Your “stamp of approval” is precious. When you recommend someone for a job—whether a friend, family member, colleague or anyone else—your professional reputation is on the line.
Your contacts trust you and you’re essentially asking them to transfer that trust to another person. If that person loses their trust for any reason, it transfers right back to you. So your recommendation creates a bond between all of you. Don’t take the decision lightly.
Before you stick your neck out for someone, consider these five questions:
1. Does this person really want the job? Are you pushing your friend/colleague/family member to do something he or she isn’t really interested in doing? Would this person still want the job if not for your (potential) recommendation?
You don’t want this person to feel like they’re doing you a favor by taking the job. YOU are the one doing the favor. If they don’t really want it, they won’t put in the effort needed to represent you well. Make sure you aren’t putting yourself out on a limb for someone who doesn’t really care one way or another.
2. Do you know this person professionally, not just personally?
Unfortunately, people are different at work than they are at home. We have different standards for what we expect from people at work than we do in our personal lives. If this person is just a friend or even a family member, you may be sadly disappointed by their work ethic.
That doesn’t mean you can’t still recommend someone you haven’t worked with directly, but do your due diligence. What do you know about this person’s career history? Do you consider this person reliable and trustworthy? Is he or she polite and respectful? If you don’t see these traits in your personal interactions, you probably won’t see them in the workplace either.
3. Is this person really the right fit for the role and the organization?
It’s not enough to just LIKE the person you’re recommending. He or she should have the skills and character traits needed to succeed in the role and the organization. Your job is to pre-screen the person.
If he or she is missing an essential qualification, you might still make the recommendation. But you’d be smart to share that information early. The faith you have in this person could be more valuable, but you don’t want to misrepresent the facts. If this person truly isn’t the right match, you’re just wasting everyone’s time.
4. Is your relationship with this person strong enough to endure the potential challenges?
If this person gets the job, you’re now heavily invested in seeing him or her thrive in the role. Alternatively, if he or she doesn’t get the job, they may see you as a part of the problem. If either of these scenarios causes concern, think twice about your recommendation.
5. Are you willing to put your name and reputation on the line for this person?
This person is a direct reflection of you. Make sure you have absolute faith that he or she will represent you as well as you’d represent yourself—if not even better. You will be inextricably tied to this person’s professional successes and failures…at least at the very beginning. Eventually, hopefully, the person you recommend will make a name for himself and your connection will become a thing of the past. But right up front, it’s on your shoulders. Immediate problems will come back to haunt you.
Some people try to stipulate as they recommend someone that they only know them casually, hoping that the “connection” between them isn’t too strong. Unfortunately, that doesn’t work. The message doesn’t typically travel. If you’re making the recommendation, it’s assumed that you’ve done your due diligence and you’ve decided it’s a safe risk to take.
It might not be “fair”, but that’s the reality.
How to Decline Giving a Recommendation Request
So, you’ve asked yourself these questions and you’re just not ready to recommend this person. But how do you do that without hurting feelings and damaging the relationship? You have a few options:
“I don’t think I’d be the best person for this.”
I like this response because it’s non-confrontational. It puts the blame on YOU, not them. You’re basically saying that you don’t have the right pull, or authority, or reputation, or influence, or whatever to get the job done effectively. You don’t need to elaborate.
“I don’t feel I know you well enough (or have enough experience working with you, etc.) to provide a strong recommendation.”
This one requires a little more courage because you’re definitely telling the person something they don’t want to hear. Clearly they think you DO have the experience it takes to give them the recommendation they need. If you can, be honest with the person. Let him or her know the hesitations you’re feeling and why it’s important for you to practice integrity here. Perhaps you can provide this person with some helpful insight and coaching. Obviously they respect you enough to have asked for this favor. You might be able to offer some valuable professional advice, if they’re willing to hear it.
“I’m sorry but I don’t typically make recommendations like that.”
This one is straightforward and simply tells the person that you have a standard rule against doing what they’ve asked for. It subtly implies that you’ve (perhaps) been burned in this kind of situation in the past. The word “typically” provides you with flexibility should this person find out in the future that you recommended someone else.