Watch that reference you write on LinkedIn and other sites

Watch that reference you write on LinkedIn and other sites

Summary: No good deed goes unpunishedI get requests from time to time to post a referral for someone on LinkedIn. Apparently, headhunters and recruiters like to see these especially for sales professionals.

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TOPICS: Legal
9

No good deed goes unpunished

I get requests from time to time to post a referral for someone on LinkedIn. Apparently, headhunters and recruiters like to see these especially for sales professionals. I’ve done a couple and demurred from doing so on others.

BusinessWeek alerted its readers to exercise caution when doing so. In effect, these are scenarios you do not want to get into:

- Suppose you have an employee that has recently left and they ask you for a LinkedIn reference. If this was a marginal employee, the former employee could use your reference as evidence that they were wrongly dismissed or entitled to a better severance, etc.

- Suppose you asked a poor performer to leave the firm and they asked you for a reference on a social network. That person could also use your online remarks to eviscerate any justification you had for past poor performance. Seriously, how could someone have been as glowing as you made them out to be on the online website yet get such poor reviews at work.

- Apparently, employment lawyers get real nervous if you write these referrals to actively employed subordinates. Think about this folks! If they are a great person, why are they in need of this referral? Are they about to leave your firm? If they’re not so hot, they’re making it harder for you to discipline or fire them. Maybe, just maybe, they’re preparing for that rumored layoff or firing and they want all the ammo they can get for their future employment litigation/claim. None of these scenarios sound like win/win to me.

When people ask you for these referrals, ask yourself this: What do I get from this? If all you get is a nervous feeling in your gut, an increased risk of litigation and a writing homework assignment, then run away from this request.

There are other equally troubling scenarios. For example:

- Suppose a colleague (or several colleagues) writes a referral on a terminated employee. Could those referrals be used as a basis for the terminated employee to appeal a denial for unemployment compensation?

- Suppose you write an online referral for someone and another firm relies on your referral as part of its employment process. Are you now liable, even partially, if the referred person turns out to be violent, harmful, a thief, etc.?

Referrals speak volumes about the person being referred as well as the person writing the referral. When you write a referral you are extending your personal brand to the other person. They can either enhance or detract from your brand. Write referrals carefully and decide carefully whether you wish to do them at all.

Personally, I won’t write a referral for someone that I barely know. If you don’t make the effort to get to know me, why would you think I could or would write a referral for you? I won’t extend my brand, such as it is, to liars, cheats, the immoral, the reprehensible, those of questionable character, etc. I see people fall into three buckets: good, bad and just don’t know. If you’re good, I’ll write the referral, gladly and freely. Otherwise, I’ll wish you luck and leave it at that.

But, whatever you do, try to avoid writing the gag-inducing ever-neutral kind of reference that HR wants you to do. You know the one that simply reiterates an employee’s name, rank, serial number and employment term. That type of reference can do more harm than good. As an employer, I look at these referrals as artful dodging. The other party has knowledge that they possess but will not/cannot share. Alternatively, it shows me that the interviewee was so unspectacular that no one at a past employer is willing to step up and recommend them. I don’t need those potential sub-par employees and their non-reference or absent reference is the key clue I need to pass on them.

Topic: Legal

About

Brian is currently CEO of TechVentive, a strategy consultancy serving technology providers and other firms. He is also a research analyst with Vital Analysis.

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9 comments
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  • Ridiculous !!!

    People is US are exploiting laws to such an
    extend that everything is loosing its real
    purpose....I wonder one day they will sue each
    other because they r breathing air in each
    other's neighborhood. How about adding
    declaimer before adding referral....
    hijaggu@...
  • Employers and employees.

    Lemme put it this way:

    -If employees are so steamed they truly want to write a rebuttal to your "reasons" for firing them, they'll just use Facebook. And these days, guess what? Potential employers are very often reading Facebook before hiring.

    -If your reasons are easily rebutted, maybe it's time to rethink your reasons for laying off / firing your employees.

    -Always, always keep your intentions and reasons clear. Transparency and honesty are the best ways to deal with rumors.

    As always, keep communication open with your employees. Don't create an environment where employees are afraid to express their doubts and concerns about your business. Maybe you'll find something in your business truly needs improvement.

    "If they are a great person, why are they in need of this referral? Are they about to leave your firm?"

    Maybe. Ask them. I left to continue my education. My former employer will gladly rehire me. And if they don't, I have my options open for working elsewhere.

    Sometimes your business isn't the top business, or your business may have some low wage positions. It's not unusual for people to be dissatisfied with their salary and wish to work elsewhere.

    "If they?re not so hot, they?re making it harder for you to discipline or fire them."

    Should a person be punished if they recognize they're under performing and want to leave gracefully?

    If they're not so hot, then do you really have to take away all their chances of working elsewhere?

    "Maybe, just maybe, they?re preparing for that rumored layoff or firing and they want all the ammo they can get for their future employment litigation/claim."

    Easy: This is a perfect time to communicate to your employees. If there might be layoffs, tell them so, and do it upfront and honestly. If there is no possibility of layoffs, then tell them so.

    If you are still deciding, then tell them you are deciding that that the idea is on the table.

    If your hands are tied by somebody higher than you, then for crying out loud say so! You're far less likely to be the result of somebody's anger if they realize it wasn't your decision.

    "None of these scenarios sound like win/win to me."

    Being scared of your employees is inherently lose/lose. You lose because what they might do is real. They lose because "I got fired" never looks good on a resume.

    Transparency and honesty go a long ways towards finding the right win/win solution for both yourself and your employees.

    "I won?t extend my brand, such as it is, to liars, cheats, the immoral, the reprehensible, those of questionable character, etc."

    Agreed.

    Although *sometimes* you should be careful with the word "character." I've found that different people have different definitions of that word. Make your expectations very clear, and make your business's ethics policy very clear as well.

    There's nothing more saddening to me than to see two people fight over something that was never quite clear from the beginning. It can be very difficult to work in a workplace with unclear policies, or with a lot of implied but never spoken/written guidelines.

    "Alternatively, it shows me that the interviewee was so unspectacular that no one at a past employer is willing to step up and recommend them."

    I find that unfair and judgmental. Perhaps it's the former employer that is unspectacular, and the employee is trying to find a great business like yours to work for ;). I know a lot of businesses that will just template everything no matter what.

    Or, in my case, as a student I just haven't had time to build up very many references.

    Sometimes, you should just give somebody the benefit of the doubt. It's just common sense that people you help are more likely to help you in the future.
    CobraA1
  • Misleading! "Social Media" article to mention "Social Media"

    Beyond the idiots who game the system (who you wouldn't write a review for anyway), there's absolutely no reason beyond fear-mongering over social media not to write someone a glowing review on social media or elsewhere.

    You can get denied unemployment for ANYTHING these days - it's not fair to say, "uh... well, I don't want you to fight the unemployment denial... so, no referral for you."

    If they were a good employee, they deserve unemployment. No stupid corporate game playing.

    Utter hogwash. If they were bad employees, you wouldn't be writing them a recommendation.

    You should be ashamed Brian Sommer.

    -Nick Armstrong
    PsychoticResumes.com
    NickArmstrong
  • Buddy Me http://www.buddymii.com requires references too

    Hmm... references from people might be good but can also be abused too.

    http://www.buddymii.com
    kiazhi@...
  • Why ever would you...

    write a referral for someone whom you do not know! I am referring to this paragraph of yours.

    [i]Personally, I won?t write a referral for someone that I barely know. If you don?t make the effort to get to know me, why would you think I could or would write a referral for you? I won?t extend my brand, such as it is, to liars, cheats, the immoral, the reprehensible, those of questionable character, etc. I see people fall into three buckets: good, bad and just don?t know. If you?re good, I?ll write the referral, gladly and freely. Otherwise, I?ll wish you luck and leave it at that.[/i]
    Arun (sreearun)
  • RE: Watch that reference you write on LinkedIn and other sites

    I love the references on LinkedIn. Normally you have 2-3 references for a job, but now employers can see all sorts of little tidbits about you before you even get interviewed. This is a huge plus. I don't mind giving them for folks I have worked with when I feel good about them. I haven't really been asked to give them for people I can not recommend. Its also great for networking. People really appreciate when you proactively give them a good reference and usually return the favor. I wouldn't ask anyone I currently worked with for a reference since that does make it look like you are actively looking. However, i work in a client service business so having references from clients and colleagues is helpful to winning new clients.
    rbectel@...
  • RE: Watch that reference you write on LinkedIn and other sites

    Also before writing referrals on any social network, be sure to review your current employers rules regarding giving referrals. Many specifically state that requests for employee information and referals must be forwarded to the Human Resources Dept. Generally companies only give out employment verification. Be careful or you could be the one looking for work!
    paldino_z
  • RE: Watch that reference you write on LinkedIn and other sites

    Nicely written! LinkedIn will soon become the most
    effective way of building your professional career and
    creating a personal brand. However, one will have to
    invest time in learning the effectiveness of this site
    and ways to use it properly.

    By the way, I am new to LinkedIn and have found this
    resource quite useful. It is a new book called "How to
    REALLY use LinkedIn" by networking expert Jan
    Vermeiren. Check it out, you can find a free lite
    version at <a href="http://www.how-to-really-use-
    linkedin.com/">http://www.how-to-really-use-
    linkedin.com/</a>
    nikhil.vaswani
  • What about the active trade in references?

    An interesting article. There is a definite problem with the references capability on LinkedIn, even if you only believe that the ease with which they are requested and given devalues them.

    But I believe there is also, in effect, an active trade in references on LinkedIn and other sites, where everyone knows it enhances your reputation to have great references so offer them to the others on the basis of getting one back.

    On another site away from LinkedIn, I was "friended" by someone I don't know, who within seconds gave me a fantastic reference crowing about my expertise and generoisity with my time and knowledge. They asked for one back and I pointed out I didn't know them well enough to offer it, to which they replied "oh don't worry about that, none of my other references are from people I know either"! This guys had hundreds of worthless recommendations, but how was anyone to know?

    On WeCanDo.BIZ, we only allow a customer to endorse a business professional. No other relationship has the ability. This ensures that other potential customers can feel comfortable that they aren't just reading mutual backslaps.

    Ian Hendry
    CEO, WeCanDo.BIZ
    http://www.wecando.biz
    ianhendry