We’ve all been there at some time or another: A friend asks us to make an introduction to our high-powered contact in the industry, or to pass along her resume for a job at our company. Although we’re always grateful when someone makes an introduction on our behalf, we feel uncomfortable doing the same for this friend. Maybe it’s because she wouldn’t be right for the job she wants us to suggest her for, or because her qualifications aren’t all they could be, and or even because she might make a negative impression on our contacts. We want to be supportive, but uncomfortable truth is that we don’t think it’s going to work out for our friend in this case—and that it might make us look bad in the process.
If you encounter this career etiquette conundrum, don’t beat yourself up for being uncharitable. There are other ways to help your friend and still avoid the lose-lose of a disingenuous recommendation. Here’s how to work it:
Don’t Fake It
Career expert Ellen Reeves reminds us that recommending someone puts our professional reputation on the line. “Giving an inflated or false reference not only jeopardizes your professional image, but it’s not helpful to the company hiring. Think about it: Would you like to be given a reference that wasn’t based in reality when you have a job to get done?” Never feel pressured to compromise your own professional relationships.
Chalk It Up To Mixing Spheres
This situation is perhaps easiest to handle when you’re approached by a friend or acquaintance from outside of your professional life. Ellen recounted an instance for us in which she was asked to make a job recommendation for someone she knew from a volunteer committee. Ellen replied that she was happy to let the director know that this person applied and was a friend, but that she didn’t know the person’s work in a professional capacity. “I could certainly say she had been a committed volunteer, but I could not serve as a professional reference.”
Offer A Different Sort Of Help
Financial etiquette expert Farnoosh Torabi suggests offering a different sort of help in lieu of an actual job recommendation. For example, if you’re asked to connect someone on LinkedIn, try saying, “Honestly, I don't really feel comfortable recommending anyone on LinkedIn… but I’m happy to help you with your cover letter or resume.” Similarly, Ellen suggests offering the name of an organization or company that your friend should look into—without offering the name of a contact she should approach. Another helpful suggestion is to have your friend contact her college alumni network or career services to see if she can find the name of someone at her target company or in her target profession with whom she can have an informational interview.
Be Polite, But Firm
We recommend that you refuse as gently as possible by offering some other form of assistance, but if your friend continues to push back, end the conversation by saying, “‘I’m not sure I’d be the best reference.’” Leave it at that, Ellen recommends, as there’s no point beating around the bush by claiming to be too busy. Regardless of your situation, focus on the emotional support and encouragement you can offer rather than the material help you can’t offer. Emphasize that you value the friendship and that you’re reluctant to provide the recommendation because it’s professionally inappropriate, not because you’re making a statement about your friend’s work on the whole.
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