hilarious guest post from the one and only amanda (check out her blog here).
Listen, I know it’s tough out there for the unemployed—especially for recent graduates who are competing with incredibly experienced people who are scooping up assistant jobs like they’re at Coldstone Creamery because they need to pay their bills.
So, in deference to them, I’m not going to talk about how much it also sucks to be employed these days, when you get pay cuts on your already embarrassingly low salary, take on the work of all of the people your company has laid off, and then are expected smile and be grateful that you’re still employed.
I mean, for real, it gets so stressful that you’re secretly planning a big, splashy suicide, where you run from the cubicle ghost town once filled with all of your friends, straight into your boss’s office during an “important” meeting, screaming, “WHYYYYYY GOD WHYYYYYYYY,” and right out the open window. The goal would be to fall to your death right underneath the big Charles Schwab billboard that says, “I don’t want to work forever,” because, come on, that would just be hilarious. Your dead body on the corner of 10thavenue by the Dunkin Donuts—awesome.
But enough about me—the point here is that it’s a jungle out there and people are getting desperate. I get it. But if I get one more goddamned request to be a reference for someone I’ve never met, or met briefly in line for the bathroom at Darby O’Gills junior year of college when we were both shitfaced, I’m going to lose it.
I know that certain people are fine recommending people that they’ve never met solely because they went to the same college or the same sorority or the same faux Irish pub on Mug Night, but I am not. In business, the only thing you have is your name and your reputation. I’m not going to let some jackass I’ve never met jeopardize what I’ve worked so hard to build by giving them my professional endorsement.
Maybe I take this kind of stuff too seriously, but really, giving a reference isn’t just forwarding your resume to HR—it’s me saying, “Hey, this person is awesome.” So when I’ve never met you or never worked with you, how can I judge how awesome you’re going to be in a professional setting? In fact, I can already tell that you’re not awesome, based on the fact that you clearly don’t know what a reference is, and in what capacity someone would have to know you in order to give you one (ie: someone you worked with vs. someone who helped you tap a keg at a sketchy house party freshman year of college). And if I recommend you and you suck, I look like an idiot for introducing you to the company. No thanks.
In one example of absolute ridiculousness, someone had emailed me for “career advice,” and after I sent her a long email answering all of her questions and giving her advice—no response. I don’t want real card with hand-drawn calligraphy. What I want is an email (that takes two seconds and costs nothing, by the way) thanking me for my time. I’m already well-aware of your unemployment status, so what the fuck are you doing that’s so important that you can’t take a minute to shoot off an email to someone who tried to help you?
Now, imagine my surprise when I get an email from our HR Director a few weeks later, saying that the same girl was using me for a reference. She did this without a.) ever meeting me, and b.) asking me for permission. OH HELL NO. So then I had to write a “cease and desist” letter to this girl telling her never to use my name again, since we had never met, and the only impression I have of this person is that she obviously doesn’t get it, and that her general grasp on manners is questionable.
So, let’s play a game. It’s called: WHO SHOULD I ASK FOR A REFERENCE?
1. Your supervisor at your internship
2. Someone you’ve never met but went to the same college as
3. Your boss at your summer job
4. Your college professor
5. Someone you think you had a Spanish class with three years ago
1. YES, you should ask your supervisor at your internship for a reference. They know you purely in a professional sense, and if you were a good intern (which is, frankly, not hard to do since so many interns suck so hardcore that I want to punch them all right in their faces and send them back to the smug NYU classroom they crawled out of), they will be more than happy to sing your praises. You did a good job and worked for free. You deserve it.
2. NO, because they don’t. know. who. you. are. I guess if you’re desperate, you can try it, but don’t be surprised if people tell you no. Yeah, we went to the same college, but I went to college with a lot of idiots, and so did everyone else. I’m not going to take the chance that you’re one of those idiots and jeopardize my position (or, blow up my spot) for you.
3. YES, unless you did what most people do at their summer jobs, which is goof off, show up hungover or still drunk, and generally not give a fuck about anything because you’re getting paid minimum wage and the only reason you have a job in the summer is to save up some beer money for the Fall Semester. But if you did a moderately good job, definitely ask him/her for a reference. They know you as an employee and while your skills at scooping ice cream or folding sweaters might not directly translate into the skills you need for the real job you’re applying for, but they can say things like, “She was reliable, she showed up on time, and she was a hard worker,” which are all things any boss wants to see, no matter what job you’re looking for.
4. YES, but only if you’re desperate. College professors can speak about your intelligence and your work ethic to a point, but turning in a paper is a little different than actually doing a job. If anything, they could be a good character reference.
5. NO. Let me get this straight, you think we had a Spanish class together three years ago? If you start out a message with, “Hey, don’t know if you remember me or not, but I think we had a Spanish class together sophomore year…” just stop writing the letter altogether. You don’t even know if you met me, and if you’re not even sure if I’ll remember you, how do you expect me to go to my boss and recommend you? FAIL.
So, in review, don’t ask people for references that don’t know you in a professional capacity. It’s just awkward, and then they’re forced to write you an awkward message back saying, “WTF?! WHO ARE YOU? NO, THE ANSWER IS NO.” Okay, maybe that’s just what I wrote. But honestly, just THINK before you write. It’ll save you from embarrassment, and people like me from an ulcer.