It was over a decade ago, but the memory is still fresh and clear. It was the dilemma every employer dreads. A star employee was standing before me, telling me he was applying for another job. Yes, he loved things here, but the new position offered great new opportunities in a faraway location, new responsibilities and skills to be mastered, and on top of it all, a lot more money.
We had a great relationship, so he wanted me to know everything up front, so that I would be inconvenienced as little as possible should he get the new position. Good man. But now I needed to be one too. Not only should I take the high road and wish him luck, he wanted me to write a reference letter to help him get the job.
So here I was. Should I take that nobler path and help this hard-working and deserving young man get ahead in life, or should I try to hang on to a rare find of an employee? I knew what was right. I knew what to do.
Here’s my letter (and yes, names have indeed been changed)…
January 11, 2000
To whom it may concern:
In response to his application to your company, I am happy to provide a reference letter for Allen Moeland. Allen has served as the Director of Research and Planning in our company since May of 1999, and in that time he has proven to be a valued resource. We have relied on his integrity and high work ethic on many occasions and have received positive comments about his work from several clients. In fact, such positive notes have significantly outnumbered the negative comments that we have received about him.
Allen has an exceptional level of organizational and analytical abilities. He is mature, disciplined and focused, and this has allowed him to quickly assess client situations and relationships to recognize opportunities that others may have missed. On more than one occasion he was able to gather vital information from our clients and then repeatedly leveraged that information to obtain payments and more “personal” favors without our knowledge.
As for his behavior within the office, Allen has displayed an ongoing high level of respect for his co-workers, seldom making any sexist remarks to the women in the office and virtually never to the men. He has made an ongoing and admirable effort to keep his drinking and drug habits from affecting the quality of his work, and even on his fairly frequent bad days has seldom resorted to any serious level of violence.
It is said that the true measure of a man is his level of integrity, and in that regard Allen — or “Snake” as we affectionately call him — again stands high. He has often been entrusted with matters involving large amounts of the company’s money, and has now repaid the great majority of the missing funds. That hasn’t gone unnoticed; even his parole officer states that Allen is showing considerable progress, regularly providing detailed maps of where monies were buried and bodies were hidden.
In summary, Allen is a good, honest man who would be a real asset to any company or rehabilitation program. I strongly recommend — indeed even insist — that you hire him. If you have any questions or concerns please feel free to call at any time of the day or night. We wish him the very best in his future and look forward to seeing him start this exciting new endeavor in your place of business so far away.
Lorne Pike, President
Lorne Pike & Associates
FOLLOW-UP: I gave “Allen” the letter, and really enjoyed watching his smile slowly fade and expression change as he read it. Eventually, after he offered me a colorful noun or two and we shared a few laughs, I gave him a slightly updated version. He got the job, has done very well for himself in the years since, and I’m still privileged to share lunch and some laughs with a good guy when we both get the chance. I lost an employee. I still have a friend. Easy choice.
Life is short. Have fun. Be nice.