Sunday, January 22, 2017

When prospective recommenders love me but hate the business

For many years, T.T., a reader from New Jersey, had wanted to work for a particular large company. He thought he had the ability and experience to do well there and believed that the company would be a perfect place to advance his career. When a position for which he believed himself to be qualified became available, he seized the moment by updating his resume and writing the most compelling cover letter he could muster.

The job posting also asked for applicants to have three recommenders send in letters attesting to the applicant's strengths and weaknesses, as well as how the applicant might fit in with the company. Now in his mid-30s, T.T. had a good track record at the places where he'd worked and he figured that finding people to write strong recommendation letters would be no problem.

He emailed three people with whom he'd worked, asking each of them if they would be willing to write a letter on his behalf. The first response he got assured him that she'd be glad to write the letter, asking T.T. to provide her with an up-to-date resume, a copy of the job description, and perhaps a copy of his cover letter so she had a sense of how he saw himself fitting into the job.

But the second person T.T. asked responded by telling him that he was not a fan of the company, its values, or the products it produced, and that T.T. could do better. When the third person responded in a similar manner, T.T. was now in the position of having to find two other people who would be willing to write recommendation letters for him.

"This doesn't seem right," T.T. writes. "I'm not asking them to buy products from the company. I'm asking them to write a recommendation letter for me."

While T.T. thinks it's fine for different people to have different opinions about particular companies, he doesn't believe that these opinions have anything to do with how he's performed on previous jobs or how people he's worked with perceive his own values and work ethic.

"All three of them had written recommendations for me in the past," writes T.T. Why should it make a difference what company I'm applying for a job at? T.T. asks. If they're willing to recommend me, shouldn't they be willing to do so regardless of where I apply?

No one should ever assume that someone he or she asks to write a recommendation letter is obligated to agree to do so. Prospective recommenders have every right to decline the invitation to write such a letter, regardless of their reasons for not wanting to write one. If a recommender doesn't want to write T.T. a letter because they have strong feelings about the company to which he's applying, then that's their reason.

It makes no sense for T.T. to try to convince someone who doesn't want to write a letter to write one. The right thing is for T.T. to thank them for considering his request and then to move on to someone else who might be agreeable to write him a letter that could help him get the job he wants. 

Jeffrey L. Seglin, author of The Simple Art of Business Etiquette: How to Rise to the Top by Playing Nice, is a lecturer in public policy and director of the communications program at Harvard's Kennedy School. He is also the administrator of, a blog focused on ethical issues.

 Do you have ethical questions that you need answered? Send them to 

Follow him on Twitter: @jseglin



Azalea Annie said...

Your acquaintances seem to be of the opinion that everything is about them. The recommendation is about you. They are too self-centered to realize that.

You could try to ask these people if they would do this as a favor to you, but I suspect you would be better advised to move on to others who recognize you are trying to get a job for which you are qualified.

Anonymous said...

I'm with Azalea Annie, we've reached a sad place where a "friend" would go to this length to feign cooperation, yet find a rather underhanded way of making an unnecessary comment against the company.

Charlie Seng

Anonymous said...

Depriving a person of a letter of recommendation for a job they want because you don't like the company they want to work for is ridiculous. What if the applicant is currently unemployed and unable to make rent or a house payment? What if they need the letter of recommendation before the job closes in 3 days? What if they have not needed recommendations and have no other sources readily available?

I graduated in 1979 from Bethany College (hi Jeff!) and all of my professional references are retired, unreachable, or (in one instance) deceased. It happens. When I now apply for jobs, I am hard-pressed to provide 3 recent references. Should I be denied the chance to become gainfully employed because someone I am depending on wants to make a judgement call on my perspective employer?

Patty Range (Hershberger)

Anonymous said...

Hee Hee *prospective (employer). Guess I should proofread before I post.