Be Cautious When Referring a Friend for a Job

Making a referral has its benefits, but it also has the potential to reflect poorly on you.

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Alison Green
Referring a friend for a job certainly has its benefits. But if you choose to go this route, you’re not only opening the door to an opportunity, you’re also taking professional and personal risks.

That’s why you should think it over carefully and proceed with caution before making a referral. Here are the potential down-sides you should consider:

1. If your friend is hired but doesn’t work out, it can reflect poorly on you.

When you recommend someone for a job, your own reputation is at stake. A recommendation is like saying, “This person has my stamp of approval. She’s competent and has integrity.” But in reality, it can be difficult to know what someone is like professionally if you’ve only known them socially. Do you want to be the person who recommended the guy who ends up embezzling from the company? Or less dramatic and more common, the person who recommended the guy who just never quite caught on?

[See 15 Ways Good Bosses Keep Their Best Employees.]

2. It can also reflect poorly on you if your friend isn’t hired because they weren’t a strong candidate.

Again, your reputation is at stake. If you refer a candidate who isn’t especially strong, what does it say about your judgment or insight into the company’s needs? At a minimum, it can erode your credibility. And it can come back to haunt you if you apply for a promotion into a management role, where it’s especially important that you know how to distinguish between strong and weak job candidates.

3. It can harm your friendship.

Let’s say your friend gets hired and you start working together. You liked your friend just fine before, but do you know what she’s like as a co-worker? We often act differently at work than we do in social settings, and you may discover that the friend who’s fantastic on weekends is a huge nuisance 9 to 5—a slacker, or a toxic gossiper, or a credit-stealer.

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Or maybe you get along fine with your friend as a co-worker, but what happens down the road if one of you gets promoted and ends up managing the other? If you become her boss or she becomes your boss, would your friendship survive? Would it survive if one of you has to fire the other? (Warning: Even if you think your friendship would survive, anecdotal evidence says you’re probably wrong.)

This doesn’t mean you should never refer a friend for a job. But our tendency is to assume that working with a friend would be fun (and it might be) or that referring a friend would be a good deed (which might be the case). Instead, you should make sure you really know the person you’re referring—professional and personally—and proceed with caution. Be prepared to deal with all of the possible consequences, not just the pleasant ones.

Alison Green writes the popular Ask a Manager blog where she dispenses advice on career, job search, and management issues. She's also the author of Managing to Change the World: The Nonprofit Leader's Guide to Getting Results and former chief of staff of a successful nonprofit organization, where she oversaw day-to-day staff management, hiring, firing, and employee development. She now teaches other managers how to manage for results.