I couldn’t help but laugh when I got a LinkedIN invitation this week from my old college professor. Long story short, I got the offer of a lifetime right around graduation time and the company kind of botched the order of activities. While I had already been extended the offer and passed the drug test, they informed me at the last minute right before starting that I’d need 3 letters of recommendation in order to start. It was summer time by then and it was tough to locate professors from my senior year. So, I did get one letter from a company I did a co-op with, but needed 2 professor recommendations. I was able to chase down a professor who headed up the department. Unfortunately, I think I got a C+ in his class on Engineering Design or something along those lines, so naturally, he wasn’t the best guy to ask, but I needed those recs quickly, he was the head of the Chem E program, and he was available. I did graduate with honors, but did so-so in his class as I recall. He obliged and sent the letter to the employer in the envelope I provided.
Fast-Forward a few months and while I well settled into my new job and doing well, our departmental director called me into his office one day and asked if he knew what my professor did. I said I didn’t. He said, “I wanted to wait until I knew you were working out, and you are. So, you know, HR didn’t want to let me hire you when they saw this recommendation but I had already chosen you as my candidate and over-rode their recommendation. You almost didn’t get this job. I just thought you should know.” He showed me the letter of recommendation this professor wrote and it had me fuming. Not only was it clearly a copy/paste because he used different names throughout the letter, but he closed with, “I cannot recommend him highly”. Somewhat ambiguous because of the “highly”, but clearly not a resounding endorsement. As he could tell I was fired up and prone to do something I might regret, he recommended that I do nothing. He told me about how his temper and sense of “justice” had cost him many an opportunity and bonus money over the years and he didn’t want to see me go down the same road. “Let it go” he said. And I did.
A few months after that, my mom mentioned that the professor had called their home looking to raise money for the Chemical Engineering program. I told her what he had done and that I’d never give a dime back to the school and asked that she didn’t either. She was furious as well. While I had resigned myself to moving on, I didn’t want to see my parents sending money to a guy who almost torpedoed my career. She called him back and let him have it. He claimed he had no recollection of writing a negative recommendation and then said perhaps I didn’t do that well in his class. Then he should have declined she said – instead of ruining my career.
Negative Recommendations – How I Manage
Personally, I’ve written a few positive recommendations for people and there’s only been one occasion where I was approached by someone that I didn’t think was deserving of a positive recommendation. In that case, I declined to write the recommendation. When they asked why, I had stated that they didn’t report directly to me and I couldn’t necessarily endorse their work. It was kind of a cop-out explanation, but this was someone I knew in social circles as well and figured it was a middle-ground I could live with ethically. If I flat out said, “You Suck”, it would be a little weird seeing them around, but I think they got the hint without slamming them. On one hand, if I wrote a mildly favorable rec, I would be doing their future company a disservice and if I trashed them, well, I could have altered their life like this guy almost did to me. I’m of the opinion if you don’t have something good to say, don’t say anything at all – especially through formal documentation like a mandatory letter of recommendation request – when what you’re writing is NOT a recommendation, but a warning.
Blast from the Past
So, a dozen years later, what do ya know, but I get a LinkedIn request from him? I was half-inclined to send an “In-Message” to him blasting him myself for his “recommendation” that would have completely altered my life. It was the difference between a great job where I’ve thrived vs. being jobless at graduation after being in a position where I was about to start, only to find that HR killed it at the last minute due to his recommendation. Students expect to graduate college, often with student loans, and be able to start their professional life free of sabotage and this guy almost really screwed it up for me. But years have passed. I’ve moved on. I’m really content with all facets of my life both professionally and personally and I don’t need the drama. I followed the advice my old boss gave me so many years ago. I let it go. I hit “ignore” on the request. The sheer irony of LinkedIn is that it’s a career tool – and I got a request from the guy who tried to kill my career prospects.
I Have 2 Questions For You:
a) Would You Have “Let it Go”? Both 12 Years Ago and Now?
b) Have You or Would You Ever Write a Negative Recommendation for an Employee or Student?
More In Career/College:
- What If Unemployment Benefits Were Structured as a Loan Instead of a Freebie?
- I Pissed Off a Recruiter Today. Is Salary a 4-Letter Word?
- Say Bye to Full-Time Employment: You’re Likely to be a Temp in the Future
- My Salary Will Never Increase Again In Real Dollars – Will Yours?
- Best 529 Plans: Everything You Need to Know