A reader writes:
I’ll be leaving my perfect entry-level job in August to pursue a master’s degree full-time. A very close friend of mine who works in the same field is now graduating with her degree. She is looking for her first full-time position, but the availability of jobs is slim at best and, despite her education, the number of jobs for which she is qualified is even slimmer. When I told her that I had made my plans for grad school, she mentioned that she’ll definitely be applying for my position when I leave. Actually, the way she phrased it was “I guess I’ll get your job then!”
My concern is that I will certainly be involved in the hiring of my replacement and I’m worried that I’ll be awkwardly obliged to support her application or even recommend her for the job when she applies. I love my friend dearly, but she is sometimes awkward and can be immature at times and, as absolutely awful as it sounds, I don’t want to compromise the reputation I’ve worked to build at this organization by recommending someone who is perceived as unprofessional. I feel horrible because I want her to be successful, but I would rather be removed from this process.
I’m wondering if you had any advice for a way to tactfully remain separate from this process?
First, good for you for recognizing that it can impact your own reputation if you recommend someone less than stellar. And you can still want her to be successful and support her in all sorts of ways without recommending her for a job that you don’t think she’d be good at.
You have a few different ways you can handle this:
1. If you have the sort of friendship that allows this, and you don’t think it would make your friend defensive, you could be honest. You could tell her (nicely) that you don’t think she’s the right match for the job because it requires a high level of professionalism … and give her some specific examples of why that’s not her, yet.
If you do this, it’s got to be done in a non-condecending way or it will be a disaster. If you can pull this off, you could be doing her a huge favor. But it’s also possible — perhaps likely — that this will put a huge strain on your friendship, so proceed with caution.
2. You can tell your friend that it’s been ingrained in you that you shouldn’t recommend people for jobs if you haven’t actually worked with them, because you can’t credibly speak about the quality of their work.
3. You can warn your boss that your friend is applying and may name-drop you in her application, but that you have no stance on her candidacy. (Depending on how much of a disaster you think she might be, you could also go further and explain you have concerns about her candidacy.)
4. You can tell your boss the truth, good and bad, and leave it to your boss to decide how to proceed from there. For instance: “She’s really smart and a fast writer, but she’s a little naive when it comes to office norms and I honestly don’t know how she’d do.”
5. You can tell both sides you’re invoking a firewall. You tell your friend that having a close friend applying for a job that you’re involved in the selection process for gives you serious qualms about bias and potential awkwardness, and so you’re staying of the evaluation of her candidacy, to make sure there’s no awkwardness during the interview process or later if she doesn’t get the job. And you tell your boss that a friend is applying and you don’t want to bias the process or create awkwardness with the friend or make your boss feel obligated to give her special consideration, so you’re invoking a firewall between yourself and her candidacy.
Meanwhile, do other things that will help your friend in her job search without compromising your own reputation. Help her with her resume or cover letter, or talk to her about lessons you’ve learned on the job that she might find interesting (not in a condescending way, obviously), and so forth — i.e., find ways to help her without harming yourself.
What do others think?