To be (a reference) or not to be (a reference)
November 17, 2011 10:42 PM   Subscribe

Should I ask more questions before saying I'll be a reference for someone who was recently "let go"?

I was asked to be a reference for someone with whom I've had a consulting relationship. I was the consultant and they were in a coordinator type role for a company. I found this person to be extremely efficient, professional, approachable, helpful and responsive. I have had professional contact with this person for 4-5 years in my consultant capacity and I've never heard or seen anything less than exemplary from them. I got an email from this person the other day asking me to be a reference after they were "let go at work". I received an email from the organization the following day with the standard "this person no longer works for the organization...we would like to thank this person for their years of service...please direct your questions to...". I don't know what happened and I haven't asked. Should I be asking more before agreeing to be a reference?
posted by YukonQuirm to Work & Money (12 answers total)
Response by poster: I should further clarify that I believe the termination came as a bit of a shock to the person and that it was not relating to downsizing or company financial/recession type reasons.
posted by YukonQuirm at 10:44 PM on November 17, 2011

Dude. You just gave us your answer: "I found this person to be extremely efficient, professional, approachable, helpful and responsive. I have had professional contact with this person for 4-5 years in my consultant capacity and I've never heard or seen anything less than exemplary from them."

Is that true? You think it is, so why not help out by offering to say it.
posted by Mr Ected at 10:45 PM on November 17, 2011 [12 favorites]

You're being asked to be a professional reference, not a character reference, right? For the former, say what you wrote above, you wouldn't need to (nor should) delve into why the person was let go because that is outside the scope of your professional relationship with him/her.
posted by jamaro at 11:21 PM on November 17, 2011

Yep, go forth in good conscience and give your opinion, based on your own personal experience working this person -- that's all that's being asked of you here.
posted by desuetude at 11:32 PM on November 17, 2011 [1 favorite]

When I give and when I call for references, establishing the relationship and when you worked with the person is always a part of it all. Give the reference, you had a good working relationship and experience, and this person doesn't deserve to be blacklisted by past contacts because of whatever just happened. Just make it clear when and where you worked with them, you won't be asked to speak to whatever happened in their last role, and if you are you just clarify when you worked with them and say you don't know.
posted by crabintheocean at 11:35 PM on November 17, 2011 [1 favorite]

Another vote for "do it." As Mr Ected points out above, the verbiage you've provided in this question would make for a great reference (so long as you do believe it); beyond that, where exactly would you go for additional information you could trust not to be biased? Just speak to your own experiences with this person and you'll be doing right by everybody.
posted by DingoMutt at 12:13 AM on November 18, 2011

I think as long as you speak to your experience of dealing with this person - which seems very positive - it should be no problem to not seek any further information. And who knows what the background to them being laid off was - maybe they don't even know.
posted by lesbiassparrow at 12:23 AM on November 18, 2011

Best answer: Yeah, just give the reference from the scope of your knowledge. When you say "I worked with this person in this capacity and found them to be great", nobody is going to read that as anything else but that- a snapshot from your perspective. Think of it like testimony: you are saying what you saw, and letting someone else weigh your testimony against other evidence.

It would be more wrong, IMHO, to not give a reference based on worse evidence than your own experience. You experienced what you experienced, and if she turns out to have been an awful person in other contexts, others will give their impressions. Their references probably aren't going to be as negative as yours is positive, but the information will be there for prospective employers to digest. They will get the information they need if they see your glowing recommendation next to a recommendation letter from their boss that says something like "she was punctual and didn't cause any trouble when we discharged her". People doing hiring have their filters set much more sensitively toward the negative- don't worry that you are accidentally recommending an axe murderer.
posted by gjc at 6:10 AM on November 18, 2011 [1 favorite]

The assumption seems to be that being let go indicates a problem with the candidate. But the problem need not be with the person. Office politics, new clueless management, nepotism, I've seen plenty of great people get fired for problems in the company that they were not responsible for.
posted by -harlequin- at 7:23 AM on November 18, 2011 [3 favorites]

I think you should give the reference because you had a positive professional experience with this person.

Regarding the termination, you don't actually know why this person was let go -- reorganizations, changes is business strategy, changes in management, office politics, etc. and it's not relevant to the request.

Do the person a solid. And in this economy, he/she could one day be providing you a reference.
posted by shoesietart at 9:38 AM on November 18, 2011

If your personal experience with the person was positive, you should speak to that. People get fired for all kinds of reasons that have nothing to do with their work performance.
posted by winna at 1:54 PM on November 18, 2011 [1 favorite]

Another vote for being a reference. Speak only to your experience and what you know about this person. Why they were let go and under what circumstances isn't really any of your concern, and you should feel free to state that if asked.
posted by sm1tten at 3:57 PM on November 18, 2011 [1 favorite]

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