Is it okay if you write your own recommendation or reference letter and let your boss sign it? What does that say about you? About your boss?
Since it’s appeared in two recent editions of the Ask The Headhunter Newsletter, the volume of reader mail has pushed this topic to the blog. I want to make it easier for everyone to talk about it. The pertinent newsletter editions are:
A boss who — when asked if he’ll write a recommendation — tells the individual to write their own reference letter so the boss can sign it, is an irresponsible jerk. He’s dissing his own company, dissing the employee, and dissing the entire business community. Who’s going to read that reference and base a hiring decision on it — at least in part? (Is this where crummy hires come from?)
There are some legitimate ways for an employee to make the task a bit easier for the boss, and to reasonably influence the result, and I discuss those in the newsletter. But, a manager signing someone else’s judgments as one’s own — that undermines business at a fundamental level.
Most readers got their hackles up over this one. One said his former boss did this routinely, and called him “a feckless loser.” One called the failure of managers to actually take the time to write a reference “another example of the general malaise that exists in Corporate America; it is like a cancer that is spreading exponetially.” Consistently, readers focused on the bigger underlying management problem. One put it very simply: “Not only is it deceitful, it’s also lazy and bad management practice.”
One reader explained that this is just how business is done and chided me for not accepting it. Bob Hooson wrote (and gave me permission to print):
I spent 25 yrs in Corp roles, including leadership at VP levels and 10 yrs in my own recruiting company. I would venture to guess that from what I have seen, 90% of reference letters are written by the person for their boss who then edits and signs it. This is neither counterfeiting nor is it fraud……it is in actually, how a great amount of this type of business gets done in a timely manner. I personally believe your inflexibility and perhaps arrogance is showing in your response to the individual or perhaps, you have been a bit far removed from the corporate world.
Maybe bosses who play this game with references have been in the corporate world too long. If 90% of people write their own references, then 90% of people are behaving unethically. I wouldn’t care if it were 100%. Take a good look at the condition of American business. Little frauds enable big frauds. Do we really need any more examples than those in the daily news?
Either we have managers with high standards who uphold the value of their word, or we don’t.
Managers who rationalize the little stuff graduate to misrepresenting the big stuff, and that’s how bad stuff happens. Maybe that really is how 90% of business is done.
When you hire someone, do you know where their references come from?