good employees.

      Also, in this context, it sounds like she didn’t do tasks that she should have known to do – the OP also says that she had to be constantly “reminded” – ie these were things that she had been told about, repeatedly.

      Reply
      1. Jennifer*

        I’m not saying that makes them a great employee. I just don’t see it as being as bad as the other things the OP listed.

        Reply
  2. Blaise*

    Since it’s a generic form, it’s possible that this job just automatically sends that out to all of a candidate’s former bosses. She may not even know about it, which would explain why she didn’t give you a heads up, and why you received one in the first place.

    Reply
    1. LCH*

      same thought. i’ve had places separately ask for me to list references, but also ask for the contact info for my past supervisors. these are not always the same people (although i’ve never anticipated past supervisors to give a bad reference, i just have a specific 3 i use as my references).

      Reply
  3. That Girl from Quinn's House*

    I ignore them. All of the people who’ve asked for references from me who were also terrible employees were 17-18-19 in part-time roles. They were also applying for jobs where it’s easy enough for their hiring manager to ask them for another reference because “your reference is being unresponsive.”

    I could give them an honest reference, but honestly? People that age grow and change pretty rapidly. Just because someone was a crummy employee at one part-time job doesn’t mean they won’t be at another a year or two later. Maybe they’ve grown up. If they haven’t, their new boss can fire them.

    However, if I felt they were unsafe for their next job, I would not hesitate to give them the negative reference. I worked with kids and was trained in child abuse prevention. I would absolutely and unequivocally tank the hire of someone I felt posed an abuse risk.

    Reply
    1. Smithy*

      I think that’s very thoughtful and fair.

      At that stage of someone’s professional life, there may also be job applications where you can’t submit unless you put down your manager’s name and contact information for every job. Should the employee reach out directly to ask, that may be a time to explain that you can’t be a reference.

      Reply
    2. Yorick*

      Sure, people that age may have changed a lot. But you usually can’t speak to that if they were terrible employees when they worked for you.

      Reply
      1. Chai life*

        My co-worker once responded to a reference check with a carefully worded “When she showed up she was a good worker. She was young and a student at the time therefore her classes were her priority.”
        I thought this worked pretty well, as it allowed for the possibility of growth with the passage of time, and was completely true about the former employee.

        Reply
    3. The Man, Becky Lynch*

      I agree that they’re in the “maturing” stages and they’ll probably grow out of it.

      However I wouldn’t ignore a reference request regardless. I’d still be kind in that it wasn’t a position that suited them for whatever reason it was. It was a part time gig and therefore it wasn’t a priority or what have you. I’d still confirm “they worked here, they weren’t a complete nightmare.” Ignoring the reference request may end up as “Oh do you have another instead?” but it can very easily also just be “Your references didn’t respond therefore we won’t be moving forward.” I’m not going to ignore it and let the chips fall where they may, that is pretty irresponsible in my opinion. If I hired someone or have become a defacto reference due to my position, it’s a duty I don’t pick and choose to execute.

      Reply
  4. Karak*

    Re: 4, interviewing someone when they’re unlikely to get the position:

    I interviewed for a few roles at my company where they explained they had a candidate in mind. In one case, they had someone who’d done the job before, was reassigned to a project, and wanted to come back to the role once the project was over. The interviews gave great feedback and helped me develop a better interview style and understand my company.

    I appreciated the honesty and the feedback, and the fact they wanted to see what I could offer, without raising my hopes. I think being up-front with internal candidates, but still giving them a shot, is the best thing to do.

    Reply
    1. Jules the 3rd*

      +1 As their manager, it would really be to your benefit to talk to them about what would make them a more competitive candidate in the future. If they can step up to that, you get their better performance now and an easy hire in the future.

      Reply
    2. KayDeeAye*

      I just want to point out that this letter isn’t about interviewing “someone” when they’re unlikely to get the position – it’s about interviewing an *internal candidate* when they’re unlikely to get the position.

      I do agree that except under extraordinary circumstances (e.g., the person’s on a PIP or something), the internal candidate probably should be interviewed with as open a mind as possible, and he/she also deserves some feedback. It’s only fair, IMO.

      Reply
      1. MassMatt*

        I agree, I think refusing to interview an internal candidate (not giving her any feedback? How to be better?) seems pretty hostile. I would take it as an insult, and immediately start looking elsewhere.

        Maybe this employee really is not a good fit for the role but she deserves the chance to make her case and hear feedback.

        Reply
        1. Canary*

          I’m trying to decide if refusing to interview an internal candidate outright is better or worse than what my former employer did: they interviewed me, and I didn’t hear anything else until I met the person who was hired in the break room. In any case, neither approach is likely to leave a positive impression of the organization with the employee.

          Reply
          1. Lusara*

            I had a similar situation. I flund out i didn’t get a position when they took the. Ew gure around introducing her to everyone.

            I say don’t interview the internal candidate if you are not going to seriously consider her. It was very clear that I wasn’t given any real consideration and that hurt much more than if they would’ve told me up front that I wasn’t a good fit.

            Reply
          2. NotAnotherManager!*

            Oh, that happened to me once, and it was infuriating. I am an adult and can handle “no”, but being essentially ghosted while I still worked there was insulting. (I ended up leaving for another job and then coming back a few years later after a new manager had been hired for that team – they were excellent and I learned so much from working under them.)

            Reply
      2. Uranus Wars*

        I think that this depends on the size of the company and the internal applicant pool. I always think feedback is warranted, but I don’t always think an interview is.

        I say this because we posted a position that we had no one in mind for and interviewed qualified internal and external candidates. If we had interviewed all internal candidates we would have done more than 25 interviews that we knew were not going to pan out. In our case it was a “fun” department that people want to work in but rarely have any experience in.

        Reply
      3. NotAnotherManager!*

        I had this come up about a few years ago, and we did ultimately interview and provide feedback to the internal candidate even though there is no way they would have been successful in the position (and the interview bore that out) and external candidates far exceeded their qualifications. I looked at it as an employee relations investment, but it was also a single employee – no way we could have interviewed all internal candidates if there’d been broad interest.

        They were also very resistant to the interview feedback. For example, when asked a situation question about handling a particular performance issue (and one that was common in real life execution of the job), they stated they’d escalate to someone higher up the chain rather than provide direct and immediate feedback. In the post-interview debrief, that was flagged as something we wanted someone in a manager-level role to handle independently, and they argued that we should provide them paid management training, if we were to expect them to handle feedback independently. And, at review time, they also said that since we hired an outside candidate, we should find an internal promotion for them, since they were qualified enough to interview for the manager role.

        Reply
        1. winter*

          Oh wow, I can see why you didn’t go with that candidate… I don’t want to hand-hold my own team, much less someone in a management position.

          Reply
    3. SheLooksFamiliar*

      I’ve always recommended having an interview with internals, if only because it’s good interview practice. But it can also be part of their L&D and career coaching process. The employee learns more about the realities of the role in question, and how they do/don’t meet the basics. Some internals have told me they decided the role wasn’t right for them, after all, once they learned more about it – and maybe more about the manager, too. But if there’s a specific gap in skill or experience, they can decide if they want to address it. If so, they can work with their manager to find a way to get the experience.

      If the company has a solid talent management and L&D team, so much the better. The employee can get consistent, meaningful coaching and training.

      Reply
      1. Lusara*

        You can do all that without actually interviewing them and giving them false hope that they are going to be considered for the position.

        Reply
    4. Missouri Girl in Louisiana*

      A long time ago, I was asked to sit on an interview panel for an “allied” position within my company. The hiring manager and I sat through several interviews that the candidate should not have even been given an interview. After the second one, where I was trying not to be disrespectful but totally bored and a bit annoyed that my time was being wasted, I asked hiring manager why are you interviewing these people. He said because HR told him he had to. There it was.

      Reply
  5. Mid*

    Can you fill out the reference with N/A or leave it blank and just confirm dates of employment?

    I had a “boss” who was *irate* that I went on a 6-week study abroad program, which I told him about prior to me getting hired. (Boss is in quotes because he didn’t actually pay me.) He sent me a long, nasty email several months after I left saying how he could never be a reference for me and I’m lucky he confirms my employment dates, etc. All I asked was for confirmation of employment dates and never had him listed as an actual reference, because of his behavior. But, some company sent the same form out for references and to verify dates which is what made him so upset.

    Reply
  6. WFH_Mama*

    I wonder if she truly listed you as a reference. A lot of applications require you to enter your supervisor information on any previous jobs (including contact information). They usually have a question asking if it is okay if they contact the employer as well, but maybe she did select yes thinking it would simply be an employment verification and not a “reference.”

    You mention she was/is a student, I would do the courtesy to reach out and let her know.

    Reply
    1. Kimmy Schmidt*

      This is what I was thinking as well! Or maybe she’s gotten some misguided advice and thinks she absolutely has to list you.

      Reply
      1. NotAnotherManager!*

        +2

        (I totally believe that there are clueless people who would list bad references, though. I got a call out of the blue for an employee who was terminated within their probationary period because every time we tried to train them, the session was constantly interrupted so they could take personal calls and, when counseled not to, said that they were a work-to-live kind of person and weren’t going to put their life on hold because of work. I told the reference checker that he hadn’t worked there for long and it’d been years ago, so I didn’t really have any current information. The former employee called me a few hours later to ask me why I was such a bitch and couldn’t just “do him a solid”.)

        Reply
    2. KayDeeAye*

      I have one former, and extremely marginal, employee who used me as a reference for years, even though she had to know that she was marginal because I had been pretty candid about this. I couldn’t call and ask her not to use me because she’d moved and I didn’t have her address (and this was pre-cell phones, so no phone number either).

      I think she was just that clueless. I think all those conversations she and I had had about the fact that she kept messing up important parts of her job just went right over her head. E.g., that she, a reporter, couldn’t spell was important to me but she seemed to feel that it wasn’t important at all no matter what I said. I think she just thought she was a much better reporter than she actually was. Perhaps there was something I could have said or done to change this perception, but if so, I’m not sure what it would have been aside from “You’re fired” – and who knows, maybe that wouldn’t have worked either.

      Reply
  7. Sharon Smith*

    Yes I had that same problem where I got a reference request on behalf of an intern who did a poor job for me. I had actually told her not to put me down as a reference so I was very surprised to get it, which shows how clueless some people can be. I opened it to see if there was an option to just put dates of hire but they wanted very detailed information, a rating of 1-5 on issues such as attitude and work performance and also whether I would hire her again. So I didn’t fill it out. I don’t think calling her to tell her why I wasn’t doing it would have helped. And just so you know, I had told originally tried to coach her on areas of improvement when she worked for me, which she did not take well.

    Reply
    1. MassMatt*

      It’s possible your employee and the LW’s were clueless, but I think another factor is that these people are young and don’t probably have a lot of experience or job history to make a big pool of potential references. When you’ve been in the workforce for 10 years and have had several managers and lots of coworkers you have a lot more options to pick and choose who you ask. I was fortunate that my first few managers were good but if I had a terrible one it would really have crippled me moving forward from there.

      Reply
  8. Zephy*

    LW1’s former report might not have actually listed her as a reference; it comes up here all the time how jobs can and will contact people other than the people you give them as references. It would be kindest, I think, for LW1 to let her former report know that she’s been contacted to provide a reference and explain why she can’t/won’t do that, if LW1 wants to put any more effort into this person.

    I also don’t think LW4 was totally in the wrong; she had initially been told she was going to speak to the CEO, but then that interview didn’t happen, and then her offer was withdrawn because the CEO said so. It’s not that unreasonable to assume it would be OK to contact that person, especially considering it’s a startup. That said, this company culture sounds shitty and I think you dodged a bullet, LW4.

    Reply
    1. Colin*

      I agree with you LW4. Even if it was wrong to go outside the process and contact the CEO, I feel like the company should have acknowledged that the company jerked her around by miscommunicating their interview process and basically telling her she had the job when she didn’t. Sound like the hiring manager did a bad job, or she did a fine job but the CEO is a controlling narcissist who doesn’t let his managers do their job.

      Reply
    2. bluephone*

      Same here. I’m not sure I would have contacted the CEO but I can see LW4’s mindset in doing so, given these particular circumstances. But given how they then rejected her AND felt the need to be super snippy and pissy about it…bullet dodged bigtime, LW4. Good luck with the rest of your search!

      Reply
    3. Gymmie*

      I also didn’t think it was that weird. I wouldn’t have done it and she probably shouldn’t have either, but given all the circumstances I don’t think it was too crazy.

      Reply
    4. Des*

      Is it just me or is the use of the word ‘subordinate’ to refer to the potential-employee in the LW4’s case a red flag? Why would a CEO refer to anyone that way? (Although it could be a broken-telephone thing where the recruiter was mad at the LW4 for not earning them a commission?)

      Reply
    5. Classism WTF*

      I could not agree more on LW4.

      I appreciate that a CEO is a busy person and his or her time should be respected. That’s a privilege of position, and I’m not naive enough to say that the CEO should be treated like any random person at the company. But for this guy to be “really mad” about receiving an email? That’s a very disproportionate response! Sounds like LW4 came out ahead (and honestly, even if the job would somehow be desirable even with this toddler of a CEO, it seems like this candidate was not going to get the job anyway so no harm done either way).

      Move on to the next opportunity with your head held high.

      Reply
      1. Cedrus Libani*

        This. If the job is important enough for the CEO to stick their nose in and say “no, we really can’t hire anyone without a degree in Llama Studies”, it’s not entirely out of line for the OP to reply directly with “but I have a PhD in Camels and have a lot of applicable skills”. Whether the CEO agrees or not is their business, but the CEO was involved in the hiring already, it’s not the OP’s presumption that made it so.

        Reply
  9. DarthMom*

    Re: 3, unemployment claims…
    As an HR manager, I ONLY fight unemployment claims when the former employee should not be eligible anyway… (Fighting a claim where the individual has a legit case is not only a waste of time, but it’s just rude and disrespectful.) The whole process in our state is a bit of a crapshoot anyway, and usually the success or failure of the appeal has to do with who is assigned to review it at the state level. So, am I proud of the ones I win? Absolutely. Do I brag about them to anyone? Of course not… especially not on social media.

    Reply
    1. Stormfeather*

      This is what I was thinking when I read it. Still probably tone-deaf to list it proudly as an accomplishment, but not necessary indicating “yeah, go me, I totally argued our way into denying absolutely valid unemployment claims and saved our company money at the expensive of ex-employees totally not getting what they deserve!”

      Reply
    2. Mainly Lurking (UK)*

      So it sounds as though you’re only disputing a very small number of the claims you receive, nothing like 82%. Actually, I suspect that the HR person in question disputed 100% of employment claims, and lost 18% of them. Whoever her employer is, I certainly wouldn’t want to work there.

      Reply
    3. A penguin!*

      Part of me wonders if they meant they succesfully disputed 82% of the claims they tried to dispute (rather than of the total claims). That would be more reasonable, but that’s a lot of claims.

      Reply
      1. Uranus Wars*

        Yea, I really hope it’s something like “we had 200 claims, 11 were disputed, I won 9 of them”

        Reply
      2. Elizabeth Bennet*

        That’s how I’m reading it. The achievement could have been worded better. There is a skill in presenting an argument well in written form for disputing unemployment claims, and backing up the argument with evidence.

        Reply
    4. The Man, Becky Lynch*

      This is how the standard typically is, unless they are raging crap-sacks of a company.

      I’ve only ever disputed ones that were due to egregious behavior. Like no, he was fired for getting into a physical fight, we have the police report right here. Kind of egregious!

      Reply
  10. Altair*

    #3 is kind of terrifying. Is that a common “accomplishment” for an HR person to cite on their resume?

    Reply
    1. Wisco Disco*

      I can’t speak to whether or not it’s common, but I don’t have a huge issue with it. Our HR department spends a lot of time and effort to compile good documentation of performance that can be presented at a hearing; if they are successful it’s because they’ve done their job well.

      I could be biased because our HR department is excellent.

      Reply
      1. Jennifer*

        Won’t the government be biased toward the company instead of the individual though? It seems kind of like a cop bragging that he won a traffic violation case against a random citizen. The judge is normally going to side with the police, not an individual. Doesn’t sound like much of an accomplishment to me.

        Reply
        1. The Man, Becky Lynch*

          No. That’s not at all the case. Disputing unemployment cases requires a lot of work on the company side. You have to show consistency and fairness in most cases. Judges often side with the individual more often than the company if the evidence of consistency is lacking.

          “Have you ever allowed another employee to yell at you and spit in your face? Oh okay, then this person can do it too.” [real talk, real story.]

          Reply
        2. Uranus Wars*

          Nope, not at all. In my experience it is very hard as an employer to dispute and win a case like this. You have to have bulletproof documentation.

          Reply
      2. Littorally*

        It seems pretty alarming to me. Are 82% of the unemployment filings from this business for people termed for gross misconduct? What even is going on there?

        Reply
    2. hbc*

      Not common. I kind of get the accomplishment aspect of it, especially if you have an environment that has a high percentage of bad faith unemployment claims. “Hey, I got fired for no reason, give me money”–“Yeah, we ‘fired’ you because you stopped showing up, here is all the documentation.” But bragging about it really comes off badly, and it needs to be saved for a nuanced conversation.

      Reply
      1. Jennifer*

        But it’s definitely a bad sign that they have a high volume of bad faith claims. Do they really have that many horrible employees? They are awful at hiring or something else is seriously wrong.

        Reply
    3. Firecat*

      Im hoping its a poorly written accomplishment that should read was succesful in disputing 82% of fradulently filed unemployment cases…

      Reply
      1. Chris*

        That’s how I interpreted it. If anything a success rate that high among the ones the contest probably implies that they’re not disputing many claims.

        Reply
        1. Lorac*

          Yeah, 82% seemed oddly specific so I punched some numbers and it sounds like she disputed 9 out of 11 claims.

          Reply
    4. Jennifer*

      Maybe she didn’t have many other accomplishments to list? But yes, she is someone I would steer clear of if I worked there and if I were job hunting I wouldn’t apply there unless I was absolutely desperate.

      Reply
    5. Yorick*

      I kinda wonder if she meant “successfully got unemployment denied for 82% of the ones I disputed.” Otherwise I agree it sounds kinda heartless and off-putting.

      Sometimes the HR person really does act like they have to pay for stuff out of their own pockets. We have that problem with salaries whenever we want to hire – HR always tries to give a lower salary than the department head (who’s in charge of the department’s budget and knows how much this role is really worth) has asked for.

      Reply
    6. The Man, Becky Lynch*

      Lots of corporate structure prides itself on this kind of “accomplishment”. They will bend over into pretzels to deny unemployment claims, even when it really was just a bad fit. I’ve heard it over the years from a lot of people. On a resume not so much but that’s where it’s bred from.

      Reply
  11. many bells down*

    On that last one: I was sent a form-letter rejection for a position I’d applied for with an organization where I was a long-time volunteer. It was HUGELY demoralizing. I had to take a break from my volunteer duties for several months because I felt really not-valued. Which made it really hard to give them my best work for free!

    Reply
  12. Ray Gillette*

    LW4 certainly made the wrong call to try and gumption their way around the hiring process, but I think they dodged a bullet. First, what was up with the recruiter not being able to tell from their resume that they weren’t qualified, and letting them get all the way to the offer stage before saying something? And the CEO’s anger is weird – I can understand irritation that a candidate tried to circumvent the normal hiring process, but getting “really mad” because a “subordinate” dared to contact him? It’s possible that the recruiter is the problem and the rest of the company is actually fine, but reading it made the hairs on the back of my neck go up.

    Reply
    1. Zephy*

      I mentioned in my comment above – LW4 had also already been told she had an interview with the CEO, so it’s not that wild to assume the CEO knew about said interview and canceled it for whatever reason. I agree the recruiter sucks, but there’s no way to know from the outside if it’s just him.

      Reply
      1. Ray Gillette*

        Your comment makes sense to me. Startups are often more informal, largely out of necessity. I work at a growth-stage startup and when I first started, I reported to the COO (on paper, at least).

        My gut tells me the CEO is a problem, but there’s no way to tell for sure with the limited information we have.

        Reply
      2. sacados*

        Yeah it’s hard to know. I think the best course of action in that situation — especially since LW was originally told they’d be meeting the CEO — would have been to email back the recruiter (NOT the CEO) with something like
        “You had mentioned I would be having a final interview with the CEO as well, would it be possible for me to meet with him and discuss any concerns about my background”
        Or whatever.
        That opens the door for LW to also meet the CEO and see if he’s as high-handed as this whole exchange made him seem. And also find out more specifically what he’s worried about.

        But of course this is all hypothetical since it’s too late for that now.

        Reply
    2. Marny*

      Yeah, it may not have been the best idea, but the CEO’s reaction seems really overly angry. Not to mention, she isn’t a “subordinate” if she doesn’t work there. The CEO doesn’t actually have any superiority to a non-employee– he just doesn’t like being spoken to like an equal. She’s better off not working for someone who thinks of applicants as beneath him.

      Reply
      1. alienor*

        Agree–and I’d be pretty ticked off about being referred to as a “subordinate” even if I did work there, tbh. It sounds rude even if it’s technically true in terms of an org chart.

        Reply
      2. Anonymous Hippo*

        Heck, I’d be annoyed at being referred to as a subordinate if I did work there, unless it was a direct discussion of the chain of command. Just “you can’t talk to me you are a subordinate” would send me straight for the door.

        Reply
        1. Frank Doyle*

          I agree. If they’re the CEO, isn’t everyone a subordinate? It must be hard to get things done in a company where no one is allowed to reach out to the CEO.

          Reply
    3. Roja*

      That was my read too. It wasn’t a good idea to send the letter, but overall, looks like LW dodged a bullet.

      Reply
    4. Fake Old Converse Shoes (not in the US)*

      In a startup setting it’s not that weird to get a second interview even if you’re underqualified for the position you originally applied for, but blacklisting because you contacted the CEO is overreacting. Even if the CEO’s time is precious (which it is), the normal way to handle is thanking the candidate and moving on. OP4 clearly dodged a bullet here.

      Reply
    5. Marthooh*

      We don’t even know how angry the CEO actually is. It’s pretty obvious the recruiter screwed up and doesn’t want to acknowledge it, so I wouldn’t trust him to relay accurate information about anything at that company.

      Reply
      1. leapingLemur*

        I assumed that the CEO’s issue with the OP’s background was something that hadn’t been relayed to the recruiter or to the other staff. Maybe the OP went to the “wrong” college or something.

        Reply
    6. MCMonkeyBean*

      I agree; it’s not like this person just found a job listing online and reached out to the CEO to pitch their case. They were at the offer stage! It wasn’t a great idea to email them but it doesn’t seem like the most egregious thing in the world either.

      Reply
    7. Seeking Second Childhood*

      I know it’s old letters so I won’t find out but… what if by “a person like that” the CEO meant a woman, an ethnicity or religion, or an open lesbian? Puts a whole different light on the CEO… end result, she dodged a cannonball not just a bullet.

      Reply
  13. WantonSeedStitch*

    Re #1: I think that even if the applicant did list their former manager as a reference voluntarily (as opposed to the plausible situation others have mentioned in which the reference check was sent out automatically without consulting with the applicant), it’s not uncommon for someone who’s really early in their career–as a former student employee probably would be–to feel like they HAVE to list their most recent managers as references no matter what, since they have fewer managers from whom they can pick and choose. When I was 26, I quit a job I’d held for the past three years where I was on probation, because the job was driving me towards a nervous breakdown (hence why my performance was so bad). I felt like after I gave my notice, I HAD to ask my manager if I could use him as a reference, because I thought I might not have much choice, since that job had literally been almost my entire career so far. For the record, he said he would serve as a reference, but that he “would be honest about my performance.” Fine. Whatever. In the end, I chose to leave him off and instead list managers at temp jobs I held after leaving that position. I can’t remember if I was ever asked why I didn’t list that most recent permanent job manager, but I think the answer I had prepared was that the position and company had been a poor match for me and that as a result, I didn’t think my performance there accurately represented my abilities as an employee.

    Reply
  14. foolofgrace*

    Re: #4:
    The next day, I got a call from the recruiter saying I was being rejected and blacklisted from the company … It sounds like the recruiter was overly harsh in his response (there’s no need to announce to you that he’s blacklisting you from the company even if he is)

    I thought the person doing the blacklisting was the company, but I guess it’s the recruiter? That seems especially harsh, since as Ray Gillette said, the recruiter should have known about suitability for a position.

    Reply
  15. Hiring Mgr*

    On the reference, I would either ignore it, or tell the person that they should choose someone else.

    I wouldn’t give someone a poor reference (Alison’s third choice) just because they happened to list me as their manager. Why torpedo someone’s chance at employment, especially during this time?

    Reply
    1. MassMatt*

      I get wanting to be kind, but someone asking for references wants an honest assessment of the prospective employee before hiring them. The process is already skewed by the applicant’s ability to control who they get to talk to, *most* people are only giving good references to begin with.

      If no one says anything bad in a reference call and just doesn’t respond then we have very little room for real information, and simply forgetting to call back (or being too busy to, etc) might get equated with a bad reference.

      Reply
  16. Bex*

    I mean, it’s not a good look to try and circumvent or appeal the hiring process. But I’d take this as a lifesaver, honestly – I’ve worked startups before and people who get the “subordinate” stuff stuck in their head (as the recruiter seemed to convey) always ended up being a nightmare to work with/for. Startups especially (for better or worse) tend to eschew the rigid positioning you’ll see in other companies, and having a CEO who’s angry a subordinate contacted them does not bode well. Imagine if you get the job and then, in the course of your work, find something that needs to be escalated. How many people in chain of command have the CEO’s belief re subordinates and who they should and shouldn’t contact, how much trouble would it cause?

    Reply
    1. Filosofickle*

      I’m with you. Regardless of how we got to the end, that kind of reaction would tell me it’s not a good fit.

      Looking back on my career, I’m astonished that my early 20s self thought nothing of walking up to the president of the company in the hall and asking questions. (They were really small companies.) Knowing what I know now I’m even more astonished that they responded to me as a peer. But that’s always been who I am, so I seek flat hierarchies and cultures that welcome lots of questions and initiative.

      Reply
  17. Hiring Mgr*

    On #4, normally you wouldn’t have done this, but I don’t think this company really has the right to be too upset – they’re the ones who pulled an offer after all (or at least had second thoughts as an offer was about to be made)

    Tbh it sounds like the recruiter messed something up along the way here – how could it have gotten to the point of an offer if they thought you didn’t even meet the initial requirements??

    Reply
    1. Persephone Mulberry*

      “The CEO did not approve hiring someone with my professional background” – to me that sounds more like a weird, probably unspoken bias on the CEO’s part than the LW actually being unqualified for the job.

      Bullet dodged, indeed.

      Reply
      1. Jennifer Thneed*

        I agree about the bias, and I agree that if this was the issue it should have come up much sooner, but… was it true? It’s not a direct quote. The LW got it from the recruiter, who got it from someone else. The odds are very good that the recruiter put some of their own interpretation on it.

        And if it’s an external recruiter, it’s even more likely to be a paraphrase or misinterpretation because IME, the recruiter works with the candidate while the account manager works with the company, which means that the recruiter might never actually talk to the hiring manager.

        Reply
      2. Heidi*

        It’s difficult to know how to interpret this because the LW is hearing all of this from the recruiter. It’s possible that the actual reason for the withdrawal had nothing to do with the professional background and this was just something the recruiter decided to throw out there. We also only have the recruiter’s word that the CEO used the word “subordinate.” It’s totally possible that the CEO is being jerk about this. It’s also possible that the hiring process was disorganized and no one realized that there was some sort of exclusionary factor when they made the offer. Either way, I would classify this as a “live and learn” situation and hope that the LW doesn’t beat themselves up over this too much.

        Reply
    2. DiscoCat*

      This whole thing sounds like a CEO who is too important to bother about reqruiting processes, but then throws a wrench into an almost complete process. Not being involved in the day to day of hiring is a CEO’s prerogative, but completely disagreeing with something so far down the line smacks of miscommunication, and the whole “subordinate” language highlights rigid structures and narcissism. Bullet dodged, what kind of a toxic place that would be…

      Reply
  18. Mbarr*

    Oh man, the reference issue just happened to us! Except the problem student wanted a letter of recommendation (are these still things for applying to jobs?) and we’re like, “Umm, we’re ending your time with us because you weren’t doing your job adequately…” We ended up writing a set of facts about tasks they completed.

    Reply
  19. Stormy Weather*

    Disputed 82% of unemployment claims? My flabber is gasted.

    My first instinct says that he was able to successfully dispute these because the employees quit.

    Reply
    1. LQ*

      Successfully disputed.

      There’s a small chance that it was successful because the person only bothered to go after unemployment claims where they had a strong chance of winning (quitting, for example) but rarely after claims where they would be likely to lose (firing, layoff, etc). But I’ve seen other people claim something similar and it was never because they were very selective about deciding which ones to go after. I wouldn’t be surprised if this person disputed 100% of claims. Pff.

      Reply
    2. The Man, Becky Lynch*

      I know people who will swear to you that they’ve disputed 100% of their claims and won.

      It’s often a lie or they have a company where they have only ever fired someone for serious misconduct or they freeze someone out of a schedule and “they still work here!” kind of nonsense that’s how most retail operations play around with people’s lives.

      Reply
  20. Firecat*

    #4 While trying to circumvemt the process is never good, Id take it as a sign this is not a good fit. The phrase “subordinate like you” really stuck out to me. This is a place that views the independent contributors as lesser people. Plus having an offer rescinded because the CEO didnt meet with you after all the times you were supposed to meet didnt happen? This screams nightmare micromanagement to me.

    And honestly be glad they told you that you are blacklisted. I dont see that as harsh personally, its a blessing. Now you wont be wasting time applying to new roles or asking for next steps.

    Reply
    1. Jennifer Thneed*

      I think it was only one meeting that didn’t happen, and the LW didn’t say they got an offer, they said that the company “said they were ready to give me an offer and asked for references”.

      I also did not like that phrase “subordinate like you” *at all*, but again, we don’t know if that’s a direct quote from the CEO, from someone else at the company, or just how the recruiter put it. I’ve learned to be very very very careful when getting information second-hand. Most people paraphrase, and thereby accidentally inject their own bias or interpretation.

      Reply
  21. ceiswyn*

    Anyone else wondering whether in #4 the ‘professional background’ was actually an excuse for rejecting on the basis of the candidate’s race, gender, or another protected characteristic? That would explain the level of anger; people can get very defensive if they think they’re being called on doing something dodgy.

    Reply
    1. AP*

      Maybe, but there are definitely jobs out there where you’d want someone to have experience in X and/or Y before they try to take on Z.

      For example, a lot of people would say that to be a tech manager you need to have experience as a coder or in another tech-adjacent field. Others think that any good manager can lead programmers. Without getting into a debate on which side is correct, I don’t think it’s out-of-line to reject a candidate for tech manager job if their only professional experience was in HR or Accounting.

      Of course all this should have been decided up-front at the resume culling stage, not after an offer was made.

      Reply
    2. The Man, Becky Lynch*

      I’m not that cynical [yet].

      I can see that reaction without having anything regarding a protected class. I’ve had a lot of people disregard what kind of background is really necessary for some positions over the years.

      You should see some of the folks that were “hired” and given me to train for important accounting functions. “Well you learned from the ground up.” I sure did…but it’s not the norm and sure I tried…I tried really hard. But none of them ever worked out because they lacked the ability to self-sustain because their professional background was only in positions they were heavily monitored and trained with painfully specific telemarketing scripts.

      Reply
    3. Fake Old Converse Shoes (not in the US)*

      Well, I was dropped from consideration for “not dressing properly” once… In my defense, this was for a entry level position in IT (dress code? What’s a dress code?), and it didn’t make sense considering there were employees wearing ripped jeans!

      Reply
  22. k8*

    for #1, if she’s a student/this is early in her serious working career, maybe she just….doesn’t get that that’s not how references work? like, maybe she thinks a reference is just……someone you used to work for who can confirm you were there and aren’t lying or something?? she may just genuinely not realize why you’re not an appropriate reference– she did, after all, clearly think that cancelling shifts last minute without arranging for cover was appropriate at one time, so she may just be unaware of that kind of thing…..

    Reply
  23. MollyG*

    #4 The CEO blocked cancelled your interview with them and blocked your offer, ya, I think it was ok to e-mail them. You had nothing to lose, they already rejected you. Their overblown response shows that that would be a bad place to work anyhow. I do not like it when applicants are supposed to perfectly follow a list of unwritten rules while at the same time the companies get away with doing anything they want. It is a two way street.

    Reply
  24. Blisskrieg*

    I want to put in a plug for Relaxed Manager. I have a slightly different management style than others at my company. (I tend to be more academic (strong emphasis on training/education and less directive/more inspirational (I/D on DISC profile). I think some of my differences initially kept me from progressing into management. However, now that I’ve managed people for several years I get high marks for my leadership and have a highly functional team. I think it’s really important for most companies (probably not all, depending on the company) to embrace some differences in their leadership culture. Relaxed Manager, embrace your differences. As long as you are feel comfortably in charge and able to handle the difficult parts of management, having a calm demeanor could be a tremendous asset. Don’t feel pigeonholed into an idea of what management looks like.

    Reply
    1. RebelwithMouseyHair*

      Yes. A friend of mine was due for her annual review and feeling good because her team had exceeded all goals. But then was surprised not to get her bonus. She was told her management style was too soft, she didn’t yell at her reports enough. Yes, it was a heavily masculine field (parts manufacturer).
      She left and found a better paying job, still in a masculine field (DIY) but she was taken seriously because of her excellent track record at the previous place.

      Reply
      1. Blisskrieg*

        Good point–sometimes you can be doing everything right but just a little differently, an you have to find where that will be valued.

        Reply
  25. Anonymous at a University*

    Sometimes students and student employees just don’t have the experience or clarity to realize that someone doesn’t want to give them a reference. (Or, alternatively, they’re so new to the working world that they assume showing up and staring at the wall means they’re awesome). I think it’s worth trying to be clear to a student employee you fire or a student you won’t write a recommendation letter about why, if only so it doesn’t repeat.

    I supervised one work/study student who just seemed to go from one personal crisis to another; she was never at her designated tutoring hours because this week she broke up with her boyfriend, and the next week she had a fight with her mother, and the next week she had a disappointing date, and so on. All of this was a reason to not come to the job, because she was always “recovering.” I would have been willing to grant some time off for something like the break-up, but not the rest of it. She was the only work-study student I actually had to fire, and she asked me if she could use me as a reference and I said no. Then I got a call from an off-campus job she’d applied for asking about her. I was honest and said she had issues with attendance, but didn’t go into why. I don’t know if she got the job or not, but afterwards I wondered, in spite of my telling her, “I cannot keep you in this position because you are almost never here and doing the work you’re supposed to,” she didn’t realize that the attendance was a problem.

    Reply
    1. Something Something Whomp Whomp*

      Did this employee actually tell you about the personal crises as an explanation for not working their shift…? I mean, boundaries. The break-up, maaaaaaybe okay, but otherwise, holy boundaries Batman.

      Reply
      1. Anonymous At a University*

        Yes. It was a very small college that unfortunately had a lot of nepotism going on- faculty, students, staff hiring, you name it- so this kind of boundary-crossing happened a ton. The student was also one of a very few upper-level students in the major I taught, so I knew her better than others, and felt able to ask, “What’s going on?” I still didn’t expect to get a list of personal crises, though! I expected to have her tell me she was no longer happy with the tutoring job or needed to switch her hours.

        The process of firing her took much longer than it should have and in the end probably only happened because she lied to the person in charge of work-study student jobs about me “denying” her hours and that person reached out to me to confirm the truth. (Never lie on a small campus, it gets found out). It was a dysfunctional place that for all the nepotism did not treat its students well and I am glad I no longer work there.

        Reply
  26. OtterB*

    Re LW#5 the internal hire. Depends on the organization, but not interviewing an internal candidate can send the message “we want you in your current position and therefore are unwilling to let you advance.”

    Reply
    1. Seal*

      It also sends a very clear message to other staff members about how you would treat them if they apply for an internal position.

      Reply
      1. Firecat*

        Yep. I applied to a role internally and was ignored for a year. Never bothered to respond to my emails or anything. Anyone who asked about applying to that team I let them know my experience.

        They were never able to fill the role and my understanding is that they also had trouble replenishing attrition. You get what you sow.

        Reply
    2. Stelmselms*

      On the other hand, a “courtesy” interview is often not really a courtesy to either party. It gets the applicant’s hopes up and could make the employer look bad for not hiring an internal candidate. Instead, it might be helpful for the employer/hiring manager to explain why the employee will not be receiving an interview, i.e. need x more years in this area, missing x experience, etc. and then a conversation could occur where that employee could potentially be given that experience so the next time a position comes open either within or outside their organization, they are well-positioned to apply.

      Reply
      1. Firecat*

        While I agree courtesy interviews arent always the way to go, I think it is important to at least meet with internal applicants to provide feedback if you want to foster an image of veing willing to promote from within.

        They dont have to be interviewed, but they shouldnt be rejected by a bot either.

        Reply
  27. Theory of Eeveelution*

    Ok, I’m going to offer myself up to the AAM commenter gallows and disagree with the advice given to #1, the student employee asking for a reference. (I’m making an assumption here on something that wasn’t directly confirmed by the OP: that the person asking for a reference was, in fact, a student employee at a university.)

    Give the student a neutral reference. College is a really, really difficult time for a lot of people. You don’t know what was happening behind the scenes, and the fact that this student’s attendance was good for the first year and then dropped off is a sign to me that something could have been happening in her personal or academic life that was affecting her at work. She could have been cut off by her parents. She could have been struggling with mental health issues. She could have been struggling with being independent for the first time in her life, or, alternately, she could have been dealing with overbearing parents who were meddling in her academics. You just don’t know, and she is/was young enough and inexperienced enough that you give her the benefit of the doubt, and refrain from wrecking the beginning of her professional life.

    And maybe none of these scenarios is the case! But it’s better to err on the side of empathy than to doom a young person just out of school to unemployment.

    And honestly, she doesn’t sound like a “terrible” employee if the worst thing she did was not do anything unless asked. This very well could have been her first job, ever. And honestly? I’ve worked with grown-ass adults in senior white collar jobs who don’t do anything unless asked. They’re the ones who have kept their jobs during this pandemic!

    Reply
    1. Anonymous at a University*

      I think not replying to it essentially is a neutral reference. If the OP really had nothing positive to say about her, then by saying nothing they’re not spreading the negative ones, either.

      And I think a lot would hang on “did not do anything unless asked.” If she just didn’t take initiative, that’s different than if she was literally sitting in a chair and doing nothing like answering the phone, or filing, or whatever other tasks she’d been assigned. The first I could overlook in a lot of positions, the second would get student employees any place I’ve worked fired.

      Reply
      1. The Man, Becky Lynch*

        I don’t agree. I think that no response is an automatic negative reference but it saves you from the fact that many people worry about being sued for a negative reference.

        A neutral reference is answering with the truth. A bad reference isn’t “She wasn’t a good fit for what we need in that position.” a bad reference is linked to being untrustworthy or careless or otherwise problematic that someone should avoid at all costs. You don’t know the job they’re applying for in the end and the team that is required to do it, that’s up the to reference seeker to know and craft their questions to sniff out if they’d fit into your position or not.

        I’ve got jobs for people who need pointed directions and what can be deemed as handholding. Heck I’ve job that’s require that kind of personality even! I need to know if they take direction and follow through with them, it’s okay that they need to be told “Hey go answer that phone today.”

        Then I have jobs that I need them to work independently and take initiative.

        I have jobs that attendance is critical. I have jobs that if you aren’t here once a week or are late every day, it’s really not an issue.

        Reply
    2. Anonymous Hippo*

      Sorry, but there is no way I could give an untruthful reference. I could not give one, possibly, I could give a negative one and caveat it (I did that recently with someone who applied at my company, I gave a honest review of how she performed at the job, but did also mention things that could have contributed to her acting that way), but I would not give a dishonest one. Giving a reference is part and parcel of your own reputation, and I would not tarnish my own reputation in that fashion.

      The time for kindness and helping people learn how to behave in a job is when they work for you. If you have determined they can’t work for you, then foisting them off on someone else on the off-chance they’ve learned their lesson isn’t fair to the people asking for the reference.

      Reply
      1. Bostonian*

        Yeah, this is where I am. I think the kind AND honest thing to do is just not provide any reference.

        Reply
    3. Anonym*

      You can always confirm the person’s title and dates of employment. No opinion, no details, but confirmation that they didn’t lie about working for you.

      Reply
      1. Pommette!*

        I don’t think that OP should lie to cover up the employee’s flaws. But if giving the truthful minimum is an option, doing so may be a kindness. For some people and some reference check processes, that information will actually be enough. If the ex-employee is in a bind, that could make all the difference, without jeopardizing truth.

        Reply
    4. Metadata minion*

      Yeah, I get reference-checks for student employees and except in the rare instances we’ve had where someone was truly insubordinate or dishonest, I try to give them as good a reference as I can. I’ve sometimes had phone calls out of the blue (hi, hiring people, please don’t do this!) and if I’m asked point-blank about attendance I might say something like “Well, NAME did struggle a bit with attendance, but all our student employees are juggling work, classes, and extracurricular, so I don’t think I have a good idea of what they’re able to do when they’re able to make the job their first priority”. On the “would you rehire this person?” I can neatly dodge that by saying that we can only hire current students and so any graduate is ineligible for rehire, even if we were kind of relieved that this person graduated. (Unless of course the person was awesome, in which case I’ll say “Technically no, since it’s only open to current students, but I wish we could keep NAME forever!”)

      Reply
      1. Something Something Whomp Whomp*

        “I don’t think I have a good idea of what they’re able to do when they’re able to make the job their first priority” is such an articulate and compassionate response. And true, because no one, including even the student, has any real experience with their job performance in a situation where they are able to make it their first priority.

        Reply
  28. AdAgencyChick*

    Good ol’ Dunning-Kruger! Despite being told she wasn’t being hired back because of unreliability, this ex-employee probably thinks she did a fine job and of course OP is going to say nice things about her.

    Since this is an older letter — OP, are you around and if so, what did you end up doing?

    Reply
  29. Anhaga*

    RE: #2– my thoughts on that one are that the writer could intuit that there’s at least one person on the team who feels like they’re not getting what they need from the writer. It could be worth a follow-up survey question (not anonymous) to the entire team asking them if there are any areas where they’d like more interaction/support from their manager. Having some specific feedback like that could help the writer to get a better sense of what each team member needs, and that might in turn alleviate some of the worries of the team member who feels the manager is too relaxed.

    Reply
  30. Anonymous Hippo*

    On #4. I totally get that contacting the CEO like that was kind of out there and weird. However, IMO, that CEO sounds like a prick, and I wouldn’t want to work for him anyway. Despite the email being a little odd, I think if your hiring is directly being handled by the CEO, then you speaking to them directly isn’t enough of an overreach for this kind of response. Not like she was interviewing for the mailroom, got rejected, and then reached out to the CEO. She was directly rejected by the CEO, and reached out to him. Odd, but not catastrophic.

    Reply
  31. Night of the Living History*

    I just got a call today for an employment verification. As we don’t have on-site HR, these kinda freak me out. I always err on the side of giving the minimum of information and just answer the questions, as I know there’s only so much info we can give (dates, titles, tasks, rehiribliaty and reason for termination ONLY is my understanding).

    I gave the (corrected) dates of employment, spoke to the person’s rehirablity but then they asked if there were “any workplace safety concerns”. This seemed unusual so I just said “They were terminated for reasons related to workplace safety,” which was awkwardly worded but true. I didn’t want to get into the details. I understand you can say why someone was terminated so I feel in the clear but that question seemed outside the norm.

    This person really messed up here and was not rehirable, but it feels sucky that this should follow them around.

    Reply
  32. Ankle Grooni*

    I work in a human resources office in a college. Unless a student has personally requested the reference from the supervisor, any requests for verification of employment needs to be handled by HR. If a screening company sends a verification of employment to a supervisor, they always need to forward it to HR.
    First of all– student employment is considered part of a student’s academic record and is protected by the Federal Education Rights and Privacy Act. We have to be careful what information is released. Second– we will only provide dates and title. We do not release any information about work performance. We usually leave those lines blank or write n/c.
    This is the same policy for any employment verification, student or otherwise.

    Reply
  33. I'm just here for the cats!*

    I’m regards to the reference. I wonder if the employee had to put her last manager. I’ve applied for jobs and the application would not let me continue unless input contact I do for my past managers.
    Or maybe there

    Reply
    1. I'm just here for the cats!*

      Oops hit submit to soon! Maybe the employee was confused and thought that she should include contact I do for her past jobs but put it i the reference section. Or maybe she doesn’t understand how references work. It sounds like she was a student employee so she might not understand.

      Reply
  34. Sola Lingua Bona Lingua Mortua Est*

    You fired her. That ended your responsibility to punish her.

    Confirm the dates, but don’t go any farther than that. The last thing we need is another permanently unemployable person with no chance for redemption.

    Reply
    1. RebelwithMouseyHair*

      If she’s permanently unemployable, it’s because she doesn’t do anything unless she’s told, not because of OP. If you want people to be employable, they have to actually do some work.

      Reply
  35. stiveee*

    Slightly off topic but I always wonder about managers who expect employees to find their own coverage when they’re sick. Sounds like OP1’s situation was different, but I’m talking about when people legit need to be out. Like if they’re not buddies with their coworkers they’re just screwed?

    Reply
    1. Sola Lingua Bona Lingua Mortua Est*

      In theory, the employee just can’t call off. In practice, the employee does anyway, gets reprimanded, fired or quits, and unpopular employees are weeded out without the managers’ hands getting dirty.

      Reply
  36. Startup fan*

    I don’t think LW4 did anything wrong.
    (1) This is a small startup, not a mid-size company. Startup CEOs do not get to cloister themselves from the rank-and-file the way that Fortune 500 CEOs might.
    (2) The company had already turned her down; so what did she have to lose by contacting the CEO? She’s no worse off than if she had done nothing. And I once did get a very good job by “appealing” a rejection.

    Reply
  37. Batgirl*

    OP1, she does indeed sound unreliable but I’m incredibly puzzled by “would cancel her shifts at the last minute, not making an effort to find a replacement.”
    I’ve never heard of a student job where people can choose if and when they want to work? Either you’re sick (which isn’t cancelling and you wouldn’t be on the hook for covering yourself) or you’re flaking, which I would expect to be on the spot firing? That’s gross misconduct anywhere I’ve worked. Or maybe it’s an enlightened flexibility which she abused?
    Is it possible this unreliability was based on misunderstanding the flexibility somehow?

    Reply
    1. Night of the Living History*

      When I worked in retail, I had to find coverage whenever I couldn’t work, even if I was sick.

      Reply
  38. Gumby*

    For #3, I am choosing to believe that “Successfully disputed over 82% of unemployment claims” was poor phrasing for “Of the unemployment claims that were disputed, we were successful 82% of the time.”

    So say there were 100 people laid off during the HR person’s tenure at that job, 11 had been fired for cause and their cases were disputed (but the other 89 cases *were not* disputed), and of those 11, 9 were denied unemployment because the cause was clear-cut enough that it was disqualifying for unemployment.

    So the brag is a combination of “discerning about which cases to dispute” and “do the work to document things thoroughly.”

    I’m choosing this because, first of all, it makes me feel better about humanity. But also, it seems really unlikely that any average company could honestly dispute 82% of all unemployment claims ever. They’d have to do something to really skew either the number of people let go (not lay off anyone ever, avoid firing anyone for any reason unless crimes are committed basically) or have a workforce prone to egregious behavior. It’s possible, but seems less likely to me.

    Reply
  39. Adultiest Adult*

    Student jobs often have the same kind of flexibility built in as certain retail, fast food or other entry level work. When I hired for a student job, I literally needed a butt in the seat. If you weren’t going to be in, but traded with another employee to cover their shift, I just asked for an email heads-up for the change, and there was no net impact to me as the boss or the job. Cancelling frequently with no replacement was a much bigger problem, because I ended up having to scramble to fill that seat–or having to pay someone OT, or having to pay a more senior person a lot more per hour to make photocopies, or doing those tasks myself. I suspect that’s the issue the OP is getting at when talking about cancelling without finding a replacement.

    Reply
    1. Something Something Whomp Whomp*

      …except that the net impact sometimes comes in the form of having your integrity and/or time management questioned. Of course it’s more of an issue when it comes to no-shows or calling out with no replacement, but in student jobs like what you’re describing, I remember getting lectured about needing to be honest with myself about how I prioritized my job and managed my time around my shifts when I was asking for a lot of shift trades.

      Reply
    2. stiveee*

      Honestly, finding replacements for employees who will be out is the manager’s responsibility. I think having the flexibility to trade shifts is good in theory but will disproportionately impact certain employees. People SHOULD call out when they’re sick. If they abuse sick time, that’s a separate conversation.

      Reply
  40. Sharkzle*

    #4 I would implore the LW and Alison to find an alternate word to “blacklist”. While “blacklist” and “whitelist” are not overtly racist terms, they do imply black=bad and white=good. We can do better and we can be more supportive. I get it, they’re industry standard words in some instances. That doesn’t mean they have to stay that way. Yes, there are bigger battles to be won to support BIPOC and ensure equity, but we can start by recognizing how even some of our everyday language can be hurtful and further disparage entire communities. “Blocklist” would be a great replacement as a starter. Anyone else have other ideas?

    Reply
    1. Anonymous Capybara*

      One of the commenting rules here is that we don’t nitpick word choice and neither of these words are racist or remotely racial in origin. There are lots of other terms in our everyday lexicon that *are* racist and should be eliminated and that’s where the focus should be. No need to invent oppression where it doesn’t exist.

      Reply
  41. Don’t Think About a Cat*

    I got a reference call for a former employee a few years ago. She’d been a problem employee, and had left under a cloud, so I took the call out of curiosity. The employee had lied on nearly every point of her time with us: job title, length of employment, salary, reason for leaving. It got funny after a while, She’d just hoped they wouldn’t check, or that I’d be too busy, I guess.

    I’ve checked references on every single applicant since then.

    Reply
  42. florp*

    I was recently in this situation- a former direct report put my contact info down at several places without asking me. This was while she was still working for my organization! It was a bit awkward because she didn’t even ask me first, and this is a professional academic in her thirties, not a kid. It was doubly awkward when I received an email from one place she’d applied to that just asked me to tick “recommend” or “don’t recommend” and, when I asked her about it, she said “Is that really the only place that contacted you? I applied for ten different jobs!”

    Sometimes I just get tired, y’all. People be crazy.

    Reply

Leave a Comment

Before you comment: Please be kind, stay on-topic, and follow the site's commenting rules.
You can report an ad, tech, or typo issue here.

Subscribe to all comments on this post by RSS