Bad Employee References – Career Tips Episode #1 (Video)

Bad Employee References – Career Tips Episode #1 (Video)


Is a friend or acquaintance asking you to be a reference for them for a job opportunity, but you don’t feel comfortable doing so for whatever reason? In this video, we’re going to navigate the minefield of bad employee references. Stay tuned.
Greetings everyone. I’m Ken from OakTree Staffing & Training and today, we’re kicking off our Career Tips With OakTree video series with the unique situation —
bad employee referrals.

Maybe you’ve been in the following scenario: You get a call out of the blue from a past acquaintance or friend, maybe someone from a past job or elsewhere, and they’re wanting you to vouch for them as a reference on a job they’re up for. While this is usually no problem, you can’t actually bring yourself to give a glowing review of this person’s work history or recommend them future work.

Do you:
1. Just flat out lie and give them a good reference?
2. Tell the employer the truth?
3. Give an honest, balanced review — pointing out their positive and negative sides?
or 4. Turn down this person’s request to be a reference at all?
Decisions, decisions! Let’s break the pros and cons of each of these decisions.

(Option 1: Lie)
While we’d always like to give a glowing review, not everyone deserves such — so then what, do we lie in order to be Mr. Nice Guy? It can seem like a nice thing to do for someone in a pinch, but not only is this ethically questionable behavior, by doing so, you’re pretty much wasting everyone’s time. (1) You’re wasting the time of the employer asking because the jig will be up soon, (2) you’re wasting the candidate’s time because they’ll probably be out on their tuchus before the first pay period while having to explain this circumstance to their next potential employer and (3) you’re wasting your own time. When you put your name down as a trusted resource and you give bunk advice, this degrades your reputation. The internet has made your name a LinkedIn search away, so be careful not to tarnish your good name by giving a bupkis reference. Okay, so giving a phony reference is out. Let’s move on to….

(Option 2: Give a bad reference.)
You may not like Larry enough to lie for him. In fact, you may not like Larry at all. Maybe he came in late a lot, spent too much time watering his desk plants and his microwaved leftover halibut stunk up the office to high heaven. Are these the beans you spill to the employer? C’mon, this could be your chance to really vent your frustrations over Larry NEVER making more coffee after killing the pot! On the other hand, how would you look by blindsiding Larry by simply putting him on blast in what he thought would be a good reference from you? For this, we consulted one of our Account Managers and Career Expert John Ogorzalek. John said,
“I would say it’s very rare that anyone would give a bad reference for someone. While some references may not be the most stupendous and may even be slightly cautionary in some regards, people don’t tend to just give bad references.”
While John’s statement is correct, are there any situations when bad references may be beneficial…for you? Let’s say while you genuinely would not recommend Larry, maybe you can spin this whole situation positive — use this opportunity to help an organization not waste time on resources on Larry. Maybe this organization is one you’d like to network with in the future. As stated by one of OakTree’s Senior Technical Recruiters, Heidi Winterberg,
“Yes, bad references are given…and I believe they are beneficial for the future employer”…”Many companies will refuse a reference if the employee is not re-hirable.”
So, yes, a bad reference can be potentially helpful for the organization. But isn’t there a more fair avenue to travel? That brings us to…

(Option #3: Give a balanced employee reference.)
Nobody really wants to come off like a back-stabbing Scrooch McDuck when being called for a reference, even if the candidate in question has few redeeming qualities. But c’mon…they do have a few redeeming qualities, right? By giving a more balanced review of someone, you’ll frequently come off like a more balanced individual yourself and actually give the candidate a fair shake. After all, there may be some sides of Larry’s work that you didn’t see. Think hard for some good things to lessen the blow of whatever negative feedback you give. In order to get some help with how to give a balanced reference, we reached out to OakTree’s Chase Wagner, a Technical Recruiter and experienced career professional, who said,
“I think you should be 100% honest when you’re called for a reference check. You’re certainly allowed to say negative things about a previous employee as long as they’re factual,” …. “Just make sure you’re 100% factual about their work performance. (I) can’t stress that one enough.”
But how balanced should you make your reference? Once again, Career professional Heidi Winterberg told us,
If you’re still conflicted in these matters, let us present…

(Option 4: Opt-Out of Giving a Reference)
I know, I know — sticking to the age-old adage of “if you don’t have anything nice to say, don’t say anything at all” and refusing to give an employee reference sounds ice cold, but it can really save you a lot of headache down the road. If you truly feel conflicted offering to give a reference on false pretenses — be it lying to an acquaintance who thinks you’re going to bat for them or potentially lying to an organization and potentially tarnishing your good name — simply opt-out in a respectful manner. While you don’t have to flat out tell the candidate, “If they hear from me, it’s not going to be good”, there are less savage ways to say no — such as “I think someone that worked more closely with you on a day-to-day basis may be able to provide a better picture of your work ethic” or simply the vague “I’m really not good at providing that kind of thing.” Either way, you’re being true to your ethics and not wasting anyone’s time.
We’d love to raise the question to you: Have you ever been asked to give a positive employee reference for someone whom you felt didn’t quite deserve one? How did you handle the situation? Also, what other career advancement or workplace scenarios would you like to see covered in the future? Let us know in the comments of this video or on whatever platform you found this video posted to.

If you’d like to learn more about bad employee references, the article we wrote that inspired this video is linked in the comments below. If you found this video helpful, don’t forget to “Like” it and share it with your friends. We plan on making a series of these videos, so hit “Subscribe” on our YouTube Channel and keep up with us on social media. We’d love to hear your thoughts.
Don’t forget to visit to get help finding your next job or Microsoft certified employee training for your team.
Until next time, I’m Ken from OakTree Staffing & Training and I hope you have success in your career journey.

Leave a Reply

Close Menu