On writing an honest reference

The subject of references came up recently. The manager in question was concerned about whether to write one at all. He was trapped between trying to be polite to the departing employee and an overwhelming urge to warn the new employer.

There is no obligation to write a reference. Some companies have policies discouraging anyone from writing a character reference on the firm’s letterhead. If you do write a reference, you are advised to avoid writing one that could damage someone’s prospects of getting a job. The wisest course then, is the same advice given to Thumper in Bambi; if you can’t say something nice, don’t say anything at all.

Or you could give a reference such as this one, sent for one Bob Smith;

To Whom It May Concern

1 Bob Smith, my assistant, can always be found
2 hard at work at his desk. He works independently, without
3 wasting company time talking to colleagues. Bob never
4 thinks twice about assisting fellow employees, and always
5 finishes given assignments on time. Often, he takes extended
6 measures to complete his work, sometimes skipping coffee
7 breaks. Bob is a dedicated individual who has absolutely no
8 vanity in spite of the high accomplishments and profound
9 knowledge in his field. I firmly believe that Bob can be
10 classed as an asset employee, the type which cannot be
11 dispensed with. Consequently, I duly recommend that Bob be
12 promoted to executive manager, and a proposal will be
13 executed as soon as possible.

Follow up email
Bob Smith was standing over my shoulder while I wrote his reference. Kindly re-read only the odd-numbered lines.


9 thoughts on “On writing an honest reference

  1. Classic British Army references.

    This officer tells me he has done good work.
    This officer goes through life pushing doors marked “Pull”.


  2. Love it. Reminds me of the old days when school class reports were not drawn from a selection of approved comments in the ‘bank’. Back then, teachers were able to exact a secretive, but oh so satisfying, revenge by ensuring the first letters of each sentence eventually spelled a one word summary of the student’s character.


  3. Classic! Love it!!! Giving references on the phone can be challenging as well. The more you talk, the more you say (good and / or bad). Hopefully, everyone is asking people in advance if they can use them as a reference so as to minimize negative feedback.


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