Aside

If you have nothing nice to say…

Have you ever been asked by a former co-worker to speak about them to a potential employer? I think it’s an honour to be asked to be a reference because I feel it demonstrates they think highly of me and our work together. In fact, I was recently asked by an old co-worker to be a reference, which makes this topic quite timely for me.

In the past, it was commonly thought that a reference can either say positive things about a co-worker, or speak in neutral terms and confirm the person worked at an organization, in a certain position and completed specific tasks. A reference wouldn’t speak negatively, even it if was the truth. This avoided the risk of the job applicant claiming the reference cut their chances of getting a job.

A recent court case turns that belief on its head.

The National Post reported on the verdict of Ontario defamation lawsuit in which a man accused his former boss of badmouthing him to a potential employer, costing the man the job. The candidate’s interpersonal skills were his downfall when the former boss was asked about them. The reference reported that the candidate insulted his team and acted like an “intellectual snob” in his former role. However, since the reference spoke truthfully and verified the report with other staff so that it was not grounded in opinion alone, the judge in this case found that the old boss was justified in his actions.

This finding brings a few things to light…

  • For job candidates: If you’re looking for a new job and thinking of who you will put forward as a reference, make sure you had a positive experience working with them. Ask their permission and take the time to share the attributes of the new job to prepare them for the call with the hiring manager. Glassdoor provides a good summary of all the tips to consider.
  • For references: It’s possible to speak negatively when asked about a potential candidate as long as you’re being honest. It’s important to be self-aware, objective and unbiased when giving a negative report. A hiring manager can most likely see through a biased report, tarnishing their opinion of your feedback.
  • For everyone: This is a keen reminder to always try your best. Treat others with respect, whether it’s your manager or anyone else you work with.

Thankfully, I’ve never been in the position of needing to give a negative report when a hiring manager has called regarding a reference. And, if you’re curious, the old co-worker who I recently provided a reference for landed the new job. (Congrats!)

What do you think? Could you give negative feedback if required when being a reference?

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