I made a terrible mistake in a reference letter once. Granted I was very young and new to the processes of supervision and management. My only training had been being thrown directly into the fire. Actually, I think they used me as kindling.
As it happens, I was eventually asked to write letters of reference. Unfortunately, one of those early requests was for someone that I would’ve preferred not to do, but I felt a little obligated and truthfully, I also had semi-dark reasoning. I was hopeful that it might help us get rid of her faster.
She regaled us daily with constant complaints. Unfortunately, her desire to provide suggestions for improvement didn’t match her primary efforts. She also questioned whether every request was really necessary and then she moved at the speed of cold honey to complete them.
Various versions of our days of whine and quease ran through my mind as I struggled with what to say in the letter. In the end I managed to write that she was a good employee who reliably came to work and could be recommended to competently complete processing general work in repetitive format.
And then she was gone. Yay!
A couple of years later, it was time for me to move on too. I was thrilled with my new position in a really dynamic up and coming company. It was about a year into this job when guess who applied for a position at the same place? When some asked me about her because of our mutual previous employer, I said I only knew of her and that I couldn’t really say much else.
I was underwhelmed at the thought of her presence in the building, but I was really unprepared for the news that she would be coming to work in my department, once again under my supervision. Was I an ax murderer in a previous life, Karma?
I was ready to throw back scotch shots, multiple scotch shots, and I can’t even look at that stuff without thinking esophageal transplant. I still don’t understand how scotch isn’t really automotive fuel additive. I wholly entertained “kill me now, Karma” thoughts.
To make a long story short, and to shorten the building horror of my damaging memories, I’ll just move onto the day my scotch bottle needs blew up. My frustrations uncorked with a loud request for her to complete her duties. As in, “Why can’t you just shut the hell up and do your damned job”?
I didn’t realize how loudly I‘d made my request until I saw the company VP strolling down from the other end of the building to ask if I was OK. Then he asked me to come and speak with him in his office. Yep, thats a walk of shame right there, especially when it’s with somebody you deeply respect.
We engaged in the discussion of what happened and why and how I couldn’t understand how we could move ahead in any meaningful way with such an obvious lack of fit, as she clearly was.
He turned to a bank of files and pulled out a folder. In measure of fair play, or maybe just a little bit of play, he asked me if I was sure she wasn’t competent enough to work for the company. I answered with certainty; no, she is not. Then he handed me a copy of a reference letter she’d provided. Yup. Why couldn’t he have just handed me a few shots of automotive fuel additive instead?
I could only, again, will for death as he explained that, of course part of the reason she’d been hired was because of my own words speaking on her behalf. I had no reply. I sat there in bitter disappointment at how death was unwilling to respond. I instead willed for that block of the city to be struck hard by a sudden and very deep, fully distracting earthquake. No luck there either. I ended up mumbling some claptrap about trying to do better and slithered out the door.
As it turned out, my department was soon going to be
relieved revised anyway and she was being moved to another department. Fortunately, that little ‘situation’ worked out for the both of us, but it left me with a lot to contemplate, and to learn, especially when it came to reference letters.
I learned how to say “sorry, no can do” when I had to, and more importantly, I got a much firmer grip on the seriously wise adage of ‘say what you mean and mean what you say’. There was just no way I could take another possibility of having to turn to scotch.