When an employee decides to leave your company, there are a lot of loose ends to be tied – the hand-over process, the new hiring process, and more. But for your about-to-be-former employee, there’s one matter that takes precedence in her mind: “Can I use you as a reference?” Regardless of your working relationship, most members of the job force today are savvy enough to know that hiring managers will call the candidate’s last employer and ask to speak to a supervisor, whether they’ve listed your name or not.
So it would certainly behoove the smarter employees to check ahead of time and ensure that you’ll be able to vouch for their performance. But here’s the dilemma – do you want to? Before agreeing to act as a reference for a former employee, consider a few key factors that will help you to reach the smartest decision possible.
Will Your Company Allow It?
In order to preempt threats of legal action from disgruntled employees, dissatisfied with a less-than-stellar reference, many companies have adopted an Anti-Reference policy. More accurately, lots of organizations will only allow managers to confirm that a candidate has worked there in the past, and the duration of their employment. If a reference were to fabricate a situation, provide false information (intentionally or accidentally), or even speak ill of a former employee, the employee might be able to sue for defamation, or worse.
So before all else, see what kind of policies your company has in place. If you’re on the fence about vouching for their character, this rule will get you off the hook. Instead of badmouthing your former employee – or worse, lying! – you’d only have to confirm the dates of their employment. But if you’re a loyal supporter of this treasured employee, and sad to see them go, consider passing on your mobile number or private email address and offer to serve as a personal reference so you can give them the glowing review they deserve.
Are You Satisfied With Their Performance?
If your company will allow you to provide a reference, then you have to ask yourself: can you speak to their work in a positive way? You aren’t expected to lie – if they were a well-rounded employee that struggled with deadlines from time to time, this is not inherently a dealbreaker in some organizations, and you can tell the truth. But if you were unsatisfied with their overall work performance, and would only speak to their weaknesses if asked, don’t provide your employee with false hope. Tell them truthfully that you do not feel comfortable serving as a reference.
Bear in mind that a potential employer may call you anyway – however, if your employee takes the time to ask you specifically, it’s because they want someone they can rely on. When that’s not the case, tell them honestly but fairly: “Wolfgang, we’ve had many discussions about your performance here. Based on these talks, I don’t feel comfortable serving as a reference. I hope you understand.” This may be hard to hear, but will also serve as a learning opportunity for your employee.
Are You Biased in Any Way?
Ideally, managers would never work directly above friends or family. But some industries are more comfortable with intercompany relationships of all kinds. Maybe your sister-in-law worked at your company, but in another department. . Or you studied with your current Head of Marketing back in university. It’s important to develop healthy relationships at the office, but if this employee in question is somehow related to you on a level that’s more than professional, it’s never a good idea to serve as a reference.
No matter how strongly you feel that you can stay objective, and separate your personal and private lives, if the other employer finds out, they will discount your reference completely. If you simply regard this employee as a friendly working colleague, it’s okay to offer your perspective, but make sure that your reference refers strictly to in-office activities and duties.
Do You Have The Time?
A job search can be extremely stressful for all parties involved, and in this case, that’s the responsibility of your employee to handle. However, if they’re highly motivated, they’ll most likely be submitting applications for more than one employer, which could lead to many different interview processes. This means you could receive calls and emails from multiple hiring managers at a time, sometimes more than once. Does your current schedule, both at work and at home, lend itself to frequent interruptions?
If you agree to serve as a reference for your employee, you’re committing to being contacted, perhaps frequently, and providing a quality assurance of their skills. Consider this before giving your employee your word.