Should I ask my mentor for a recommendation letter?
August 21, 2012 7:19 AM   Subscribe

Should I ask the mentor from my current employer (who doesn't know I'm leaving) for a recommendation letter?

I'm interested in leaving my current job, and applying for a fellowship in my field. I have not told my current employer about my plans to leave, and don't intend to do so unless I get the fellowship. I have a really great relationship with my mentor at work, and based upon the work we have done together, she would write me a stellar and helpful recommendation letter. The problem is, I would also be asking her for her confidentiality about my intentions to leave. While I trust that she wouldn't tell our manager (we frequently gripe to each other about the problems with our current manager), I don't want to put her in an awkward situation or do anything unprofessional. I plan to leave in the near future any way, whether I get accepted to this fellowship or a different job. Nobody else in the office knows.

I do have others who I can ask recommendations from (previous managers, graduate & undergraduate professors), but in my application for the fellowship I'd like to somewhat highlight experiences from my current position. I think her recommendation would be invaluable.

So, should I ask her? Is it wrong or unprofessional to ask for her confidentiality?

(Anonymous in case my profile can somehow be tied to my current job).
posted by anonymous to Work & Money (5 answers total)
I think you would be putting your mentor in a very awkward position. I wouldn't do it.
posted by amro at 7:27 AM on August 21, 2012 [1 favorite]

Yeah, if it were discovered that your mentor knew you were planning on leaving and didn't alert your company to the fact it could be problematic for her.
posted by rocketpup at 7:39 AM on August 21, 2012

Mention the fellowship to her and say, "Hey, do you think I should go for this? I'm not sure I really want to, and it's a big risk if anyone here finds out..." Gauge her reaction, and then go ahead and apply accordingly.
posted by Etrigan at 7:44 AM on August 21, 2012 [1 favorite]

Could you start by talking to your mentor in a general way about your future career plans? That might be a good way to feel her out.

You could also ask for a "general" recommendation letter, "for the future." (In quotes because she will probably know exactly what is going on - it just gives her plausible deniability.)

The degree to which your mentor would be in an awkward position is highly dependent on your industry and your organization. In some fields it would be fairly normal. At my last job my boss knew I was looking for a job for like a year before I actually took one that I liked.
posted by mskyle at 7:44 AM on August 21, 2012 [1 favorite]

Like others have said, this is totally dependent on your industry, your company, and your relationship with your mentor. In my company I've seen this work very well, in spite of the fact that my company requires a signed letter on file from the employee (or former employee) before anyone gives or writes a recommendation. In these cases, we just ignore the company policy. But that's because we all know that the penalty for ignoring the policy (if we are caught) will be a gentle talking to. At the most.

So think about those variables: industry norms, company norms, the degree of trust in your relationship with your mentor. Also, if you have any colleagues you trust at your same level who have left the company or who you know are looking for a job -- ask what their experiences are.
posted by OrangeDisk at 9:12 AM on August 21, 2012

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