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Unable to Recommend for Hire

Updated on June 24, 2016

One of the hardest things a manager will have to do is tell another potential employer or peer that they are unable to recommend a former employee for hire. After all, people’s livelihoods are at stake and let’s face it, most of us need a job. So, when confronted with the need to be transparent, upfront and completely honest job reference about someone’s past performance, it can be difficult to give a real opinion about how someone performed since most of us deserve a second chance.

Here are a few things to remember when giving feedback about someone’s past performance.

Be Objective

Your feedback about whether or not someone should be hired has to come from a place that is purely an objective perspective. It should not be based on whether or not you liked this individual as a person but solely based on past performance. Was their past performance while under your umbrella as a manager something that you would stake your name or brand on in making the recommendation for hire? If the answer is no, you have to be prepared to provide solid examples of why you are not able to make the recommendation without giving too much information/impacting anonymity.

You should also do the same for the individual you would be willing to make a recommendation of hire. What did this person do that was so effective in their role? What are some tangible results that they were able to produce?

How Likely Would You Be to Hire this Person Again?

A favorite question of mine to ask myself is how likely I would be to hire this person again? If presented with the opportunity, can I easily say I would hire this person for a second time? Embedded within the second question is an analysis of the pros and cons.

If the answer is yes, I would rehire this person, it should be answered without hesitation and one should review all the tangible reasons why this person would be an asset to the team. Remember, it's not about how much you like the person. It's about their work ethic and past performance.


Does the New Role Align with What You Know to be the Career Trajectory of the Individual?

When asked to recommend someone for hire, ask yourself the following question, 'Does the New Role Align with What You Know to be the Career Trajectory of the Individual?'

You may be wondering why this is important. This becomes especially important if this person is being hired to perform in a role that is different than the one they currently operate within or have demonstrated the knowledge, skills and ability to perform. While you can speak to their skillset for the role they previously functioned within, it can prove to be a slippery slope to predict one’s ability to perform in a role that is different from their current role. Make sure that if you are being asked to provide feedback for someone who has applied for a position in a role that is higher than that which they previously functioned that you can effectively provide feedback that provides tangible examples in which someone functioned at a higher level. Again, you might like this individual and “think” they have the potential to function at a higher level, but be prepared to give specific examples of this behavior.


Be Comfortable with Giving No Response

When asked to provide a job recommendation, be comfortable with giving no response. That’s right! It’s okay to say, “I decline to provide any feedback at this time about this candidate” and refer them to your Human Resources team for a response regarding past performance. In fact, some organizations require you to refer potential hiring managers/organizations to the Human Resources team for a response/feedback.

Beware of Litigation Risks!

A word of caution, if you are providing a reference or job recommendation or if you are providing any degree of negative feedback about someone’s past performance, if a reference contains untruths, inaccuracies or allegations about conduct and performance that cannot be substantiated, the employee could have legitimate grounds of discrimination and defamation of character to make a complaint and take legal action against the employer. So, a word to the wise when giving feedback, tread carefully!


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