Death of the Job Reference

It passed away sometime early this century, and only a few really noticed. I’m talking, of course, of the passing of the meaningful job reference.

Sometime in the last few years, managers and even friends stopped giving quality feedback. Now, even though people are expected to list references on their resumè, no one checks them. Ever.

I’ve been asked to be put on probably 30 resumès in the last five years. I’ve received zero (0) calls. None. No one even bothers anymore. But, OK, I’ll be honest, that’s why I also never say “no” when someone asks to use me as a reference. It’s a no-cost, goodwill thing.

Of course we all know why: [insert standard answer here] the lawyers. People are so litigious that managers are afraid to give anything but perfect comments about anyone. As the story goes: whisper one bad word (“well they did show up late that one time”), and you’ll get sued so fast it will make your head spin.

If you can’t say anything nice, don’t say anything at all

But there’s something else to it. I think people blame the lawyers, but really it’s more our politically-correct, no-conflict world we live in today. People don’t want to make waves, or say something negative that might get back to the person. After all, they may need a reference sometime in the future themselves. So as their mother said: if you can’t say anything nice, don’t say anything at all. And they blame the lawyers.

I mourn this passing. But do I give meaningful feedback when I am called? Yep, pretty much, I do. Not enough to get me sued, but I do give enough clues to make the picture emerge. And I have my lawyer on speed-dial.