Skip

Should I provide a fabricated reference for a friend?
September 12, 2008 5:44 PM   Subscribe

Should I provide a fabricated reference for a friend?

I have a friend who has had some hard times recently; major health issues, got fired from his job, moved across the country. He is now looking for a job and has asked me to say that I was his supervisor at a previous position.

We work in the same industry - biomedical research and development. I've known him for 10 years, since he was part of a team that hired me into my first real job. About 5 years ago, I recommended him to take over my industrial position, which I was leaving in order to return to school.

He was fired from that position earlier this year, for what I feel were bogus reasons FWIW. As such, I think he is hesitant to ask his supervisor for a reference.

He has asked me to say that I was his supervisor from 2003 to 2006. However, at that time, I was no longer at the company and was, in fact, across the country at graduate school.

My friend is very talented, and I have worked alongside him before, as well as trained him to take over my job. I have no problem speaking in glowing terms about these experiences.

Should I gild the lily, so to speak, and expand my references to cover his problem areas? What could be the possible repercussions in my professional life? Have you ever been the reference in a situation like this? Have you ever caught someone lying in a situation like this? If I really can't stomach lying to companies for him, how do I break it gently to my friend?
posted by anonymous to Work & Money (30 answers total)
 
Have him ask his supervisor for the reference. You can write him a personal reference letter explaining the bogus reasons your friend was let go.

Lies beget more lies and that path lies grounds for another dismissal.
posted by porpoise at 5:50 PM on September 12, 2008 [1 favorite]


NO.
You can offer to give a personal reference in the most glowing terms, but really, even if only for the simple reason that the lie might get found out, thereby losing him the job opportunity, don't lie. It's not worth it.
posted by mmf at 6:07 PM on September 12, 2008


If you were a supervisor, I'm guessing that you wouldn't want a bogus reference; and the referee insisting that the guy really is a good chap probably wouldn't change your mind on the matter. It's best to endorse behavior that you'd want to be on the receiving end of, if the shoes were switched.
posted by SpacemanStix at 6:08 PM on September 12, 2008


I definitely would not go down this path. There is no telling who will see the resume down the road, and within the industry people are likely to know someone at that company to check references. Talk about the glowing experiences honestly and leave it at that.
posted by shinynewnick at 6:10 PM on September 12, 2008


If you were in a different industry, or it would be harder to figure it out (e.g., you were in grad school at the time). Explain to your friend that he could end up doing a lot of damage to his own career if an employer put 2 and 2 together, either before or after he got this job.

I agree with writing him a personal reference - you've worked with him, you recommended him as your successor (you don't need to mention that was the job he got fired from) - you have a lot of material to really put together something that will help him and not hurt either one of you.
posted by KAS at 6:11 PM on September 12, 2008


Oh my, lack of preview - I obviously left out the part of the sentence that made it clear that maybe you could pull it off if the circumstances were different. But they're not, and you can't.
posted by KAS at 6:13 PM on September 12, 2008


Yeah--don't do this.

Not only for your own ethical considerations--but for what can happen to your friend when he gets caught somewhere down the road with a lie on his resume. I've known folks to call the businesses on a resume to fact check, no matter who was listed as a reference.
posted by LucretiusJones at 6:18 PM on September 12, 2008


Absolutely not. You never know how and when this will come back to bite you.
posted by meerkatty at 6:21 PM on September 12, 2008


No. You can offer to write a professional reference as a colleague but don't lie about being his supervisor. Don't add lying and deception to your friend's troubles. For your part, the biotech/biomed world is small and chances are good that eventually somebody will catch your lie. Professional integrity is still valued in this field and once yours is shot, well, there's always plenty of better candidates for whatever jobs you apply to.

As an aside, letters of reference are never requested, in my experience (biotech industry, small and medium-sized companies). Because of US labor laws the only thing previous employers will ever disclose is dates of employment and job title. Companies tell their employees not to say anything about former coworkers and to refer all requests for references to HR. Potential employers know they won't get anything but "name, rank and serial number" so they don't bother asking for letters any more. They interview candidates over the phone, bring in the good ones for a face-to-face interview, and sometimes that's the end of it. (Sometimes, though, they run a background check on candidates, including credit ratings and other stuff that generally has no relevance to the job in question and really pisses me off but that's another topic).

Anyway, your friend may be sweating the letter of reference for nothing.
posted by Quietgal at 6:29 PM on September 12, 2008


It's the kind of thing where if you have to ask, you're not really cut out for it.
posted by rhizome at 6:29 PM on September 12, 2008 [5 favorites]


Don't go there. It's too easy to find out that things like this have been done. A blown coverup (and it will be blown) does more damage to all concerned than disclosure could ever do.

You should offer everything you've said here, except the parts about wondering whether to lie for your friend, as a personal reference.
posted by flabdablet at 6:30 PM on September 12, 2008


Depending on how tightly knit your industry is, it's possible that pretending to have been his supervisor will negatively affect you, as well.

The HR worker at your friend's potential employer could know someone at your old company, and casually say to them: "Hey, I didn't know anonymous rose to that level!". Old Company Person then exposes the lie. Maybe Old Company Person, or perhaps Friend's Possible Company Person, knows someone at your current workplace and brings it up with them. Then you'll have awkward questions to answer.

Offer to write a personal letter about his qualifications and your experiences working with him. Explain to him that such the supervisor ruse could hurt his chances if, or in all probability when, that company checks up on the reference.
posted by CKmtl at 6:39 PM on September 12, 2008


I decided on my answer before I read the "more inside".

Yes: if this is a throwaway type job, such as applying to be a waiter at a chain restaurant, where a faked reference doesn't really matter a whole lot and is unlikely to be found out anyway.

No: For all other cases, but especially if it would damage your own career if everybody found out about it.

As soon as I saw this: We work in the same industry - biomedical research and development - I had my answer. Biomedical R&D must be a specialized field. If you could never work in that field again because your main employer and maybe your graduate adviser found out, it would kind of suck for you. Protect yourself and say no.
posted by PercussivePaul at 6:57 PM on September 12, 2008 [2 favorites]


The lack of anonymity in replying is going to skew the answers you're going to get in favour of those against. Very few people are going to pop in to say "Oh, yeah, I do the fake reference thing for my friends whenever they ask."

I will say that this is far, far less rare than you might imagine. By definition, this sort of thing runs under the radar but it is done all the time.
posted by DarlingBri at 7:01 PM on September 12, 2008 [3 favorites]


The science industry is surprisingly close knit. There's always someone who knows someone, people talk (particularly about who is being hired to do what) and word gets around. It would take very little digging for the hiring company to find out you were in grad school across the country, and it might not even be intentional digging, just people gossiping. It might not come up in this specific hiring instance, but still could in a future job application (yours or your friend's). When it is found out this will hurt you as much as your friend, this kind of dishonesty is really frowned upon in an industry where reputation is so important. Don't do it, it's not worth it for either of you.

In general when working in this industry you need to be very careful not to piss people off. Always be upfront when applying for jobs, don't jerk anyone around and never lie about your qualifications/experience. I've seen people hurt their careers by acting in this way and heard stories that are several years old or from a different country. This kind of thing once exposed, doesn't go away.

As for how to tell your friend, just gently say that while you'll help as much as you can you're not prepared to lie. No further explanation, no further discussion. If he pushes it just say "Sorry, I'm not prepared to go there. What else can I do to help?", then follow up on the change of subject. Once you call this what it is, a blatant lie, he should realise pretty quickly what a bad idea it is. No real friend would ask you to put your reputation at risk in this way.
posted by shelleycat at 7:10 PM on September 12, 2008


The lack of anonymity in replying is going to skew the answers you're going to get in favour of those against. Very few people are going to pop in to say "Oh, yeah, I do the fake reference thing for my friends whenever they ask."

I haven't, but I would have absolutely no qualms about lying to a huge faceless company to help a friend.

However, for reasons pointed out above, I think it's a bad idea in your case. You are fairly likely to be caught, and the consequences could be very severe.

And, I just don't see the reason for it. There is no law that says you must list your supervisor at your last job as a reference. I cherrypick my references and so does everyone. If the only people I think will say great things about me are a co-worker and a boss from 5 years ago, that is who I put. No one has ever asked me, "so why didn't you put your boss from your last job?"
posted by drjimmy11 at 7:14 PM on September 12, 2008 [3 favorites]


Don't do this. It's bad for the industry, bad for the person who eventually hires him, and extremely bad for your good name if you're found out.

I feel certain that if this person weren't a friend of yours and if you didn't really believe in him that this would be clearer to you.

Try an exercise: imagine doing this for someone whom you knew to be a liar and a fabricator of false stories about his experience and training. Someone whom you didn't respect. Now imagine that everyone who could possibly hire you in the future found out that you had done this. Would you be proud of this?

Since you honestly support your friend's job hunt, offer to write him a letter of reference that is honest and supportive. Writing a reference reflects just as much on you as it does on the person you're trying to support. Keep this in mind as you proceed.
posted by ikkyu2 at 7:15 PM on September 12, 2008


You could just provide the reference saying that you recommended him for the job, and you can't say enough good about him. Don't bother to talk about why he was let go, even if they bring it up. It might seem weird if you try and make excuses for him. If they do bring it up (they probably won't), indicate that you don't know the circumstances of his departure from that company, but that you know him well enough that you can't imagine any fault lay on him.
posted by [insert clever name here] at 7:52 PM on September 12, 2008


If he wants a fake reference he can prepare it himself, and it will look just like the one you would have done, and do him just as much good.

Don't compromise your own integrity.
posted by JimN2TAW at 8:13 PM on September 12, 2008


I'll chime in with all those saying not to.

Let me add the reason you can give him: Because when it is uncovered he provided a forged reference, he will lose his new job. And have an even harder time finding a new one. You want to help him, not hurt him.
posted by rodgerd at 9:09 PM on September 12, 2008


I currently work in HR and I have actually done this for friends. In the past I have asked friends to do it for me as well. I'm not proud of it. I think it is very common and devalues reference checking as a recruitment tool. But in your case I would agree with all the others who have advised Against. Its too risky for both of you.
posted by evil_esto at 1:58 AM on September 13, 2008


Do not do this.

When people do this to a system (of any kind), it stretches the fault-tolerance of that system, such that it eventually becomes worthless. Then, a new system is created to replace the old one. Inevitably the new system is more cumbersome and onerous.
posted by The Eponymous Pseudonymous Rex at 2:36 AM on September 13, 2008 [1 favorite]


Much like certain pages on the internet, this letter will be somewhere out there forever and could come back and bite you when you least expect it.
I would agree with the posters who suggest you write him a glowing person/professional reference and tell him to ask his previous company for a reference anyway. Nine times out of ten they will give a satisfactory reference to avoid any complications.
Slant your reference so that it is obvious you think highly of your friend in a business capacity.
posted by Umhlangan at 5:28 AM on September 13, 2008


nth-ing "No," but from a slightly different perspective.

If you do this for this guy, chances are good he'll lean into you to bail him out of other problems. At the very least, he'll probably lose respect for you in some way, and anyone else in your circle of friends whom he tells will definitely think of you differently.

If you really don't want to do this, but you really can't bear to tell him no (and you're willing to risk the repercussions I mention above), just don't send the reference, but tell him you did. Dishonest? Yes, but no more so than telling someone (in writing!) that you were someone's supervisor when you were really not.
posted by Rykey at 5:32 AM on September 13, 2008


No. For all the reasons stated above and I will kick in another, human malice and bile. Your field is close knit and highly competitive. What is to say that someone doesn't, in some process, find out about your "gilding of the lily"? This makes you AND your friend vulnerable to blackmail or vulnerable target for someone just a bit more ruthless and competitve than either of you. We have seen plenty of career knifings both great and small. Think about this, the Dean of Admissions at MIT got knifed anonymously
posted by jadepearl at 5:46 AM on September 13, 2008


Instead of fabricating a reference, fabricate a reference request. Call the employer and ask for a reference, so he'll know what to expect. If they know you too well, maybe someone else can do this. A blatant lie about a reference could backfire so badly.

He should assemble any performance reviews, and seek a reference from someone in the company who will be honest & positive. It's also possible to tell Old Company that they do not have permission to discuss his employment. They can only verify dates of employment. Then he can use selected references.
posted by theora55 at 6:33 AM on September 13, 2008


follow up from someone who would prefer to reomain anonymous.
My husband taught himself how to be a developer and got his first job with faked references for freelance work; the references were ginned up from people he knows from IRC. He's now into the second real job after the first, and is doing great - the further he gets from the first job the less chance there is of him being found out.

We are very grateful for the help his friends gave him in getting a job, because without it we couldn't have gotten married and started our family. In our culture there is so much emphasis on work and good performance there that sometimes for human reasons it's important to provide a fake reference for a friend. The friend might have a family to support; a life threatening illness that requires medical insurance; or other pressing human needs. In some cases it's necessary to choose friendship over professional ethics, and indeed to take the risk that your friend could blackmail you later on. Only you and your friend can decide this.

In your particular case, you could be easily found out, so that practical reason might be a good reason to refuse to provide the fake reference.
posted by jessamyn at 7:00 AM on September 13, 2008


To respond to the anonymous person who contacted jessamyn: In our culture there is so much emphasis on work and good performance there that sometimes for human reasons it's important to provide a fake reference for a friend. The friend might have a family to support; a life threatening illness that requires medical insurance; or other pressing human needs

And all of those things might be true of another applicant who was more qualified, and who didn't get the job because of the fake references provided by someone's friend.

Seriously, I'm uncomfortable with the idea that it's somehow "more ethical" to lie for a friend regardless of how it hurts other people, just because those other people are strangers.

So the anonymous poster's husband got a job on the basis of fake references--this means that other people, with real references, didn't get that job. Those people probably had families to support, and "other pressing human needs" too, but apparently that's not as important in the eyes of the IRC pals.
posted by Sidhedevil at 10:37 AM on September 13, 2008


this means that other people, with real references, didn't get that job. Those people probably had families to support, and "other pressing human needs" too

have you ever recommended someone you know for a job? and you're 100% sure that no one else in the whole world was more qualified? seriously? but your friend got the job anyway, I suppose. they were certainly qualified, but maybe less than Joe Blow who, guilty on not being Sid's friend, didn't get that job


just because those other people are strangers

some people do indeed care more about their friends and loved ones than they care about people who are not their friends/loved ones and they don't even know. some people also bend the rules to help a friend. it's a strange world out there. I don't think anonymous deserves to be judged harshly.

anyway, back to the topic: if anonymous is a bad liar, or is afraid to get caught, the obvious answer is no, don't do it. it sounds like he wants to say no anyway. it's also important to add that people on the Internet cannot MefiMail to anonymous the balls it takes to do what anon wants to do in this case -- either to lie, or to tell anon's friend to ask someone else to lie for him.
posted by matteo at 1:21 PM on September 13, 2008


have you ever recommended someone you know for a job?

Sure. And when I did, I spoke honestly about what I knew about the person's qualifications and experience. It's up to the people who are making the hiring decision to decide who's the best fit for the job.

However, if I lied about the person's qualifications and experience, I would be gaming the hiring system on behalf of my friend. To me, that's not ethical.

some people also bend the rules to help a friend. it's a strange world out there. I don't think anonymous deserves to be judged harshly.

Well, I guess you and I differ. I would not lie for a friend to help them get a job, because I don't think that would be ethical or fair. Or, in the long run, particularly helpful to the friend.

One of the reasons we have philosophy departments and houses of worship and a legal system in the world is that people have very different ethical positions. The anonymous poster shared theirs; I share mine; you share yours.

What bugged me about the anonymous poster's comment was that it seemed to imply that "helping a friend" was somehow a more ethical act than "telling the truth" in this particular situation. Though I would lie in a second to protect a friend from, say, a stalker intent on doing them harm, in my own system of ethics lying to give a friend an unfair advantage in the competition for a job is not appropriate.
posted by Sidhedevil at 1:59 PM on September 13, 2008


« Older Over the last few years, a num...   |  Bay Area Mefites, do you know ... Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.


Post