“I have a member of staff who’s applied for another job. Their new company has approached me for a reference. The only problem is….I have nothing good to say about them. What do I write?”
A reference request for a highly performing employee is never a problem to write. It’s this opposite situation where managers often come unstuck. Sometimes, you’ll just want to put your head in your hands and wonder “Where do I start?”
In fact, references do not have to be lengthy. All you need to confirm are the employee’s basic employment details. (It’s worth checking to see if this is your company policy). However, should you be in the position whereby you’re asked to provide a fuller reference, these are my tips:
1. Start by confirming their post title and length of service. It is always useful to confirm your relationship with the member of staff, particularly if it has changed during the period that you have known them (eg I was a colleague of x from June 2005 until January 2009, when I became his/ her line manager).
2. Outline the key duties of their role.
3. Stick to the facts, or if you need to write a subject comment, qualify it with evidence.
4. If you have been actively managing this member of staff and have been giving them regular feedback on their work, they will be aware of the areas where they still need to develop.*
5. Ask the employee if there are any achievements of note that they would like to you include in the reference.
*Although all references are confidential, in the spirit of transparency I always share the reference I have written with my member of staff. Even the poorly performing ones.
Writing references can be, and should be, easy. The key is your relationship with this member of staff. References are never a problem if you have been actively performance managing your staff.
To avoid any sticky reference requst moments in the future, invest the time in your staff now!