Awkward Situation: How to Handle Saying ‘No’ as a Potential Reference

If you’ve ever been asked to be a reference for a top notch colleague, that’s a no brainer. Well, how about a mediocre one or perhaps a lackluster one who needs improvement? It creates hesitation, right?

One delicate reader question in The Wall Street Journal mailbag caught our attention. A family friend asked a reader to give advice to his son. The young man’s gearing up to graduate from college and also has Asperger’s syndrome. The reader tried to be helpful on the phone and gave him advice in an email as well but the reader seeking advice on how to handle the situation ultimately referenced the phone call as “vague…and lacking in social skills.”

As a result, he’s not exactly comfortable referring him to colleagues. In the piece, human resources consultant Phyllis Hartman advised, “Explain that your impressions from the phone call limit your ability to refer his son. If you want to provide more help, consider meeting with his son in person.” Plus, first impressions could be misleading so perhaps on the phone he was nervous.

In addition, the piece suggests he ask for career services advice on campus to polish his interviewing skills. Plus, a vocational-rehabilitation office in his state may be in the position to provide a counselor.