These days, it seems like a job referral is the only way a candidate can land an offer from a dream company. So the number of times a friend, family friend, or former colleague has emailed you to ask for a reference to work at your current company has probably increased over the years.
You know the email—it reads something like:
Hi Old Friend,
Hope all is well. I saw that you’re currently working at XYZ company. How do you like it? I was scrolling their job listings and saw a role that I’m perfect for. Can I send over my resume for you to submit me as a referral candidate?
In all likelihood, you’re glad to hear from your friend and always happy to be a professional support. Plus, there’s the financial incentive many companies offer current employees who refer top-notch candidates. But should you blindly or frequently refer friends to work at your current company, or even your former employer?
Jamie Hichens, senior talent acquisition partner at Glassdoor, advises caution. “Unless you’ve seen your friend in a professional setting firsthand, it can be risky,” she says.
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While you may have been approached by your friend via email about the role, take time to hop on a call with him or her to get a sense of their interest and to reconnect. Blindly recommending an old friend who you may not really know could backfire for the company and for the candidate. When it comes to referrals, remember that HR considers current employees the first line of defense, so to speak, and they value your real opinion–so make sure you actually have one by taking 15 minutes to talk with your friend.
“The consequences are that it could not only affect your friendship for the worse but could potentially damage your credibility at work if your friend turns out to not be a good fit for the position and company,” warns Hichens.
You should only recommend a friend for a role at your company if you’re confident that their skills or passions are in line with the job description. Take a moment to actually read the job description or talk to the hiring manager so that you, as the reference, have a good understanding of what the team is looking for and can evaluate your friend properly.
“If [you] truly know your friend is going to bring their A-game to the role, and if the two of you have had an honest conversation about what this could potentially do to your friendship if it ended up not being a fit,” says Hitchens, “then you should refer them.”
Every company has a mission statement and a set of values or goals that they are striving toward. Does your friend embody or appreciate those? For example, if the company is a dog-eat-dog environment that would put the Wolf of Wall Street to shame, make sure the candidate has the same tenacity and grit. On the other hand, if the role requires a sensitive collaborator who is slow to act, a Type-A bulldog might not make the best referral. Hichens cautions, “If you are not 100% sure your friend is well-aligned with the company and role, you should think twice.”
While you don’t need to be lifelong pals to refer someone to a position at work, you should evaluate how well you know the person. Have you seen them in work environments? Do you know their work ethic? Would you feel comfortable having a candid conversation with them? Be sure that you can actually vouch for this friend in a professional setting.
When you speak to your friend in person or by phone, don’t hesitate to get the skinny on why they’re leaving their current job. They should be 100% honest with you about whether they were terminated, laid off, or are either quitting because of a toxic work environment or simply looking for a new opportunity. Again, you want to have all the facts (or at least as many as possible) when putting your reputation on the line to recommend someone.
As in everything you do, you want your name and professional reputation to reflect hard work, honesty, strength, and confidence. This goes for those you endorse. Sure, you want to be supportive of those around you and offer a leg up where you can, but remember that the decisions you make in the workplace speak to your credibility, too.
“I’ve seen friendships end but have also seen friendships flourish through referrals,” says Hichens. Take stock of your friendship and whether or not it can handle the ups and downs that being colleagues can bring. For instance, perhaps you value the confidence you share with a friend, being able to gossip, enjoy a beer, cry, and laugh. Once you become coworkers, that might be tarnished in the uncharted territory of office politics and unconscious competition.
Many companies offer incentives to employees for referring top talent and candidates who can improve the company’s diversity, like engineers or women of color. But you shouldn’t abuse the perk by referring every one of your Facebook friends.
“It is a helpful tactic because our employees know what type of person would thrive at Glassdoor, so we get some fantastic referrals,” says Hichens. “And our employees sell working at Glassdoor to their friends, so by the time the referral gets to the recruiting team, they are already extremely excited about working with us. It’s a win-win.”
“However,” Hichens adds, “the downside of a referral program is that sometimes employees just want the referral bonus money and might just refer anyone, whether they are qualified or not. That ends up being more of a headache than a help.”
You may find it’s easy to refer a pal to a role in a different department, but with corporate restructuring, it’s very possible you may need to team up with your friend. How does that sound?
If you cringe ever so slightly at the possibility of seeing this person in the company cafeteria daily, or when you envision them sharing stories about you from high school in a meeting, then think twice about agreeing to refer them. You can take a less enthusiastic route by perhaps connecting them with the hiring manager by email or simply discussing the opportunity on the phone, without giving your full stamp of approval.
If by chance your friend does not get the job, will your friendship end or be jeopardized? It is a tough blow for a candidate to feel like they have the inside track on a job because a friend works there only to be rejected by the hiring manager.
Hichens insists that knowing how a friendship will fare no matter the job outcome is an important aspect to consider before getting a candidate excited about all the perks and benefits at a company.
Remember, just because you refer a friend doesn’t guarantee they’ll receive an offer.
A version of this article originally appeared on Glassdoor. It is adapted with permission.