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Recs and Wrecks

Recs and Wrecks

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What's the delicate way to tell a friend you won't vouch for her work? Ethical pro Stephen Milioti explains.

Q: A good friend of mine wants to use me as an employment reference, but I have qualms about her work. Should I tell the prospective employer how I feel? This friend really needs a job.

A: We don't need to go too far into the current economic situation except to say that it means a lot of people are out of work and, as a result, filling out job applications requiring they list a number of references.

If you're one of those people being asked -- and you're not so hot on the skills of the person doing the asking -- the best thing to do is decline. Of course, it won't do any good for you to tell your friend you think she sucks. Instead, say that you're overwhelmed with work and don't have time to write a letter of recommendation. If you're dealing with someone who knows you're not really that busy, say, "I don't think I'm the best person to really discuss the specific job functions and experience this employer is looking for."

Another option is to offer an honest -- albeit mixed -- review to the prospective employer. Start with the good, and then move on to some of the problems. You can couch the bad stuff like this: "Jane is so detail-oriented that she sometimes lacks focus when it comes to the big picture."

Giving a horrible recommendation isn't an option. Unless the person asking for the reference is an evil ex, throwing her under the bus accomplishes nothing. And conversely, giving a fake endorsement for someone you're sure would be terrible would only lead her into an untenable work situation.

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