Question & Answer
It Ain't Paranoia If They're Really Out to Get You
March 05, 2013
For reasons that will become clear, I am remaining somewhat anonymous in this question. Here is the situation -- as part of a general housekeeping/ cleanup, I (along with another associate) am being shown the door in a small boutique firm. Notwithstanding any pronouncements by my superiors that this was a wrenching decision for them, I am aware that my work productivity suffered enormously during the past year due to personal problems outside the office.
Despite these professional difficulties, I believe that I have earned the respect of superiors and colleagues, and before the dismissal was aware that this is not the enviornment in which I will thrive; this is a sentiment that was repeated by the senior partners in conversation, specifically, that my skills are not exercised or developed properly as a third/fourth year associate in a boutique firm that offers little, if any, opportunity for mentoring.
All things considered, I am planning to relocate to another city. The senior partners have offered to place calls on my behalf, and seem genuinely concerned that I find gainful and fulfilling employment elsewhere. This is my question: my boss has said that he would have been insulted had I not asked whether he would serve as a reference for me. I believe that he believes that I have good skills that are simply untapped in this office, and that I would work better in a larger firm, with more personal direction, or an industry enviornment. Having said that, with the general theory that folks should not burn bridges behind them, will it raise questions when I offer the name of a senior partner as a reference (i.e., will people ask, "What the hell is this guy doing?"), or should I simply ask a lesser-connected junior partner to vouch for me?
Looking forward to hearing from you,
I am somewhat confused about what is happening with you. Your employment with your firm has been terminated due to a downturn in your productivity, specifically due to the fact that as a third /fourth year associate you are not developing properly because of a lack of mentoring. However, you tell us that you had personal problems during the past year and you yourself attribute your lack of productivity to this reason. Lastly, even before you were let go, you didn't think this was the right firm for you; therefore, I am guessing that you were giving great thought to leaving this firm and, more than likely, that also helped to hinder your productivity.
And now you are questioning the very generous offer for the senior partner to be your reference? I don't understand your thought process here. Why wouldn't you want the person you report to, not to mention a senior partner of the firm, to be the person who gives references for you? Is there something you are not telling us? Or are you concerned that he will not be as generous as he is pretending to be and the reference he gives will not be a good reference? Or that he will simply tell the truth?
First of all, let me remind you that it is a dangerous game for someone to give a bad reference over the phone. All that is really legally allowed is to verify dates of employment and salary. However, people are more than happy to "break the law" by giving a great reference for someone and it is doubtful that anyone will be upset by this. But should someone give you a bad reference over the phone then there are all sorts of legal ramifications including major law suits. The only legal way a bad reference can be given is in writing.
It doesn't sound to me that your senior partner wants to burn bridges with you by delivering a bad reference. What I don't understand is your comment about burning bridges with him . . . do you think you will burn a bridge with him if you don't use him as a reference? I doubt that his heart would be broken if you didn't use him for references but I also think this wouldn't be your best idea to pass up his offer and ask a junior partner to be your main reference.
Quite frankly, your future employer might even question why you are submitting the name of a junior partner who isn't your "boss" as you have indicated.
As I read your question over and over again I am still confused as to why you think it would raise questions when you offer up the name of the senior partner as a reference. Quite frankly, I think it helps your case since you have been let go from the firm. You are going to have to do a lot of explaining about that alone when you interview with any prospective employers. Having the backing of a senior partner will at least support your theory that you have the potential necessary to be a great hire if placed into the right environment.
Incidentally, you certainly will want to have more than just one reference so I suggest that you also ask the junior partner -- in addition to the senior partner to be a reference for you. Two are better than one! Best wishes!!
Ann M. Israel