A Friend In Need

Be careful when recommending friends and acquaintances to an employer.

It’s likely that you or someone you know is job hunting.

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, in January Louisiana’s unemployment rate was the third-highest in the United States at 7 percent (the national rate at the time was 5.7 percent). It has since dropped to 6.6 percent as of April (with a national rate of 5.4 for the same time period).

Earlier this year, I offered tips for requesting references and recommendations from colleagues and friends. Now let’s consider the etiquette guidelines for being the person on the other end of the request. What’s the best way to recommend a friend or colleague for a job?

The Polite Decline

Over the years, I have encountered people who flat out refuse to recommend friends for jobs. If you’ve decided to make it a hard and fast rule — I’m reminded here of the idiom “neither a borrower nor a lender be” — make it across the board, and neither a recommendation requestor nor a recommender be. If asked, be honest with your friend and let them know that you are happy to keep them apprised of any openings with your firm, but you make it a rule not to recommend friends to your employer.

The Pass Along

If that level of directness feels uncomfortable, or you genuinely want to do more, Peggy Post recommends giving the friend’s resume to the hiring or human resources manager with a brief and noncommittal note. State that you don’t know if their experience is a fit for the position, but you’ve attached their resume for consideration. The rest is out of your hands, and you can graciously inform your friend of that fact.

Above All, Be Truthful

For those happy to oblige and wanting to help as much as possible, there are several points to consider. At the risk of stating the obvious, do not recommend a person who is not qualified for the job. Remember throughout the process that this person’s performance, or lack thereof, could (and likely will) ultimately be associated with you.

For the same reason, don’t overstate or embellish the person’s skills or experience. If you have never worked with the individual, be honest with the hiring manager. Consider saying something like, “I’ve known Jill for 12 years, and while we’ve never worked together, on a personal level she has always acted with integrity, she genuinely cares about her work, and she has always been prompt and reliable.” It’s true that personal and business attributes don’t always translate, but often the same traits convey across the board, and again, it’ll be up to the manager to decide if he or she wants to proceed.

Weigh all the Factors

Even if you have worked directly with a friend, it’s important to consider where he or she is in their life. Those going through major life events, such as the death of a loved one, divorce, health issues or a big move might not be at their best, so tread lightly with recommendations, while at the same time being mindful of their privacy. This might be a good time to take Post’s advice and issue a noncommittal referral to your employer.

Don’t Hold Back

If you have worked directly with the friend and are confident in their skills, experience, work ethic and ability to fit in with your company’s culture, it’s OK to give a glowing recommendation. Just be aware that if things don’t work out, it could put a strain on your relationship. Be prepared for honest, direct communication with that person.

Helping a friend get a job — much like loaning them money — is a generous act that could have an unhappy ending. Then again, it might be the beginning of a great working relationship and a new or fresh start for your pal — plus, a practically guaranteed thank you cocktail at the next after-work happy hour.

Melanie Warner Spencer is editor of New Orleans Bride Magazine. Her writing has appeared in the Austin American-Statesman, the Houston Chronicle, the Chicago Tribune and Reuters. Spencer’s ever-expanding library of etiquette books is rivaled only by her ever-ready stash of blank thank-you notes. Submit business etiquette questions to Melanie@MyNewOrleans.com.



Categories: Biz Etiquette, Hospitality, The Magazine