The “Difficult” Reference

Really interesting conversation yesterday with one of my oldest friends. He was asked to provide a reference that he really didn’t want to give. Here’s what we discussed:

if you ask me for a reference then in 99% of all cases I will be happy to. And I will do my very best to be constructive and helpful and focus on the positive.

 In my many decades of experience, I’ve hired a couple hundred people and I’ve parted ways with only a couple handfuls. Again, in almost all cases, we parted ways because it wasn’t the right fit at the right time and it was obvious that one of us was going to be much much better off if something changed.

Only a couple of times did I make a big mistake and hire somebody fundamentally flawed. Oh boy.

Now if somehow I am asked to provide a reference for one of those then the rules are different.

If you call me to find out about this person and I don’t know you then I will politely decline. That should give you pause and hopefully consider things carefully.

If I do know you then I’ll want to make sure you understand that there is a concern. I may not tell you what and I may not tell you why but I will tell you to be very very careful.

When I made my big mistakes people tried to warn me in subtle and polite ways that were too easy for me to overhear. Next time I sure hope they speak up and grab me and make sure I listen. Thank you!

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