Dear Kate: My co-worker wants me to write a recommendation, but she sucks at her job. What do I do?

Dear-Kate-column-identityBy Katharine Luckinbill

Dear Kate,

I have been teaching at a summer camp in the city for the past three months. Every week we get a new batch of kindergarten-age kids and I have a great time with them. This camp also has two assistant teachers. While we were going through the boring process of hiring them, my boss asked my opinion of a prospective applicant and I said I thought she would be a terrible fit for the job. This woman got hired anyway and was assigned to my camp all summer long.  True to my prediction, she has been awful. Sucktastic even. The only thing going for her is that she is a very nice person.  Other than that, she sucks at her job.

Now that the summer is over she is looking for a new job. I was blindsided this morning when she asked me to write her a recommendation letter for another position working with children.  I was so taken aback that I agreed to write it without thinking. Now I am stuck trying to write a recommendation letter and all I can truthfully say is, “She’s a really nice person”. How can I recommend her without giving any real recommendations?  I’m in a pickle.

Best wishes,

Ina Quandry

Dear Ina Quandry,

First of all, you have come to the absolute right place — not only do I give advice professionally, but a major part of my day job is to read and request recommendations for potential candidates at my company. Second of all, I love your sign off name — and it would make my mom laugh. Hope she’s reading this one.

That being said, this is a sticky situation indeed. But here’s the thing about being asked for a recommendation: you shouldn’t lie. Not under any circumstance. Not only will it hurt the company she could potentially work for, but it could damage your professional reputation, and somewhere down the line your opinion won’t mean as much as you’d like it to if you’re giving false intel.

Rather than writing an actual ”recommendation”  for her, I would suggest that you have her give the company your contact info — the person on the hiring side will then be required to contact you and get feedback on her as a candidate. This is when the honesty part comes in. Say everything that you said in this question — that on paper she didn’t seem like the right fit for the role, and, even though you gave her the benefit of the doubt, she has not proved you wrong. Explain that she is very nice, and easy to work with — but perhaps hasn’t quite found her calling yet. Maybe she is someone who can be better with the proper training that you weren’t able to offer her? If so, tell them that and try to give some detailed and thorough examples of her weaknesses and strengths. Perhaps they are more in a position to train and mold her into a better teacher.

It is not your role as her peer and colleague to make sure she gets a job. If you have any responsibility at all, it is only to be honest with the company about your experience working with her when asked.
(Especially when it comes to the line of work where the well-being and healthy development of children is at stake.) You’re not flipping hamburgers for a living, you’re enriching the lives of our future leaders, bosses, factory workers, policemen … you name it. If she isn’t cut out to be leading those troops, the company thinking of hiring her should know that.

Once you have done that, it is their prerogative whether to take your intel as fact, or a gentle warning of her capacity as an employee, and you’ve done your part. If you are honest — but kind — I think it will end up working out best for everyone, even if it’s not right away.

If doing that still gives you the heebie jeebies — you could always try telling your co-worker that you’re actually not comfortable writing her a recommendation. However, that could open yourself up to a conversation about why — and could make the rest of your time with her very uncomfortable.

people skills

Good luck with whichever choice you make.

Here’s hoping you have a better support team next summer! And that our young teacher friend finds what it is that she is truly good at.



Dear Kate is a column that runs on every Thursday at noon. It is written by the wise Katharine Luckinbill, who you should follow on Twitter. Got a life, friendship, family, dating, or relationship question that you’d like Dear Kate to answer? Send it to and she will help you out.

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2 thoughts on “Dear Kate: My co-worker wants me to write a recommendation, but she sucks at her job. What do I do?

  1. Kaitlin Marie says:

    Dear Kate,

    I seriously love your advice. I would like to channel your calm and collected ways in my ever-frenetic life. I think your suggestions here are completely spot on and perfect. You are awesome!

    Kaitertot : )

  2. Kate McAleer says:

    You are so damn good at this. I hope you start getting paid the big bucks commensurate with your awsome wisdom.

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