This is why I’ll never recommend a friend for a job again – here’s what I've learned

A woman working in front of her laptop.
A woman working in front of her laptop.

A recent advice column on Slate deals with a topic that really brought back a memory in my life that proved to be an unwelcome reminder about just what a bad idea recommending a friend for a job is. 

A woman wrote in and asked for advice after helping to pull strings to get a relative to intern at the company she’s working at.

Needless to say, it went as one might generally expect it to go: badly. 

The girl ignored company policies, spent most of her time doing anything but the work that she was expected to and had very little respect for dress code. The irony behind this is that her behaviour is causing a friction in the family - something she was really hoping to avoid.

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The young girl’s mother is furious with her cousin for not supporting her daughter more and is still expecting another letter of recommendation for future employment opportunities. 

It goes without saying that the woman is now not only reluctant to recommend her relative for anything else, but that she also finds herself in the position where she’s being blamed for not looking out for the relative in question. 

It’s a tremendously awkward situation to be in. And it’s one that I have found myself in.

A few years back I recommended someone for a job that he, in retrospect, should probably not have gotten in the first place. At the time, I thought he’d be a good fit. We studied in the same field, took the same courses and were always keen to work our hardest to achieve the best results possible. 

He eventually ended up getting the job, and for a few months, all was well. That was, until he was left to his own devices when everyone went on leave. 

While everyone was gone, he thought it was a good idea to neglect doing his duties and spent most of his time messing around on the internet, skyping friends and chatting on Facebook.  

When he was unable to provide a solid count of the amount of work he was supposed to have gotten done by the time everyone was back, he was obviously in trouble.

Needless to say, he jeopardised his position within the company, ended up being performance managed and relationships between him and everyone else became strained – particularly his relationship with his manager.

READ MORE: Is it still necessary to add references to your CV?

He was also one of the first people to be retrenched when the department closed down.

I was devastated by my friend’s actions and even though I have spoken to him once or twice following those events, our friendship has never been the same. In fact, it’s been a good number of years since I last spoke to him.

The biggest thing I’ve learned from this is that good intentions can easily come back to bite you. 

What I didn’t take into account when I provided a reference for him, was that years had gone by since we’d last seen each other. I had assumed that the study ethics that he had during our years of classes together would translate into the same work ethic that I believed would be a good fit for the company he was applying for.

I was left feeling very embarrassed and now know that no matter how close of a friend I am to someone, I wouldn’t be keen to repeat the experience.

The thing is, I don’t necessarily believe that recommending a friend is an all-round bad idea, and in many cases, references are there for a reason, which aside from someone’s list of qualifications, go a long way in getting a sense of whether or not someone would be suited to a suited for the specific environment in question.

I should also add that I know of a good number of people who have recommended friends for jobs that have ended up working out really well.

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So, taking from the lessons that I’ve learned from my own experiences, this is what I would recommend before you consider recommending your friend. 

1. Consider the strength of your friendship and weigh up the pros and cons.

A good friend doesn’t necessarily mean that the qualities you like or love in that person will translate into them having the skills, discipline and aptitude for the job. 

According to, if you do want to recommend a friend, you need to consider whether a) it’s worth putting your professional reputation on the line and whether or not you’re willing to take your friend’s strong points AND weak points in mind.

Not just that, but consider both the best case scenarios and worst case scenarios and what it will do to your friendship.

Will you resent your friend if he/she messes up? Or will your friend think you could have put in some more effort if he/she doesn’t get that job.

2. Think about your friend’s employment history

It might seem trite, but what is your friend’s employment track record like? What was the last reason they left their job? Does he/she have a portfolio to back up the strength and quality of their work?

Think of it as checking their CV before their prospective employee does. also recommends that you actually have an in-depth conversation with your friend – find out why your friend wants to work at the company, does his/her skills align with what the company is looking for and if your friend has a unique selling point that will bring something that will bring something new to the company.

3.  Have you actually worked with your friend before?

Having actually worked with close friends means that you’re able to give a referral based on what you know and what you’ve experienced as opposed to information you’re hearing on a second-hand basis.

Also, consider how many years it has been since you’ve last worked with the person.  In my case, it had been years and the work ethic that my friend originally had back then, was definitely not on the same level it was when he was hired.

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