Irony: Professor That Tried to Kill My Career Wants to Connect on LinkedIn

by Darwin on October 11, 2011

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?


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{ 25 comments… read them below or add one }

Moneycone October 12, 2011 at 7:14 am

I cringed as I read your post Darwin! What a slimy thing to do! He gives a bad recommendation and then hits you up for money? He must have a sad soul indeed.


Darwin October 13, 2011 at 7:22 pm

I don’t think he made the connection. That arrogant; write a poor recommendation and not even remember the kid’s name whose life you meant to destroy.


funancials October 12, 2011 at 12:25 pm

I wouldn’t write a bad recommendation (oxy-moron?). I think you did the right thing in both instances. Perhaps the professor was “teaching” you a lesson – NOT.


Darwin October 13, 2011 at 7:22 pm

Totally – what an oxymoron!


cashflowmantra October 12, 2011 at 12:32 pm

I agree with everything you said and did in this post. I would decline to write a poor recommendation and would suggest that they find someone else. I would have especially declined to send your old prof money or have any further contact.


Darwin October 13, 2011 at 7:23 pm

It was tempting to put my foot up his ass. But he’s an old geezer by now; just not worth opening up old wounds.


Edu @ DollarMusings October 12, 2011 at 4:29 pm

Great advice from your boss on being careful with your responses. I’m prone to answering an email before I’ve had time to ‘decompress.’ Still learning!


Darwin October 13, 2011 at 7:24 pm

I haven’t always heeded his advice, but it WAS good advice. As I’ve matured, I’ve definitely thought longer and harder about my reactions to various situations.


krantcents October 12, 2011 at 6:02 pm

As a teacher, I have written numerous recommendation letters. If I had a student who I felt I could not recommend I would tell him/her. I usually say I will only positive things about them so the letter may be very short. My letters have been very successful getting students $50K scholarships, jobs and into college.


Darwin October 13, 2011 at 7:24 pm

That’s because you have class :>


Squirrelers October 13, 2011 at 1:37 am

The guy is a complete and total tool. No way you should have connected with him on Linkedin. You probably did the right thing by taking the high road and ignoring his request to connect. What nerve he had to do that and call your mother and ask for donation money, after he knowingly gave a mediocre recommendation that could have totally sabotaged your career. Again, it goes back to taking the high road. Even if your grade in his class was mediocre, and let’s say you didn’t impress him. Still, why not just do the right thing and say good things? That’s what the guy should have done, and what I would have done in that case. Better to err on the side of being helpful, I think.


Darwin October 13, 2011 at 7:25 pm

At the very least, he could have declined!


Sam October 13, 2011 at 10:54 am

Ah, the false rec, rec!

U did only get a C+ though and asked him in a time of need. Can’t expect much.

However, to then ask for money and stuff isn’t that great.


Darwin October 13, 2011 at 7:28 pm

Well, I went into it not expecting too much. But as the head of the department, he surely had access to my full grade set. I graduated with honors. One of the few kids in the entire class that wasn’t the product of a robotic “Tiger Mom” upbringing. I guess the ultimate arbitor is the fact that I’ve been a perennial top performer at my job (and I’m still there), so by wrecking my chances at the current firm, he would have done both the firm and myself a disservice.

btw, our Valedictorian worked at my company for about 2 years and quit. He couldn’t take the stress of the job and went back to do his PhD instead. I’m sure he got a great recommendation. But he didn’t work out too well for the company.


Mal October 13, 2011 at 1:04 pm

I agree, you did the right thing by just pressing the Ignore button. Not someone you want in your life, but it is so long in the past it’s not worth dredging up old hurts for one last chance to give back what he gave you. I’m always a fan of taking the high road, which is what you did. 🙂


Kristina Sullivan October 13, 2011 at 1:14 pm

I write many letters for my (college) students. My strategy is to describe a student’s strengths. If there aren’t any, I decline to write the letter. Many students are naive about the connection between their classroom performance and what support they can expect from faculty, so I also advise the low performers to ask a professor for a letter after a class in which the student has done very well. I’m glad to help a student in a pinch, though, and always ask what they think the letter recipient is looking for. There is no excuse for the letter you describe–getting the name wrong should have prompted the company to just throw it out. Unfortunately there’s no insurance from bad judgment.


20's Finances October 13, 2011 at 4:48 pm

Ridiculous doesn’t even begin to explain it. I probably would have sent him a message, explaining why I ignored his request (or at least wanted to). It’s probably a good thing that you didn’t. Nice self control.


Invest It Wisely October 15, 2011 at 8:57 pm

Like the others, can’t believe he couldn’t even get the name on the letter right. That wasn’t too classy… it would have been better to simply have declined to write the letter. And then he hits you up for money later… lol.


101 Centavos October 16, 2011 at 4:27 pm

This guy wins the asshat of the week prize. Glad you held off on retaliation though.

Any letter of recommendation needs to be carefully thought out. I can’t give out any formal reference letters at work per company policy, but I have made verbal personal recommendations when they were well deserved.


gordon burkholder October 29, 2011 at 5:21 pm

Sorry, but this comes off a bit whiny and entitled. You didn’t do well in the class, and you knew that the guy wasn’t going to be a good recommendation. Don’t ask people to ask for recommendations unless you know they will be strong. This is the easy way around the problem.

Being hit up for money – all of the departments do that. Why would you expect someone to remember one of hundreds or thousands of letters they have wrote?


Darwin October 30, 2011 at 12:56 pm

Well, apparently you’re in the minority.

First off, I didn’t anticipate he would try to tank my career. I graduated with honors and if he, as head of the department did a little legwork, he would have seen that. I didn’t do as well in his class as my others; not everyone gets an A in every class.

Next, if I were to write disparaging letters to prospective employers with the intent of wrecking careers, I’d probably remember who I did that to. That is, unless, I were so arrogant and uncaring that it’s just a name and a number, not a career that I just ruined. And, well, evidently that is the case. Because not only did he author that letter, but then he caught an earful when calling our home, THEN, again, he tries to connect on Linkedin. Maybe if I showed up and knocked his teeth out he’d remember me :>

But I took the high road.


Devil's Advocate January 9, 2012 at 6:52 am

You characterize your old prof. as if he had malicious intent (“tried to tank my career” “life you meant to destroy” “sabotage” “tried to kill my career prospects”) but I think that’s off the mark. I’m going out on a limb here to suggest that he’s a candidate for a diagnosis of PDD-NOS (pervasive developmental disorder-not otherwise specified). I know it sounds like BS, but my son has it, and your guy’s behavior is par for the course. People with the disorder tend to be, among other things, inappropriately honest (resulting in awkward situations) and they generally lack emotional awareness or empathy. They don’t have a social filter (think Michael Scott of “The Office” sitcom). Neurotypical folks like you and I often perceive their behavior as annoying, arrogant, insensitive, or even spiteful. Otherwise, they function pretty much normally.

For him to ask for money even after your mother unloaded on him, he clearly still doesn’t “get it.” I’d bet he didn’t realize he was being an asshole when he wrote that letter; just honest and forthcoming with his thoughts. And socially retarded.

Twelve years ago, I wouldn’t have let it go. But now? That’s enough time to shake off the grudge, especially since you got the job despite his bad rec. Look up information on PDD-NOS or Asperger’s Syndrome. Understanding it may help you forgive and move on.


judas December 2, 2012 at 3:25 am

My professor acted like my friend and loved my writing until she failed me for 2 required classes, that were unbelievably easy and failed me after graduation. I went through the ceremony and she never once informed me I could fail her class. I even did extra credit just in case. She caused me to take 2 classes over again at a community college where that professor, like most of my other professors, said I was a good writer. She was a miserable c you next tuesday and my mentor, the dean of liberal arts, actually promoted her from adjunct to assistant professor. i have dreams about throwing Molotov cocktails through her wooden house but I would never do that. It’s hard to move on because the economy is already crappy. I can believe what you went through but isn’t it disgusting? If they have nothing nice to say, they shouldn’t recommend you and go on with their miserable lives. I have met a few engineers and they are very inept when it comes to behaving properly.


D.Hawlk February 25, 2013 at 10:00 pm

I think the professor more then cut and paste your recommendation, he cut and paste his request for money too!

One of my previous bosses, Burned me bad at my last job, it did not get me fired, but I ended up leaving due to the irreparable damage he did to my reputation.
I was a hard working goal oriented soul, trying to be a good leader, while my boss talked really bad in front of our DOD customers about our product.
He joked about how bad it was and how he didn’t blame them for using a direct competitor. I waited till we got back to the office and bluntly told him he really shouldn’t be joking like that in front of the customer.
A few weeks passed and as my boss magically disappeared on vacation, I got called in with HR for talking bad about the Company, and was put on probation. In front of another manager, who overheard my discussion with this “boss” i was put in my place. Sure I was out of line, but I have a group of 12 people under me that had no reason for this guy to jokingly be having their lives threatened with undue hardship.
My position was revoked, and I became just another guy, our customers were skittish, and eventually people lost their jobs.
in my end review I let my Project Manager know exactly the reason I was leaving. 3 people (not me) had filed grievances against this person, with HR, and it all was swept under the rug, including sexual harassment which was witnessed by myself.
He still has his job, as a non manager, and continues to this day to send FB and LinkedIn requests. Uh yea… get a clue buddy.

I let bygones be bygones, but I learned a lesson!


Darwin February 26, 2013 at 6:54 pm

Yeah, he probably did. But still doesn’t excuse him; that’s part of his gig!


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