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I started a new job a couple months ago. The job wasn't what I expected and I'm looking for a new one. I wanted to ask for a reference so called my manager and asked how he thought I was doing at the job. He told me I caught him at a bad time and to come in an hour early to discuss it. Is this fair? Isn't it the job of management to give feedback and it's normally done on company time? I was expecting more of a 5 minute answer, not an hour.

I'm thinking of sending the email "can this be discussed during regular work hours?". How does one normally ask for a reference? Am I looking at this wrong and that feed back is not officially part of the job? I know a couple months isn't long but it doesn't hurt to ask.

One of the reasons I'm leaving the job is because of lack of leadership. The manager hired me and on boarded me, but I feel like I almost never get the chance to speak with him. He's not really involved in day to day operations. Right now we have a ratio of 2:3 supervisors and I work with a different one almost each day. I don't really feel I know any single one well enough to ask for a reference.

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    Let's leave out any consideration, are you going to ask for a reference and you want to complain about his request? Let's go there as early as required, smile, put up your best face, listen to him and then eventually ask... – Adriano Repetti Sep 29 '20 at 19:24
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    @JoeStrazzere I see it very differently. Usually if you want to have a meeting about work, this happens during work time and it's acceptable to pay for it. Performance reviews are normally done during paid time. Can you explain you're point of view, for example how is this a "favor"? – Yuftre111 Sep 30 '20 at 7:10
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    Is ve also coming in an hour early? If so, he is making an effort to help you. – Solar Mike Sep 30 '20 at 11:26
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    @JoeStrazzere no, I wanted feedback in how I'm doing in the job. That's the purpose of the meeting. If it's positive then I would ask for a reference. – Yuftre111 Oct 1 '20 at 9:06
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    @SolarMike I never get that type of argument. First off, it wasn't me who said it would take an hour. Second, are you trying to tell me he never has an hour to spare for something that is work related? – Yuftre111 Oct 1 '20 at 9:09
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The problem that managers have is that they are constantly in meetings. As one ends, they have to go to the next one. They rarely have any time to do any real work (but if they desperately need to do real work, they invent fake meetings to add to their calendar).

You asked for a meeting. The only way your manager could fit it in was to schedule it one hour before you normally start.

Be aware that asking for a reference before you have a firm job offer is a high-risk strategy. You are signalling that you intend to leave soon, and the management at your current employer will act accordingly.

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He told me I caught him at a bad time and to come in an hour early to discuss it

While this can be a bit strange, arranging a time and place for a meeting is perfectly normal. Is it fair? Depends on what you call fair, a lot of reasons can lead to the manager's answer, being busy, not having something particular to say.

Isn't it the job of management to give feedback and it's normally done on company time?

Yes, most of the work related stuff happens during work hours, but there are exceptions, like overtime or special arrangements. You could always ask him to reschedule to work hours because of reason X, Y, Z or just deal with it and meet up with the manager.

I was expecting more of a 5 minute answer, not an hour.

IMHO, 5 minute answer of how you're doing is almost no answer at all, so going in depth and taking an hour is a plus.

How does one normally ask for a reference?

In your case, I'd be careful, because if you need this job right now, to pay bills or not, asking for a reference can be a red flag for your manager, but depending on the context, maybe they know it already.

If you're actively looking for a job and you don't really care to hold this one, I would just meet with the manager when he can, because you don't have anything to lose.

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    Interesting points. I certainly hope my manager hasn't been saving up an hours worth of feedback without mentioning anything before. – Yuftre111 Sep 30 '20 at 7:12
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So... you're on the border between "favor" and "manager job duties". Giving you feedback about your work is one of your manager's duties - but it's not his only duty. Giving you a personal or professional reference is a favor. So - first - come in early like he's asking.

Feedback vs. Getting a Reference

They certainly are different. But if you want a GOOD reference, it's good plan to get the feedback first. And meaningful feedback can't be discussed in 5 minutes. The manager may even have wanted time to collect his thoughts privately, as he's clearly pretty busy with other stuff, and may not have had you or your performance top of mind when you asked. Sounds like you have a good first step going - see where you stand. If your boss has a bunch of negative feedback, it's probably not the right time to ask if he'd be a good reference for you. If you want his reference, work on the feedback.

There's usually a few types of references:

  • Simple affirmation that you worked at a given company, in a given role, for a given length of time - can provided by HR, or company bureaucracy, and is usually provided AFTER you've passed the hurdles of interviewing & demonstrating skills for the new job. I'd say wait on this one until you are close to getting an offer, and/or look up what the standard process at your company may be.
  • Real, content filled, professional reference - often the new position will dictate what they want (a manager, a peer, a more senior co-worker, etc.) - usually such a reference does not HAVE to be your manager. It's usually a good idea to line up a few people, and it's not so common for one of them to be your current boss - for the awkward reasons you mention. It's toughest at the start of a career where your work history is so short you don't have many/any former bosses. At that point it's fair, when interviewing, to say "I believe I can count on my boss for a reference, but I don't want to obtain such a reference until your offer is firm. I'd be glad to provide my current boss' contact info when you give me an offer that is contingent on it." - which gives you plenty of time to iron out any performance issues that come from the meeting you have lined up with your boss.

But... shouldn't this meeting be during work hours?

Both work hours and whether or not this meeting fits within them is highly variable. In many knowledge working places (engineering teams, academia, research, etc) - the time schedule for each individual has a high degree of divergence. Some companies have core hours, others don't. In a lot of high pressure offices, the boss is often working several more hours a day than individual contributors, or may be time-shifting their own schedule to accomodate the needs of the business (for example, working with remote teams in a different time zone). As such - he may be asking you to put some flex into your schedule, as individual contributor schedules are often a LOT more flexible.

Isn't this his job? Yes. In most companies, giving reasonable feedback IS a manager's responsibility. That said, most managers have a responsibility list a mile long, and never enough hours in the day to get it done... and also, a high degree of variability in how MUCH time to spend on any given thing. One company may insist that people development is the most important thing while another may say "screw the people - get good products made at all cost..." - or something even less nice ("help onboard this new, cheaper site so we can save money", or "help plan the layoff... at which point, people development is really low on the list..."). He may be in a situation where it can't be part of the mainstream company hours, simply because the meeting he's been booked for take precedence over what you want.

It could also be that he's got thoughts, but wants enough time and privacy to actually focus and talk to you uninterrupted. Could be bad, could be good. Either way, for big feedback, often a manager will want to be able to close the door and have a private conversation out of earshot of the rest of the team and uninterrupted. If his day is as busy and interrupt driven as it sounds, before normal hours may be the only time this is possible... regardless of whether it's a high priority.

Or he could be lame, terrible at delegating, and not prioritizing the right things. Or a person who just isn't great at this part of his job. Hard to tell.

A way to figure it out is to ask... but in a fairly kind way - "wow, you look super-busy! What is it that takes so much of your time? Any thing I can do to help?" - goes down a lot better than "I really don't want to come in an hour early to get your feedback, can we do this during my regular hours?". Figure out a day that you could get in an hour early and do it, or if it's nigh-impossible to get in an hour early, then offer to stay an hour late, or do it during his lunch time (and offer to get the guy lunch - you don't have to buy it, just offering to procure it will get you good points).

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is this fair?

Yes. Often times people meet with their managers after hours or during lunch to talk about career stuff. You were free to say, "I don't need an hour. I just need five minutes!" Or, "Can we do a slack/zoom chat?"

Anyhow, your manager isn't obligated to give you a review unless it's an official review period/end of probation period time. But let's say you just want the "5 sentence assessment of how I'm doing". I don't see why you can't get that in an email anyhow.

I also think that a job that only lasted a few months could do more harm on your resume than good. Or just not be factored in at all. Prospective employers will most likely ask you why you left and then you will be drawn into negative talk about your former employer which is always a bad idea or you will have to say, 'Uh. How about the weather today?' or otherwise sidestep it which will make you look like you've got something to hide.

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