I was asked by a friend to provide a character reference this week. The guy has become tired of running his own business and decided to apply for a management job instead. The job is in a sector he has empathy with but as he told me; ' I’m not fooling myself into thinking I’m going to get it, or that I’m even qualified to do the job but it interests me and I thought I've got nothing to lose in giving it a bash.'
So was I right to refuse to provide a reference? It seemed to me that he was more interested in leaving where he was than in demonstrating, even to me, why he was the perfect man for the job he's after. Furthermore, knowing the person who is retiring and creating the vacancy, I just can't see my friend being happy moving into the empty seat. It involves too much bureaucracy!
Needless to say he's now quoting Mark Twain at me and accusing me of not being supportive in his time of need. My suggestion that he would do better to conquer his business challenges than run away and get a job touched a nerve. I'm probably now off his Christmas card list.
What he doesn't know is that over the past 21 years of self employment and running my own businesses, I too have had the urge to run away on perhaps three occasions. I too have filled in application forms for jobs, not because I want them, but because the pain of self employment, right then, was becoming too much. For me, filling in the form was usually enough; I threw them in the bin rather than post them and felt better for the flirtation with change.
I know many people who have fled from the pain of their current situation rather than face and conquer it. In every case, they have come to regret the move. Some have even turned the clock back and gone back, others could not and became stuck and very unhappy.
So, would you have lied and written a glowing reference or would you have refused, explained why and recognised the subsequent rejection as the price you have to pay for being honest?