The Reference Letter Redux

Brian Revisits an Earlier BlogBelieve it or not, I read the comments that many of you post to my blogs. I read them all.

Brian Revisits an Earlier Blog

Believe it or not, I read the comments that many of you post to my blogs. I read them all. When I covered the Satyam saga, layoff rumors and other topics, the topics generated a lot of comments. However, few comments really zero in on me – they are focused on the subject matter.

Apparently, this week’s post on social network reference letters really hit a nerve with a few of you. Your comments and a couple of emails to me made me revisit that post. When I re-read this post, I realized I wrote it very much from the perspective of an employer or HR litigator and not from an employee or job seeker’s perspective. My lack of focus on the latter was an oversight and not intended as a slight.

Herewith is my other view of the reference letter issue.

SHOULD YOU WRITE SOMEONE A FAVORABLE REFERENCE ON A SOCIAL NETWORKING SITE?

In a great many cases, YES. Chances are, the person asking you for the reference already suspects that you are favorably inclined to do so as your work has probably been noticed and appreciated by this person.

References on these sites don’t quite carry the same weight and gravitas as those written on company letterhead but they could tip the scale in some applicant’s favor for that oh so critical job opening.

The lack of references on some social networks means many potential applicants will never get past some automated screening bot in a faceless piece of recruiting software. Is this fair? No. But, it is the way the system works.

SHOULD I WRITE A REFERENCE FOR SOMEONE WHO WAS FIRED?

I believe it’s perfectly acceptable in some cases. For example, I know one particularly wretched individual who was promoted to a position of authority within a firm. Many people who worked for this maniac were randomly fired – not for performance reasons but because they either outshined or challenged this bad boss. I’ve written many referrals for some of these staff as I have had direct exposure to them and their work products.

I knew two things about these people. First, they didn’t deserve to get the boss they got or the career ending decision he gave them. Second, they were good people who needed a hand getting back into the work force. I was more than happy to help. The best revenge I could think of for their old sadist of a boss was to help his old staff get better jobs and have better careers elsewhere.

However, in the situation where the employee did someone really wrong (e.g., commit fraud), I will not write a recommendation.

SHOULD THIS REFERENCE BE THE TRUTH OR A STRETCHED VERSION OF THE TRUTH?

In all cases, the reference should be the absolute truth. If anyone ever challenges the veracity of your word or the work of the person you’ve recommended, the truth will protect you and the person you referred.

WHAT MAKES A GOOD REFERENCE?

A reference that’s all gushy and non-specific is of little value to employers. They read like beauty contest answers (e.g., “I’d like to solve world hunger”).

Great references put the applicant in context. Don’t just say someone’s great at sales. Get specific. Are they a good sales prospector, closer, deal shaper, etc.? Can they sell as well as work in a team? Are customers really connected to this sales person? The better the context, the better the reference.

GREAT REFERENCES ARE LONG-TERM WORKS-IN-PROGRESS

Everyone needs to approach their job, their colleagues and their bosses as prospective references. In any job situation, not all of these will be reference-able. As I mentioned earlier, some bosses will never be references for anyone. But, colleagues and others can be.

How do you get good references? You have to: - do the work - get recognized as the key to the work’s completion/success

How do you get great references? You have to: - deliver better than average work - distinguish yourself - make a difference

THERE ARE REFERENCES AND THERE ARE REFERENCES THAT COUNT

I’d encourage everyone to think about their dream references. I’d much rather have well known and well-respected people as references. But, more importantly, I’d want real, genuine references from people who have seen me work, appreciated my efforts/thinking and would want to have me work with them again. If they say something like that in writing, in a paper-based old-school reference or on a social network like LinkedIn, I’m delighted.

BOTTOM LINE: I hope everyone who deserves a good reference gets one. And, I hope when a deserving individual asks you for one, you’ll take the time and write a really special, unique and genuine one.