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Winifred Adebayo: Bad Professional Recommendation



A while ago, I visited an organization to do some work and learn. During one of my workdays, a call came in for the supervisor. The conversation was loud, it didn’t take time to figure out it was an employer calling to verify a recommendation or seek information concerning a person that previously worked in that organization. The conversation started on a pleasant note until the supervisor started giving her opinion of the candidate in question. She said a lot about the person’s poor work ethic, inability to get along with other staff, the inability to take constructive criticism, and plainly stated “if she applied for a position here, I will not hire her”.

I was cringing in my seat. As the words rushed out of her mouth, it was like I was receiving multiple dirty slaps. I felt sorry for the unfortunate person who was being discussed. Knowing that the applicant might not get the job due to that conversation was too painful. As soon as she dropped the call, she acted guilty and asked around the office if she was too harsh. It was like she needed some sort of validation for the way she had spoken on the phone. She defended herself without us asking – saying she was just telling the truth and didn’t want to lie. I didn’t know the applicant well enough and there was no way to judge the recommendation I heard.

I remember a similar story about someone who was applying for a job and took a recommendation letter from a friend’s father who had a good relationship with the manager of the company he was interested in. Luckily for him, the manager interviewed him, was impressed and said he didn’t need to read the recommendation letter. As the young man went out of the office rejoicing, he decided to open the letter out of curiosity. To his shock, his friend’s father had blatantly stated in the letter that he should not be hired. The difference between his state of excitement and sadness would have been that letter.

Who you know or who you have worked with, determines if you get a job and what kind of job you get, in every part of the world. Some companies take recommendations, even more seriously than your application or degrees.
My experience triggered questions and thoughts. Are these people saying the ‘truth ‘or do they just dislike the people in question? What should or shouldn’t you say about someone when you know it will determine their source of income? How bad does an employee or co-worker have to be before you embark on giving bad recommendations? Unlike gossip or casual conversations, professional recommendations directly affect a person’s means of livelihood. In this case if a bad report precedes or follows your application, you may not get the job.
There will always be clashes in a workplace; issue ranges from different personalities, to miscommunication, poor work ethic or just plain dislike for whatever reason. However, the important question is: how should prospective employers discern what the truth about an applicant is.

I think it’s difficult for an employer to turn down the opinion of someone who has worked previously with another person. So it boils down to you and I who are still climbing the ladder of success to tread carefully, work hard, and minimize the number of people who have the power to give bad recommendations. It is also important to leave a workplace without unsettled issues or grievances. If a bad recommendation is given, it shouldn’t be a consensus among everyone who has worked or works with you.
Professional recommendations will always be powerful; we should keep that in mind as we meet and work with people.

What are your thoughts about recommending people for a position? What should you or shouldn’t you say and why?

Photo Credit: Dreamstime | Elliot Burlingham

Winifred Adebayo was born is Rivers State. She is a registered nurse and working on a PhD. She loves to write; it’s her form or art, designed with self-expression, experiences, and fiction. She blogs at


  1. icareless

    June 25, 2015 at 6:36 pm

    I Think the mistake a lot of people make is differentiating work from personal life.
    I will expressly tell any prospective employee my views about the person based on the job.
    If you ask me about the personal aspect i will give you my opinion , i will only not recommend someone if i can not vouch for the person.

  2. Da ella

    June 25, 2015 at 6:39 pm

    Gooosh,i am really so irritated right now.Thank God that i don’t anyone’s validation to achieve my purpose and create a mark during my stay in this life. That’s why I sacked my employer years back to become my own boss.I don’t need anyone’s report to determine my destiny.Thank God I made the wisest decision.

    • Tagoc

      June 26, 2015 at 12:49 am

      First, It is a great thing to be your own boss and I congratulate you but that doesn’t mean you are free from the importance of professional recommendations. As a business owner, you may need recommendations from your customers/clients, from a professional association, from a creditor, from religious institutions and the list is endless. Put God first, be respectful and diligent in all your dealings.

      Second, I worked in Nigeria for a year during NYSC and tried to raise money for my personal CDS, the only sponsors I got where heavily influenced by personal recommendations. In Nigeria having that letter of recommendation/introduction and/or a “big” man’s card, which is a form of recommendation is important. All my sponsors for my project where influenced by recommendations.

      Third, I noticed a very poor attitude to work in Nigeria by the current crop of youth 2014/2015. I was very disappointed, I think the current crop of Nigerian youth need a revival! I know social. In the office I worked in about 50% or more of the corpers just had a lackadaisical attitude to work some will not bring laptop because it means you are willing and able to work but will bring tablets downloading with enough movies for the day. Me JJC from Yankee will be bringing laptop and doing work and guess what I was realling learning about the organization and making great professional contacts. Sometimes they will send me to buy phone card, go to bank and do other house boy errands and I’ll just swallow my pride and do it. Other corper’s usually come to my desk and will complain “how dear that woman send me to buy meat pie does she know who I am?” and most of these corpers have never worked a day in their lives!

      I think Nigerian universities need to invest in Career centers that ready students for the work force. I met quite a few IT students who took time off from school to work for a year which is an awesome idea. I know career centers really helped me in personal branding and being ready for the work force. Again we need to have mentors and buddy programs in companies in Nigeria that help make the transition to the work force painless. I think the attitude to work in Nigeria will one day get better.

    • English teacher

      June 26, 2015 at 11:03 am

      dare not dear

    • missnk

      June 28, 2015 at 12:07 am

      I understand taking your job seriously, but why should someone send you to buy them meatpie if it’s not in the job description?

  3. Baby 1

    June 25, 2015 at 6:47 pm

    Great write up! Unfortunately, Nigerians are KINGS of burning bridges at work. I always say Abuja (where I live) is too small for such bad behavior but no people never listen! if I had a penny for the amount of times staff in my office who think they are sharp wait till their salary get’s paid and resign with IMMEDIATE effect, id be a millionaire in pounds. But karma always catches up with such people, 9 out of 10 times their story now no pure… I ran into one just last week. Story for another day.

    • Abby

      July 6, 2015 at 3:59 pm

      am so guilty of this act. infact am waiting on my salary to get paid b4 leaving. funny thing is am the HR of the company. but look at it this way, how can you give a notice when your annual leave was denied (2014 & 2015) for no reason. oh also no vacation pay for those years. One man’s business.

  4. Mabel

    June 25, 2015 at 6:54 pm

    A lot of recommendations are based on opinions and feelings and not facts. If someone asks for a recommendation and you know you are going to give a negative review, then tell the person you cannot help them instead of giving them a letter that will stifle their chances of making money. Someone would have to have been grossly insubordinate, violent, thief, or just hell on two feet for me to give them a bad recommendation. I got two jobs with no reference checks, but they did criminal and credit checks, some companies do not care about references anymore because they are doing deeper background checks these days, criminal background checks are pretty standard just about everywhere, and credit checks a must for any financial type work, and a growing number of employers are combing the internet and looking at people’s social media pages and what not.

    • Lisa

      June 25, 2015 at 11:19 pm

      me too. Just got a job offer. They did education check criminal and credit history

  5. Dr. N

    June 25, 2015 at 9:27 pm

    1. Employers check social media accounts of prospective employees sometimes. This I heard from someone in HR
    2. You cannot make everyone like you but you can settle disagreements amicably. If u left on a sour note, don’t even ask them for a recommendation.
    I know of someone who quit her job after a heated exchange with her boss and a colleague. She was so ‘unwise’ as to allow a prospective employer call him. He ensured she lost the opportunity.
    For the sake of peace, it may be necessary to eat humble pie. You never know where u may meet who

    • Miss Anonymous

      June 25, 2015 at 11:42 pm

      If the organisation was already listed on her CV or if it was somewhere she had spent a considerable amount of time it would be odd if she took if off her CV. In Nigeria employers contact all your past employers for references so it’s really not up to you, except for personal referees whom you’re at liberty to choose.

      Something similar happened to me but my boss decided to ignore the bad reference from my former employer (who by the way had a habit of perpetually owing salaries). He (new boss) said since he had worked with me I hadn’t exhibited any of the traits described in the reference and went ahead to confirm my appointment.

  6. Tosin

    June 26, 2015 at 12:49 am

    on the job-seeker side: do your best and leave the rest.
    on the recommender side: don’t be bitter. strengths, weaknesses, and err on the side of kindness.

  7. Tracy

    June 26, 2015 at 7:25 am

    The previous employer should only be providing information about the employee’s date of employment, job title, and duties.

  8. babygiwa

    June 26, 2015 at 9:29 am

    I honestly believe recommenders should stick with facts and truths and not get personal. We are petty in Nigeria and people like to ‘pay’ people back. To job seekers, try as much as possible to leave on a good note. Be professional in all your dealings.

  9. bella

    June 26, 2015 at 10:25 am

    i remember an Uncle of mine recommending an Aunty in the family for a position abroad. they both happen to be in the same field, the medical line. she ended up not getting the job. at times, people are driven with bad intention. it caused a rift between them for a while.

  10. Adan

    June 26, 2015 at 10:56 am

    Thank you Winifred for writing about this. Some people are more emotional than logical when giving recommendations while some use their “high position” to make sure people they dislike do not get opportunities to grow.

  11. Blue

    June 26, 2015 at 1:11 pm

    My opinion about all these is quite simple. New employers should work with standard questionnaire. This questionnaire, must ask specific questions. Questions will specifically address the work information they need.
    This method, kind of, takes away all rabbling about the employer, especially, when the intention is a personal vendetta.

  12. deal

    June 26, 2015 at 1:51 pm

    Recently, i resigned from a company but was later summon by my management for a brief meeting on why i was leaving.I told them reasons like i need a raise after been a contract staff for years,marriage, poor medicals and so on. The agreed cos i gave a short notice to every one forgetting d fact at my new contract letter has been kept from me for more than a month by my 2nd manager which made me unable to renew or terminate my appointment. To my surprise my 1st manager was called and wanted me to come back to my unit with immediate effect based on good recommendation. Then the other manager was called and she started saying bad tins and giving poor recommendation via phone, she never knew the phone was on speaker, so. she kept going.Actually i was not surprised that she could go to far, cos she has been complaining on my butt,having a fairer skin and so on different occasion. She later called me after abt 2 weeks and was talking nice but i told her not to be nice,cos i heard every thing she said. So it is better if dre is going to be recommendation, it should be directed to about 2 or more different people from different units,so it will not be biased on personal issues

  13. omob

    June 26, 2015 at 2:29 pm

    You cant judge till you’ve being there, had an employer who wanted to have his way with him and when i no gree, he became really aggressive.
    He seats you down and curse you when you give your resignation letter and makes sure he frustrates you before you leave and he doesn’t give recommendation anyway because he doesn’t treat you well and doesn’t want you to leave . so i had to leave without informing him after all i had been through because i was at my wits end already. some pple just HATE for no reason.

  14. HR

    June 26, 2015 at 2:53 pm

    I work for HR and I do make calls to referees to get recommendations for prospective staff. Sometimes I hear really lengthy (unnecessary) stories on bad behavior and some even ‘suggest’ that I should NOT hire the prospect.

    Employers, you DO NOT have to give long stories, simply saying, ‘I would rather not comment on this issue’ or ‘Unfortunately at this time, I cannot be a positive reference for this person’ settles it for me.

    People, PLEASE know (by know I mean, have prior discussions with… know your standing with..) the person who you call your referee (or bad belle), an organization like mine has a 3 month probationary period and if conduct is unsatisfactory the contract is terminated so we have gone ahead and given a couple of EXCEPTIONAL candidates the benefit of doubt despite unsatisfactory recommendations (Oh and they turned out to be really exceptional by the way)
    However this is not the case in MANY places in Nigeria – they will dismiss you without further attempt to call the next ref.

    *Please ignore any typos, abeg girls are fasting*

    • deal

      June 28, 2015 at 1:50 pm

      I wonder what ’employers call Probation period, if they really base their trust on a personal recomendation

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