Article Date: 8/1/2003

lessons learned
A Matter of Reference
Befuddled when asked to provide an employment reference? Read on.
By Jack Runniger, O.D.

I can empathize with the young man who was hired to work on a farm. On his first day he worked so fast that he completed the day's chores by early afternoon.

"I've never had such a good worker," the farmer told him. "Here's an easy job for the rest of the day in appreciation for your hard work. Just sort these potatoes. Put the good ones in one pile and the bad ones in another."

Two hours later he checked on the hired hand's progress -- and found that in all that time he'd placed only three potatoes in one pile and four in the other.

"Why are you so slow on this easy job, yet you worked so fast on the hard chores?" asked the farmer.

"It ain't the work," replied the hired hand. "It's havin' to make all them durned decisions!"


Making decisions

Making decisions can be the bane of existence. But have you ever noticed it's usually the little decisions and not the big ones that cause problems? Politics? Tax cuts? Abortion? Everyone seems to have strong opinions one way or the other on these issues. But try to get a decision from three vacationing couples on where they should go for dinner!

I have extreme difficulty making decisions in answering job reference questionnaires. I sweat blood trying to decide how to best flatter the applicant without appearing to exaggerate. After much study and analysis, I believe I have come up with the best system to accomplish this task most efficiently.

Consider Freddy's case

Let us assume that Freddy has applied for a job and has given your name as a reference. Let us further assume that you're anxious to help Freddy get the position for which he has applied for one of the following reasons:

A. Freddy is a good friend and needs the job.

B. Freddy owes you money, and the only hope you have for being repaid is for Freddy to find a job.

C. Freddy is your no-good brother-in-law who is living with and sponging off of you. If he gets the job, he'll be sent to California and thus out of your hair.

The rating game

The company sends you a questionnaire asking your opinion of Freddy's qualities. The form lists a number of characteristics. Following each, you're given a choice of seven ratings ranging from superior to poor.

You're tempted to circle 'superior' for each category, even though an honest appraisal would be straining to categorize Freddy as even mediocre in such areas as intelligence, integrity, etc. You must resist this temptation.

"But," you say, "there will be other applicants whose references will lie about them, so I must also lie about Freddy."

Out think them

This is where you must out think the competition. If a personnel manager receives a form with nothing but superior ratings, he'll think, "This guy is lying. At the job interview it was apparent that Freddy isn't all that great."

What you do instead is rate him 'superior' in most aspects, but throw in two 'goods' and perhaps one or two 'above averages.' This shows your sincerity and that you have put a good deal of thought into your ratings.

But what if you're asking for references rather than supplying them? Tune in next month.

Jack Runniger, our consulting editor, lives in Rome, GA.  He's also a past editor of OM.


Optometric Management, Issue: August 2003