You're talking about counterfeiting references. References are the coin of the hiring realm. This coin has already been
dramatically de-valued. Some are trying to take it out of circulation by making references virtually illegal. (Many companies forbid
managers to provide references for fear of litigation.) I think you are dead wrong. Employee-written reference letters damage the core of all
business decision-making because they falsify personal judgment.
E-mail from readers who disagree with me is not uncommon. Mostly, they will take issue with a point I made, or they will
interpret something differently. And most of the time, I can see their position, and why they think what they do. I almost always
learn something in these exchanges, and sometimes I'll change my mind. Even when I don't, I can see there's room for different
Very rarely, a reader will express a position that makes absolutely no sense to me or that strikes me as clearly unethical. This
is one of those times.
I recently discussed reference letters in the August 19
edition. The newsletter was about bosses who, when an employee (or former
employee) asks for a reference letter, tells the person to write their own reference letter, and the boss then signs it. Maybe the
boss edits it before signing it. It doesn't matter. The letter is a fraud. It's counterfeit. And the intent behind it is
I don't like to pick apart a reader's comments one by one, but we're talking about ethics. We're talking about flat-out wrong
practices that cascade into the pool of bad business. I'm going to comment
on the reader's statements in order.
1. If managers don't have time to write a letter about each employee they respect and are willing to recommend, they should
decline to provide references, or they should quit
their jobs. They are incapable of managing their time.
2. Managers without writing skills necessary to produce a compelling letter should not be managing anyone. They should go back to
school and learn to write. Writing is a key skill of civilized people that distinguishes them from primitive people.
3. Managers who fear or dread writing or public speaking are incapable of representing their employers. They will inevitably be
called upon to write or speak whether they like it or not. It's part of their job. If they fail, their employer suffers. They should
learn to communicate.
4. When a boss puts their name to a written judgment that someone else wrote, it's fraud. The manager should be fired.
Some might suggest there's good precedent for signing someone else's expression of personal judgment. Political speeches are often
written by professional writers. That's fraud, too. Either a person has something to say that makes them worthy of
holding public office -- or holding a job --, or they don't. Just because society accepts politicians with mouths full of someone
else's words doesn't make it right or smart. It's a lie, and it portends bad consequences. In this case, no one is forging a
signature. An entire letter of recommendation, which others rely on, is being forged.
5. Writing a report for your boss is part of your job when you're writing about matters you were hired to handle. Writing an
endorsement of yourself for your boss to sign reveals two fraudsters. Confusing the two reveals a lack of ethics.
6. Everyone should be able to articulate the value they bring to their work. Your boss, especially, should be able to
articulate the value you bring to your organization. If he can't, then he doesn't understand what you're doing in your job and
doesn't belong in management.
7. If you can write in your boss's "voice" and do so, then you make your boss a ventriloquist's dummy. Once again, the company is wasting money on an inept boss
-- or on a boss who isn't willing to do their job.
The worst aspect of your letter is the sequence of thinking it reveals. In New Jersey, there is a U.S. Attorney named Chris
Christie, who has locked up many crooked elected officials. He explains the genesis of corruption and the signs that it is growing.
First, it starts with arrogance. An individual believes their behavior is beyond question. Next, they rationalize behaving
improperly. They did it for a reason, because it was necessary, or because others do it, too. Finally, they justify their bad
behavior. The end justifies the means. What they did was important and of value to others. They did it because it was the right
thing to do. Yet, Christie says those he's locked up are never surprised. While I won't accuse you of being arrogant, your
rationalization and justification of a manager's lousy judgment and behavior are clear.
Honest references are crucial in business. They are the coin of the realm. Trusted judgment is the foundation of business
decisions. To a headhunter, honest references from the proper sources are more valuable and useful than resumes or even interviews
with job candidates.
There is no justification for a boss telling an employee to write a recommendation letter that the boss can edit and sign. A
letter from a lazy boss who is in cahoots with an employee who writes "pretty much what the boss meant to say" is the only
reason I need to reject a candidate. This practice further corrupts the practice of sharing honest references.
Taking Care of Your References is a smart and legitimate thing to do. So is requesting
The Preemptive Reference. Remind your references of your skills and accomplishments. Refresh their memories. But
don't speak for them.
Ask The Headhunter®