Posted in HR

Informal referees

In real life, when you meet a new person, you might ask mutual friends what they think of him/her. Usually, it’s just as a casual enquiry, to find out a bit more about this new person and whether they’re likely to be keepers or just passing through. (NB, if you’re looking to date this new person, it is of course permissible to ask as many questions as the host of a gameshow in order to find out more info.)

In the working world, your prospective employer (or their HR accomplice) may conduct a similar enquiry if they discover that you’ve worked with someone they know. This mutual acquaintance mightn’t be in that carefully curated list of referees that you’ve listed on your CV, or prepped to say delightful things about you.

This person might be the receptionist you yelled at when he couldn’t produce an instant courier service out of thin air; or the lady in Finance who recalls your harsh suggestion about where she could put her spreadsheet; or the HR person you mocked relentlessly by group email. Now, we all know that formal referees are generally chosen to give glowing accounts of you – painting a picture of a beloved colleague whose only weakness is that you “take on too much responsibility / work too hard / hold yourself and others to high standards”.

An informal referee has no such obligation, and their input might go a little something like this…


Today’s tip: try your very best not be the person that this text is about. (To be clear, this person wasn’t being described as a cook.) Don’t burn your bridges. Be nice to the people you work with, especially if they work in supporting services/roles. Because (a) it’s the right way to live your life, and (b) you never know who else these people know, and if they might be asked for an informal reference down the track. You’ve been warned!


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