The Do's and Don’ts of Referring a Friend or Former Coworker For a Job

It’s pretty common knowledge in the business world that it’s often who you know more than what you know. So what do you do when you have a friend or former coworker ask you to refer them for a job? With friends in particular, it can seem like a delicate balancing act between helping someone you like personally and not wanting to risk your own work reputation (not to mention friendship) if it doesn’t work out. Make the balancing act a little less daunting with the following tips.

refer a friend

Do: Have an in depth conversation with them about the job opportunity

Don’t: Assume they’ll want the job

There’s a great new position opening up in your company that you think your unemployed friend would perfect for—so you get excited and give his or her name to your HR department. You might believe you’re being thoughtful, but it’s vital for both you and your friend to sit down and have an actual conversation about whether this is something that he or she wants. Having a follow-up conversation after the initial one isn’t a bad idea either, since this will give your friend time to get over the possible excitement of having any opportunity and really think about whether this is the right opportunity.

Do: Determine whether he or she would be a good fit in the company

Don’t: Assume you know what your friend is like in a workplace setting

If you’re recommending a former coworker, you obviously have a good sense of what they’re like to work with. But a friend with whom you’ve only interacted with in social settings can be an entirely different person when confronted with the confines of an office. While it’s obviously not possible to shadow your friend at his or her current place of employment, you can use social cues to give you some insight. Is your friend regularly early or late when you meet up? Is your friend argumentative or laid back? Is your friend a leader or a follower when in a group? Obviously he or she could have a totally different attitude in the office, but broad traits such as these are often applicable no matter what the setting. They can be surprisingly useful when trying to determine whether he or she would fit in your workplace culture.

Do: Think about how the referral could impact you at work

Don’t: Forget to look out for yourself

In a perfect world, all of our friends would be coworkers and all of our coworkers would be friends. But until that happens, you need to remember that any recommendations you make reflect directly back on you (whether fairly or unfairly). Just be sure any candidate you put in the running will embody the integrity, honesty, and hard work you’ve put into your own job.

Even with all the forethought in the world, it’s important to prepare yourself for the possibility that things may still backfire. I once had a well-qualified friend who constantly commented on how jealous he was of a job I held. When a position eventually opened up at my company, I asked him if he was interested in speaking with the recruiter and got a whole-hearted “Yes!” Yet when the recruiter called and left a message, my friend never called her back. Ever. Needless to say, he did not get the job and I was left looking like a poor judge of character for so enthusiastically recommending him in the first place. It goes to show you can never know the outcome for sure…but it may still be worth trying.

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