Ask Amy: Should I decline my frequent job references?

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Dear Amy: “Liz” and I worked together for a short time nearly 20 years ago. She was excellent at her work and was an officer in a national organization in our field.

We have not seen one another in years. We’ve spoken on the phone one time in the last six years.

A decade ago, I spoke with an old colleague and recommended her to work at a firm I worked at 30 years ago. Liz got the job and was fired within weeks; I am not aware of the reason.

Liz has changed jobs A LOT. She apparently has difficulty holding a job, and often will send a text informing me that she has listed me as a reference for a new application.

Responding to her subsequent requests, I have answered questionnaires, spoken with Human Resources on the phone, and reached out to colleagues at various hiring firms.

Several weeks ago, she contacted me yet again, asking for a reference for a job at a preeminent firm where I have had close contacts for decades.

The position was great, interesting, and with good benefits.

She got the job, and has now lost that job.

I found this out when she texted me and told me she had given my phone number to someone at a new opportunity, who would be calling me.

My concern is not only that I am referring someone whom I haven’t worked with for many years, but I have no knowledge of her recent work, or the reasons she changes jobs so often.

In referring her to old colleagues and friends, am I messing up my own reputation when these situations don’t work out for whatever reason?

With so many failures after my recommendations are given, maybe I’m not the right person to be providing references.

What do you think I should do?

– Stunningly Good References — NOT!

Dear Good References: If all “Liz” has to do to get a great reference from you is to supply your phone number and then shoot you a text, then you sound like the perfect mark.

You have been extremely generous in assisting this person, but at this point you are devaluing your own personal and professional currency when your own experience with her is ancient and yet you continue to recommend her for jobs when you know (by now) that – based on her extensive track record – she will not succeed.

When you receive the next text from Liz, you could reply: “I’ve provided many references for you over the years, but my work experience with you was so brief and so long ago that I am no longer able to provide any kind of helpful reference. Please don’t supply my phone number to any more potential employers.”

You can email Amy Dickinson at [email protected] or send a letter to Ask Amy, P.O. Box 194, Freeville, NY 13068.

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