Should You Refer a Friend for a Job?

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ClimbGiven that one in five roles are currently filled via employee referrals, you shouldn’t be surprised if, at some point in your career, either your employer asks you to refer a friend friend to a vacancy or a friend asks you to refer them to a job at your company. If you are an engineer, sales rep or developer — areas where there are severe talent shortages — you’ll most likely be involved in the employee referral process with some regularity.

There are plenty of positive reasons to refer a friend to a job opportunity at your company. You can help your employer out in times of need, which benefits the business as a whole. You will also be helping a friend and simply doing a good deed. You may also generate a sense of goodwill from the referred friend, who may return the favor in the future, enhancing your career. In fact, research shows that people who invest in developing proteges — perhaps by referring them to jobs — have better rates of career progression than those who don’t. The goodwill that you generate by referring a friend may actually be paid back in a way that accelerates your own career progression. It’s kind of a you-scratch-their-back-and-they’ll-scratch-yours situation.

If all of that isn’t enough incentive for you, then consider that many employers also offer rewards for referring friends to the company. Check to see if your employer has a reward system before referring a friend to make sure you refer in the right way and receive credit for doing so. If your employer does not have a reward system for employee referrals, there is absolutely nothing wrong with approaching your employer and asking them to set one up.

While it’s clear that there are plenty of benefits to referring a friend to your company, you should not overlook the potential pitfalls of such activities, and you might want to temper your referral behavior accordingly. There are several questions you should consider before deciding to refer a friend:

1. Can You Really Vouch for the Person’s Performance at Work?

Sure, the person may be a good friend, but can you be sure that the person you are referring is actually competent? Have you worked with them and/or witnessed their work firsthand? If not, do you know someone who has witnessed their skills firsthand?

If you are in a position to reliably vouch for someone’s performance, then referring them is a safe bet. Otherwise, there may be some risk attached to referring them. This doesn’t necessarily mean that you shouldn’t refer them, but you might want to cover yourself by attaching caveats to the referral. Let your employer know you are not in a position to vouch for the quality of the candidate. From there, the employer can decide whether or not to accept the referral.

2. Will the Referral Reflect Badly on You? 

What if you are faced with the situation of referring a potential candidate whom you have reason to believe is a substandard or extremely average performer? Referring this kind of candidate will reflect badly on you and could damage your reputation as a talent scout, judge of character, and potential future influencer within the company. It could also damage the performance of the company.

Think carefully before referring this type of candidate, even if they are a good friend you are trying to help out. If the candidate is a good friend whom you feel morally inclined to help, you may need to gather evidence that they can truly perform well at your company.

That being said, don’t make a habit of referring candidates that could reflect badly on you, as doing so will eventually have negative consequences for you.

3. Is Your Firm Toxic?

Is your firm a good place to work, or is it toxic? Are you yourself disengaged and ready to leave? Is the whole team, office, or company disengaged? Is your company struggling to find staff due to a poor company culture and substandard employment practices?

Your friend is most likely an adult who can make decisions for themselves. If you’re considering referring them to a company that you do believe is toxic, you want to come clean with them and give them an honest perspective on what it’s like to work for your employer. Let your friend decide for themselves if they want to jump in the fire.

Of course if the situation is truly that toxic, you might want to save your friend from a disastrous decision by simply not referring them at all.

4. Would You Hire the Person If This Were Your Company? 

This is the single most important question to ask yourself when you are thinking about referring a friend. If you wouldn’t hire them yourself, then you probably shouldn’t refer them to your employer — no matter how much you like that friend.

Read more in Employee Referral

Kazim Ladimeji is a Chartered Member of the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development, and has been a practicing HR professional for 14 years. Kazim is the Director of The Career Cafe: a resource for start-ups, small business and job seekers.