How do I handle being listed as a fake reference?
November 30, 2007 7:01 PM   Subscribe

A friend and somewhat distant in-law put me down as a reference without asking me. The problem is that she's faked my credentials (listing me as a manager rather than a peon) and has emailed me a 'back story' to give to the caller. That ain't all...

We work in a rather small field, so there's an outside possibility that my current employer (and her former) employer could find out. I love my job and cannot imagine endangering it in this way. If my current job found out that I masqueraded as management for this person, I have no doubt they'd fire me.

Unfortunately, I know she's also in a tough spot financially and professionally, having lost her previous job (where I currently work) and is teetering on the edge of bankruptcy. In addition, her family life has been on the rocks, having previously been pretty much the sole breadwinner. She really, really needs this job.

Also, she's married to the spouse's close cousin. If they ever find out that I torpedoed her as a reference, it would cause really horrible family drama for my spouse.

Lastly, her and I used to be very close until she moved away six months ago. After she left, I found out via several other friends that she was a really horrible person to pretty much everyone *but* me. (We always got along great - I had no idea.) We trade emails every few days, but I haven't seen her since she moved. After all the things I've learned I don't know that I'm really that willing to be a friend any more, but she doesn't know that I know these things. I figured that the friendship would just naturally wind down due to distance. We did part as best of friends though - lots of good times and good memories.

What do I do?

(Quick summary: Old friend puts me in a difficult position, having to balance friendship/family versus my job via a faked employment application with me as reference.)
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (27 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
You simply tell her you will act as a reference for the capacity in which you know her or are aware of her skills, but that you won't be part of some fairy-tale. That is so easy to check and cross check, you will end up with egg on your face on way or the other. She won't get the job and you put your own at risk. Ask yourself if a real friend would do that...
posted by 45moore45 at 7:12 PM on November 30, 2007

Just say you're busy at the moment and this is a bad time to get calls at work.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 7:17 PM on November 30, 2007

Wow, kind of a tough one. I'd act surprised at her request. Sounds like she's completely manipulating/using you, but if you don't want to confront her like that, just email her back expressing complete surprise that she'd ask you to lie about your position in a field where that could put your job in jeopardy, as that's just not something you'd *ever* consider doing for *anyone.* Tell her you're sure she'll understand, but you simply cannot lie for her in this way, and you hope she has a backup plan. Also mention that it's best in future if she were to give you a heads up *before* using you as a reference, as you will be glad to help in any honest way.

Does your spouse really want you to lie in this situation to avoid potential future drama? If so, that seems really inappropriate.
posted by mediareport at 7:18 PM on November 30, 2007 [1 favorite]

You do not owe this person a damned thing. If she's willing to risk your job for her own benefit, how can she a friend? Just because someone is a member of your family--this fact alone does not absolve her of all social responsibility. She is trying to take advantage of you. Don't let her.
posted by |n$eCur3 at 7:20 PM on November 30, 2007 [2 favorites]

I would tell her "I'm really bad at lying, so, trust me, we'll both be better off if I don't take these calls."
posted by aubilenon at 7:21 PM on November 30, 2007 [1 favorite]

A lot of companies have a reference policy of "Yes, personX worked here from start_date until end_date". thats all employees are allowed to say in reference to their old collegues.

You can tell the cousin that all you're allowed to say on a reference call is confirmation of employment, start and end dates.

By doing that, you don't give a negative reference (saving face with your in-law), and you don't put your job at risk.
posted by BigVACub at 7:21 PM on November 30, 2007 [1 favorite]

Just tell her you won't lie for her. It's not your responsibility to lie in order for her to get a job, no matter what hot water she has landed herself in. It's unfortunate she put you in this position, but you shouldn't lie, especially if you're not comfortable with it. You're not doing her a disservice.
posted by PFL at 7:22 PM on November 30, 2007

[Others have said most of this while I was typing, but I like it anyway, so...]

Do not play a role in fakery. It will not end well for anyone concerned. It will not end well even more quickly when you "work in a rather small field". I've had occasion to be the person checking the references, and it's very apparent when the reference isn't really the reference they're supposed to be.

I've also had times when I was the reference who didn't know they were a reference until the conversation with the potential employer. There is a certain amount of vagueness that I employ as a sort of buffer zone while I attempt to determine what the capacity is that I'm supposed to be describing in the interviewee.

I am under no particular illusions about how well I fool other interviewers either, but I think sometimes (particularly possible with folks you know both professionally and personally) it's fair to ask the interviewer "Hey, I know this person both professionally and personally, so which opinion would you like?" By phrasing your question this way, you may find that the person gives you a possibly conscience-assuaging way to respond simply "professionally" rather than in a particular role that you don't fill.

If directly questioned about whether you really were the manager rather than a coworker, you should have decided in advance how far you are willing to lie for this person. Choose carefully, for I think that any interviewer who discovers the true relationship will not take kindly to "exaggeration", no matter how well intended.

As a personal aside, I try to make a point of contacting people who have used me as a reference of any kind without my knowledge and permission. I've tried to be careful about what I sign and what I represent, and I don't take well to folks using my name casually. Sometimes people think I'm a bit of a jerk this way, but there isn't any doubt left about where I stand or how much I'll defend anyone that tries to game me this way.
posted by LoraxGuy at 7:34 PM on November 30, 2007 [1 favorite]

Write back and tell her you're happy to say nice things about her but you can't misrepresent your position at the job. Feel free to tell a while lie (if you can get away with it, it being a small field) about your organization firing someone for doing something similar. "I'm sure you understand, I just can't afford to get fired, Lyuhr"

Maybe I'm too cavalier, but if someone would get angry at me for saying I wouldn't risk my own employment in order to tell a lie they didn't clear with me ahead of time then fuck em.

Alternately if you're not up to that then you either play the "I agreed to a policy that I only confirm employment dates" game or just duck the calls entirely, though if they then tell her they can't hire till they contact you you're back in the same boat.

Almost needless to say, definitely don't lie.
posted by phearlez at 8:05 PM on November 30, 2007

Unless you want to be in the same job lost, financially hurting position with no good references that she is, you can't possibly do this. There's no need to torpedo her as a reference -- tell her in advance you won't do it so she has time to change her reference and either duck the calls if they still happen or refuse to provide any information about either you or her if you have to take them. Something like "My current position does not allow me to act as a reference." would be sort of vague corporate speak for I'm not saying anything good, bad or indifferent and make it sound like a corporate policy issue.

As for the family drama, if his family seriously thinks you should jeopardize your half of his family for her half of his family, he should tell them where they can shove it.
posted by jacquilynne at 9:22 PM on November 30, 2007

Man, all this advice to be a hardass, I don't know - that's all you need is to have your mother-in-law not speaking to you. Who needs the trouble? Seems to me you have an easy out: when the reference call comes, refer to her as your cousin (which she is, or a cousin-in-law anyway). You can praise her and work in a few mentions of family get togethers. This will make your reference quite worthless and the caller will understand the position you are in.

Also, it should be clear now that she is not really your friend.
posted by richg at 10:13 PM on November 30, 2007 [1 favorite]

When you blow her off, as you should, don't forget to throw in that because you are in a small field, people know each other, and therefore her lies about your status won't be credible with the people she wants jobs from, because they may well know you. In other words, you're acting in HER best interests. Really.
posted by i_am_joe's_spleen at 12:11 AM on December 1, 2007

I'd say a white lie to soften the truth: "Hey, guess what. My boss worked in/knows the widget manager of Sprockets Inc. If I said what you asked me to, they'll find out and you'll be out of the job. I can be a personal reference, but I won't do anything to damage your job search".

She's desperate and I doubt she'd hear any reasonable arguments. Better to give her something she can't argue with.
posted by clearlydemon at 1:21 AM on December 1, 2007

I don't think there's anything wrong with blowing her off. However, if you can separate the falsification of who she said you were with the reference itself, perhaps there's room for a compromise here. Can you honestly say she might be a good fit for the potential employer? Then say so. When asked about your title, etc, clarify. I suggest something like "no, actually, there must have been a misunderstanding; I'm just an associate here but I am happy to tell you what I know about her." It seems by doing this you could preserve your credibility and integrity without completely sabotaging her chances for employment.
posted by Happydaz at 1:24 AM on December 1, 2007

Yikes. It's clear you're concerned with this person's well being, but are they concerned about yours?
posted by spiderskull at 3:48 AM on December 1, 2007

Also, she's married to the spouse's close cousin. If they ever find out that I torpedoed her as a reference, it would cause really horrible family drama for my spouse.

This means that the whole family will hold it against you if you don't lie to cover for her, endangering yourself and your future employment? That doesn't seem very good, it seems they care a hell of a lot more about this cousin than you. Plus, as you mentioned, you work in a small field, you both worked for the same company (the one she was fired from), this just seems like it will be found out very quickly. Hilarity will not ensue. Tell her you are doing a favour by not lying. Be a reference as a co-worker, if company policy allows. You don't need to go beyond there.
posted by kellyblah at 6:52 AM on December 1, 2007

I agree with everyone who says, "For Pete's sake do NOT lie for this person." You owe it to yourself (and YOUR family) to not jeopardize your job. Tell Cousin Dearest you just cannot put your ass on the line for her, and stand firm.

It sounds like she's "a horrible person" to you, not just to everyone else, by being such a selfish liar. Could this possibly be the reason she can't get another job and has no good references? I know I wouldn't want someone like her working for me; a "horrible person" who alienates all around her can wreak havoc in a company or work team.
posted by Rosie M. Banks at 6:59 AM on December 1, 2007

If it were me and I still felt close to her as a friend, I'd do it. As you obviously don't anymore (and there's absolutely nothing wrong with that), it's clearly not worth it. Go with what your misgivings are telling you.
posted by h00py at 7:06 AM on December 1, 2007

You do not owe this person a damned thing.

Absolutely. I can understand being desperate and asking people to lie for you, but putting you down as a reference without asking? Asshole, doesn't deserve a thing. Tell her sorry, but you can't do it.
posted by languagehat at 7:24 AM on December 1, 2007

always think of yourself first

in this case, that would mean not doing it
posted by Salvatorparadise at 9:23 AM on December 1, 2007

Is there any way you can finesse it with the truth if someone actually calls for the reference? "Oh, Cousin B? Why yes, I do work at Y Widgets, but I'm not the boss. I must have given her the wrong impression." Unless, of course, she claimed straight up that you were her boss, in which case, decline to be anything but a personal reference. Leave her underhandedness out of it to preserve peace at Thanksgiving, and simply say, "I just can't. If my boss found out, I'd be fired."
posted by headspace at 9:38 AM on December 1, 2007

Tell her you are not willing to participate in the facade, but will give her a strong reference along the lines of "I work in this field and am close to this person and I can tell you that she has mad skillz."

Then prepare to meet her horrible person side.
posted by LarryC at 10:20 AM on December 1, 2007

If it were me, I wouldn't field any phone calls from people asking about her. If they catch you, tell them you will call them back and just don't. I don't think you have to confront anybody or lie unless you are asked about it by your relation or by your employer. If so, then be honest but I doubt it'll come to that.
posted by Foam Pants at 5:38 PM on December 1, 2007

There are two separate questions here, and most of the wonderful (and so creative!) answers above are only answering one of them.

One of the questions is what you tell your in-law when you tell her you're not going to participate in her plan. (And you simply mustn't participate, you know that, right?) There are a number of great answers to that question above.

The reason I like BigVACub's the best is that it immediately suggests how to answer the other question, which is "What am I going to tell the people who call for a reference?" The nice thing about this is that when you call up or email your in-law to tell her you're not participating, when she asks you can tell her exactly what her prospective employers are going to hear from you.

Your other option is to pick any of the above ways to speak to the prospective employers, and just never get back to your friend at all about the whole thing. If it comes up, just say "I never saw that email. It must have gotten lost."

she was a really horrible person to pretty much everyone *but* me

Well, she fixed that for you, didn't she.
posted by ikkyu2 at 7:11 PM on December 1, 2007

A lot of companies have a reference policy of "Yes, personX worked here from start_date until end_date". thats all employees are allowed to say in reference to their old collegues.

Furthermore, if they ask you to confirm your title/position, tell them the truth, and if they say "well XX says you're the manager," just say you have no idea what she put on her recommendation list (don't say she lied, just that you have no knowledge of it, or to be completely truthful that you don't know why she would say that, perhaps she misunderstood), but that your position is as stated.
posted by nax at 10:00 AM on December 2, 2007

It occurs to me that, depending on how you decide you want to handle this, you can completely defend not lying about your position - you say that someone called you and didn't initially identify themselves as calling about the reference. So of COURSE you answered the question honestly - you can't lie to everyone who calls about your position!

Or you say they called and asked for the manager of so-and-so... and got someone who, of course, isn't you.

There's a multitude of ways to say the caller got the accurate information that wasn't your fault and/or didn't even involve you.
posted by phearlez at 6:43 AM on December 3, 2007

Keep in mind, too, that usually potential employers don't give an itemized list of why they turn someone down. She is more likely to get a reason along the lines of "we decided to go with someone else", "you didn't seem like you'd be a good fit," etc. vs. "you're a liar" - it's just simpler for them.

Go with your instincts, don't lie (or just ignore the calls), and perhaps speed up the winding down of this relationship.
posted by mikepop at 8:31 AM on December 3, 2007

« Older I need another pair of these awesome shoes   |   Compensation Questions Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.