With the job market as hot as it’s been, those of you still in the workforce may be hiring. I participated in plenty of hiring committees at UC Berkeley, and often provided good employees with a reference or advice to help them get a new job. But what happens when someone undeserving pressures you for a letter of recommendation or a reference? If you tell the truth, but the job candidate doesn’t like your truth (hint: they never do), you may risk a lawsuit. If you lie, you have to answer to your conscience.
That may not rank with being accused of sexual harassment by eleven complainants (I’ll say it again: what did anybody see in Andrew Cuomo?), but it is a pain in the you-know-where.
More than thirty years ago Robert Thornton, an economics professor from Pennsylvania’s Lehigh University, solved this conundrum by creating the Lexicon of Intentionally Ambiguous Recommendations, or LIAR. The recommendations can be read two ways. You hope the potential employer reads it the right way and the employee reads it the wrong way. But if the reverse occurs, you have deniability.
Here are a few samples:
For a lazy employee: “In my opinion, you will be very fortunate to get this person to work for you.”
For an incompetent employee: “I most enthusiastically recommend this candidate with no qualifications whatsoever.”
For a chronically absent employee: “A man like him is hard to find.”
For a quarrelsome employee: “You won’t find many people like her.”
For an employee who habitually dismisses other people’s ideas: “His input was always critical.”
For an employee with an alcohol problem: “Her real talent is getting wasted at her current job.” Another option: “I’d make sure there are no bars in the way of her coming to work for you.”
For an employee who takes too many cigarette breaks: “He would usually light up whenever we gave him more responsibility.”
For an employee who has embezzled: “Give her the opportunity and she will forge a name for herself.”
For an employee with a criminal record: “He’s a man of many convictions.” (Okay, that one was too obvious.)
For an employee who creates more problems than she solves: “I can assure you that no person would be better for the job.”
For an employee unqualified for the position he has applied for: “I would urge you to waste no time in making this candidate an offer of employment.”
For a mediocre employee: “All in all, I cannot say enough good things about this candidate or recommend her too highly.”
For a bloviating employee: “He can usually bore right to the heart of the matter.”
For an employee who exasperates you: “I find myself frequently raving about her work.”
Wow, and I thought I was good with words. If you’re ever stuck with having to say something about a less-than-stellar employee, I cannot recommend Emeritus Professor Thornton’s book too highly — and I mean that in the good way.