By Jacquelyn Smith, Forbes Staff
Have you ever had a friend nag you for a job referral? You know, when they ask: “Would you mind passing along my résumé to your HR department?” or “I just applied for a job at your company. Could you put in a good word for me?”
If you’re employed and have friends, I’d bet the answer is yes.
“Job seekers today are advised to network, network, network and are being told, ‘It’s not what you know, it’s who you know,’” says HR expert Lisa Rosendahl. “They are taking this to heart. They are on LinkedIn, Facebook and connecting with friends and family to get that proverbial foot in the door.”
Ryan Kahn, a career coach, founder of The Hired Group, star of MTV’s Hired! and author of Hired! The Guide for the Recent Grad, agrees. He says in today’s competitive job market, the days of blasting your résumé blindly to every opening are over. “A personal introduction is key to getting hired,” he says. “The more relationships you have, the better your chances are of getting your foot in the door. Those who are smart will actively ask their friends for referrals.”
Though your friends are just doing exactly what they should be—this type of request can put you in a tough spot, as a bad referral could damage your reputation and your friendship.
“It is a natural instinct to want to help a friend and many will do so without considering the potential consequences,” Kahn says. But it’s important to think twice about the referrals you make.
Murat Philippe, director of workforce consulting services at Avatar Solutions, a quality improvement services company specializing in employee, physician, and patient surveys, agrees. He says you really need to evaluate the pros and cons of referring a friend to your employer for a particular position because if you recommend someone who ultimately gets hired but does not live up to expectations, both you and the new hire may be looked at negatively.
“A string of poor referrals could leave others questioning your judgment or commitment to the organization,” Rosendahl adds.
A poor referral can have personal consequences, too. “If you know your friend may not be the best fit and still refer them, you’re setting them up with false expectations or placing them in a position where they may not do well,” Kahn says. “You’re better off having a candid, constructive conversation about your concerns with your friend.” Without this conversation, you risk tarnishing that friendship.
To avoid these potential consequences, consider these 12 things before you refer your friend:
What does his or her work history look like? Do you know much about your friend’s professional background? What’s their track record and reputation with past employers and peers? “These are questions to ask yourself before promising anything to your friend,” Kahn says. “If you’re not clear on their full work history, tell them first you need to set aside time with them to get a better sense of what they’ve done professionally.”
Rosendahl agrees. She says you should always consider your friend’s experience, background and work ethic. “The friend you can always count on to go out and grab a pizza with, may not be the same one you’d want to link the achievement of your monthly goals to, and that’s an important distinction. Then again, they may make you and the organization shine,” she says.
Will my friend believe in our strategy and mission? Discuss your company’s mission with your friend before you make the referral, and ask for his or her thoughts. You’ll want to know that he or she understands and agrees with it. Why? “When employees are given an assignment and they truly do not know why such a task would be of value to the organization, they will be much less likely to want to do it,” Philippe says. “In addition, they probably will not give as much effort or attention to the project because they do not see it, or understand it, as being important.” If your friend ends up in this position, you could both be in big trouble.
How will the employment of my friend be perceived by my co-workers? Will they see this as favoritism? “Even if not the case, it is possible that [co-workers] will suspect that other, more qualified individuals might have been forgone for a friend,” says Zachary George, academic dean at Computer Systems Institute. “The same is true on a day to day basis, as additional favor might be questioned.” Think about how your colleagues would respond to your friend being hired, and consider whether you’d want to be subject to that response.
Is my friend serious about this job? “You don’t want to be putting your neck out there if ultimately they are not all that interested in the position,” Kahn says. “I recently had a client who experienced this; after making a referral for his friend during the interview the friend told the employer he was just there to check out his options. Well, he didn’t get a call back and by making that poor referral the friend is now perceived as wasting the employer’s time.” Find out if your friend is desperate for any job, or if he or she is passionate about this particular position.
Is this company a good fit for my friend? Consider if your company would be a good cultural fit for your friend—but don’t stop there. “Always look at the culture of the team your friend would be joining,” Rosendahl says. “Then, look at the leadership style and work ethic of both the prospective employee and that of the leader of that department or team. Is there a potential match or conflict?”
Ask yourself if this friend would get along with your colleagues. “Co-workers are often the glue that makes employees come back to work, and even look forward to it,” Philippe adds. “If the friend is not hard-working, compassionate, responsible, and honest, he or she can negatively affect the morale of your co-workers.”
What is my current relationship with this friend? “It is important that your friend not bring their garbage with them to work,” George says. “If the relationship is currently strained, this might cause unnecessary drama. If the relationship is romantic, this will cause unnecessary drama. If the relationship is strong, it might weaken due to non-personal stressors.” In general, objective cooperation and interaction are necessary to maximize the output in a team environment.
Could I work with this friend? Again, this friend is probably someone you love hanging out with–but would you want to work with him or her on a daily basis? If you’re employed by a large corporation and your friend would be working in another department, this shouldn’t be much of an issue. But if you would be working closely together and you think it would negatively impact your performance, you might reconsider the referral.
“You should also consider whether you’ve ever worked together before, and the positives and negatives of the experience,” Rosendahl adds.
Another thing to think about: Would you be distracted by having this person near? “It might be possible that you would start taking more breaks from the job by stopping to see your friend,” George says. “Even if just stopping by their cubicle, the minute the topics of conversation head out the doors of the building, and back into your personal lives, a miniature vacation just took place.”
Will my friend communicate openly, honestly, and effectively with others? Communication enables the success of all other employee engagement drivers, Philippe says. “In fact, clear communication is vital for departments to work together in a productive manner.” Before referring the friend, you must determine how effective his or her communication skills are. Has this friend always been honest with you? Does your friend openly speak his or her mind without thinking twice? Will your friend talk positively about the company to friends and family? These are all questions to ask yourself before making the referral.
Will my friend be able to do what he or she does best here? Aside from learning about your friend’s career history, you’ll want to know more about his or her goals. Then determine whether or not your employer can offer your friend the opportunity to thrive and grow as a professional, Philippe says.
If you truly believe your friend’s talents and goals don’t match your company’s strategy and mission, you probably shouldn’t make the referral.
Have I been honest about my experience here? Maybe you’ve been vague or overly positive while talking about your job. Your friend might be under the impression that it is a wonderful place to work, when in fact, it isn’t. “Consider whether you’ve been straight with the friend about the pros and cons of working at this particular organization,” Rosendahl says.
If you’re unhappy with your job or employer, make that clear to your friend. Tell them what exactly you don’t like about the job or company. Maybe those things aren’t as important to your friend. Or maybe they’re critical.
Is a referral the best way to help my friend get a job? Helping a friend through a tough time is to be commended, George says. However, there could be more effective ways to help than a referral. If you don’t think your company is a good match for your friend (or you think the recommendation is a bad idea for some other reason), offer to help them with their résumé, cover letters, job searches, research, and preparing for interviews, instead.
How will this affect my reputation, my job, and my friendship? A referral can make or break your career—and the same goes for your friendship, Kahn says. “You could be earning big points with the boss by bringing in top talent and saving the hassle of sorting through hundreds of candidates, but at the same time, it could backfire if anything goes wrong.”
Obviously you cannot predict the outcome—but if you take the time to really think things through before making a referral, you’ll help ensure it’s a win for all.
This is an update of a piece that ran previously.