On Writing Employment References …

Last week I got asked to provide a reference for a friend who I used to work with and, perhaps, don’t get to see as much as I would like to. I have no problem giving him the reference. From the sound of it the job he is after is right up his street and I know he will throw himself into it in a way that he’ll be great at it. I have no doubt he will be an asset to the company that’s looking to employ him. I just have one issue and that’s the reference questionnaire I was asked to fill in. It has some pretty standard questions asking how long I had know him and in what capacity. Then it also asked me to state his strengths (ok, no problem) but then asks me for his weaknesses and a number of other questions that encourage me to rank the individual (although on what sort of scale I am not told).

And therein was the problem. If I were representing his current employer (and I am not) I would have to be careful as, under UK law (if I am not mistaken) an employer providing a reference to a prospective employer owes a duty of care to the employee and criticisms can be taken as libel etc. or, at the very least, leave you open to damages. Now, I appreciate this is more of a personal reference but that’s not the point. There was so much I was being asked to fill in that I was beginning to think that the company in question could not trust their own judgement in any way as to his character.

The thing is I had nothing negative to say. I am certain we could all say something negative about everybody we know. You know, we could find some small personal trait that irritated but it’s not relevant in this case. When I worked with him he was diligent and performed as you would expect. So, I didn’t answer the question.

And, of course, by not answering the question there is a perspective employer who is wondering what I left out. I didn’t leave anything out I just had nothing to say in that box that I thought anywhere near relevant to the reference I was writing. Reference-reading is all about the unsaid not the said.

So, what should I have done?

On this day…

  • 2003: Call God Now — Ah, I’ve always wondered who had the hotline to God and it turns out that it’s a man in Salford: [...]