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Thursday, January 14, 2010

current employer won't give me a reference

A reader writes:

The company I work for has a no-reference policy. From what I can gather, it's because the managers I work for aren't permitted to speak about my performance on behalf of their area managers.

I have worked for the company for 2.5 yrs and have performed well, risen to supervisor, and have received prizes for doing so. However, I didn't finish high school and have wanted to get more qualifications.

I asked my managers if they could write me a reference for my college application, and they said they'd write a character one. I brought in the form and they informed me they couldn't write that as head office told them it would be in breach of the aforementioned reference policy (it took them two weeks to inform me of that). I then asked what they could do within those parameters. They then told me they could give me a reference that was very basic, giving details of how much I'm paid, how many hours I'm contracted for and title within the company etc. Three weeks after I handed them my college application and they have put it off for ages despite me being on their case all the time to ask them to get it done.

I have contacted them outside of work hours asking about it, and they've told me that they're still writing it "off their own backs" and have implied that I should be grateful they're doing it at all. On top of it all, because of all their delays and recent snow I haven't been able to contact the University about the problem.

Am I asking too much of my employer? Are they within their rights not to right me a reference at all, even a basic one?

I'm one of the longest serving members of staff and feel I deserve more.

Are they within their rights? Sure. Is something else going on here? Yes.

That something else is one of two things:

1. They don't feel they could honestly give you a good reference, and they're too weak to come out and tell you that.


2. They're rude/inconsiderate/lazy/jerks/all of the above.

If they felt they couldn't give you a good reference, they should have just explained that and not jerked you around. And what's this business about saying they'd give you a "character reference" rather than a performance reference and then not even coming through with that?

At this point, I would give up on getting a reference from them and find a way to complete your application without them. Even if they come through with the bare bones reference they're not promising (pay, hours, and title), I don't think that's something likely to be useful for a college application anyway.

I would also start seriously questioning what kind of people you might be working for, and feeling good about the fact that you're on your way out of there.


Anonymous said...

Because of snow you can't pick up a phone and call someone at the university? Or send an e-mail to the admissions office?

Something's rotten in the state of Denmark.

Interviewer said...

Anon, depending on the snow and ice situation on campus, the university may be closed. Several school systems in my state were closed for an entire week due to heavy ice and extreme cold.

Reference letters from a current employer who is unwilling to write one isn't necessary. Also, if someone is unwilling to give you one, then you don't want that person to write you one. Find someone else. Summer job, volunteer organization, church, sports team coach - anyone else will do. Give up on your current employer and move on.

Alternately, is there someone you worked for in that 2.5 years that has left the company that you could ask to write a reference?

Anonymous said...

It could also be that they feel you deserve a good reference, but they don't know how to write one or they have issues with procrastination. Some very busy former bosses have asked me to draft my own letter of reference and then they would make any changes and sign it. I love it because it gives me the chance to emphasize the most relevant skills for the job I'm applying for and to include accomplishments they may have forgotten about. They have always made changes and put things in their own words, but they come through much more quickly when they don't have to start the letter from scratch.

Would it be out of line in the future to offer up a list of your accomplishments to make it easy for them?

Anonymous said...

For what it's worth, and I write a lot of reference letters for colleges, I always ask for a "reference resume" with achievements, employment, volunteer work, awards, etc. on it--then I can write a better character reference. This isn't exactly the problem here, but in general for these types of letters...

Anonymous said...

It's my letter and yes, the university was closed due to snow. Thanks very much for everyones feed back i appreciate it immensely.
Also for anyone interested the date passed and I missed it and can't go to that university this term. However I've decided to do an open degree at the Open University and am looking for a job where my bosses and managers know how to run a buisness.

Anonymous said...

I am currently working on obtaining recommendations for graduate school applications. The things I have noticed from this post are:

--EVERYONE has the right to decline to write a recommendation for any reason. For all of my recommenders, I reiterated that they were free to decline my request for any reason, no questions asked. I do not want them to feel pressured--a half-baked recommendation does me no good. The entitled attitude of the author is likely not helping their case.

--Three weeks isn't that much time. My application isn't due for three MONTHS and I've already made my requests. A year ago I needed written recommendations for a professional exam I took and gave everyone two months, and barely got them back in time. Working people just have more important things--i.e., profitable things--to do than write recommendation letters.

--Even a willing HR department would likely have difficulty providing a recommendation about someone's intellectual capacity, maturity, communication skills, motivation to complete the program, etc.--the things colleges are usually looking for. There are much much better sources for recommendations.

As an anonymous poster above mentioned, I have provided all of my recommenders 'talking points'--reminders about my experience, qualifications, and accomplishments, as well as a brief description of my planned course of study. College recommendations are harder than job recommendations, I think. For a job recommendation, a reference merely has to answer an employer's questions. College recommendations are open-ended essays. It helps to give the person writing them a little help.

Ask a Manager said...

I definitely agree that anyone has the right to decline to write a recommendation for any reason, but they should tell the person that, not string them along.

Marika said...

I just told my current supervisor that I have another offer. He asked what the offer was, and I told him. Is it unlawful for him to want to see the offer letter from the other company?

Ask a Manager said...

Marika, it's not illegal. You also don't need to agree to show it to him. The law doesn't touch on this either way.