Monday 7 April 2014

A matter of reference

As a person who has taught many students, worked in many places, met many people and, perhaps most critically, remained alive for a fair length of time, I have written far more references than many.  I'm always happy to write in support of friends, former students and colleagues, people with whom I've shared research projects and conference platforms and, increasingly, people whose work I have edited or followed online.

There are a few downsides to writing references, inevitably. These include but are not limited to the following:
  • people who apply for positions for which they have no aptitude and, frankly, no hope at all, but who apply because "they might as well" -- or because "someone has to get the job so it might be them". No, life doesn't work that way. It seems to be quite a common occurrence that, where there is no suitable candidate, most people nowadays don't award the advertised job to the most suitable failure. But HR are quite happy to ask me for a reference because "they might as well" ...
  • People who don't ask me before giving my name as a referee. Sometimes I have already committed to writing a glowing reference for a candidate who is in my opinion really worth appointing, and I don't have much fulsome praise left for the next one to come along.  I can't really write with conviction something like "If for some inexplicable reason you don't like candidate A, candidate B is nearly as good".
  • Reference templates that assume that you must have been the applicant's former employer. These are annoying since they require the provision of non-existent information like "how long was the applicant in your service?" and "for what reason did the applicant leave?"  Particularly where the applicant has been self-employed or has worked with rather than for the referee, this sort of template is unhelpful.
  • Requests for references after the appointment has already been made.  It seems to me illogical and unjustifiable to ask me for a reference for a candidate, as someone did this morning, a full five weeks after that person was interviewed, weighed, measured and offered a post -- which was accepted.  On being asked for a post-appointment reference on one occasion in the past, I asked why and received the answer "We want it for our records".  I then asked "And what do you propose to do with your records, when it comes to references received after you've chosen your candidate?" but received no answer. 
Can readers of this blog shed any light on this mysterious practice?

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