when you can’t recommend a friend for a job

A reader writes:

I have a friend (kinda) who applied for a position at the hotel I work at. It would be working directly with me. I did not and would not recommend her for this position. I know she is not a good fit.

She applied, put my name down, and got an interview. How do I tactfully tell my boss not to hire her? She is not a team player and I know she would not work out. I cannot work with her and we would be working the same shifts. I also know for a fact that she has talked back to her bosses previously. My mom and brother both worked with her and told me it would turn out bad as well.

Well, first, be sure that you really think she wouldn’t be good at the job — and that it’s not just that you don’t want to work with her. Because if it’s the latter, I can’t condone standing in the way of someone finding employment based just on a personal dislike.

But assuming that you really do know her to be someone who wouldn’t work out well, you can discreetly mention it to your boss. Be specific about why you think that (not just that you know she wouldn’t be a good fit, but why), and make it clear that her putting your name down in no way indicates your endorsement.

You can also mention to your boss that you feel awkward about the position you’re in, and ask that he handle your feedback with discretion.

{ 6 comments… read them below }

  1. Anonymous*

    It is very important that your boss be very clear that the fact that your name appears as a reference does not constitute an endorsement. Your reputation is at stake.

    The boss may easily erroneously assume:
    (1) that your friend asked your permission to use your name as a reference (as she should have)
    (2) that you agreed to be a reference (since your name appears)
    (3) that since you (presumably) agreed to be a reference, your recommendation would be positive.

    If none of the above is true, your boss needs to know.

  2. Anonymous*

    I just dealt with a similar situation. A friend contacted me to ask if they should hire "Joe". I knew Joe to be a slacker, pompous, arrogant know it all who always caused trouble for his coworkers. I simply said "my mother always taught me that if you don't have anything nice to say, you shouldn't say anything at all." My friend got the message loud and clear.

  3. Anonymous*

    Tough situation. I was recently asked to give my boss an opinion on a friend who applied for a job, but it was difficult to recommend her (which I wanted to do positively) when I only knew her in a social capacity. I'm thinking I shouldn't have let my boss know that the candidate was someone I knew because I don't think my comments helped her one way or another, since I could only speak to her general knowledge and experience and nothing too specific to the job.

    Your situation is at least a little more clear-cut in terms of your knowledge of your friend and your recommendation against her. The only advice I can offer is to be absolutely clear with your boss in what capacity you know her and were asked to be her reference. That way the decision really is up to him.

  4. Liz*

    I dealt with this situation in a less professional capacity when I was in high school. Three girls from my high school worked in a retail environment when a fourth walked in, asked if she could have a resume, filled it out and left. It wasn't until later, when we were each called into our bosses office, that we realized that she had put me and my coworkers down as her references – her ONLY references.

    First of all, I found it rude that she would assume I would be her reference without asking me first. Secondly, it was rude of her not to inform us of the fact after she had written our names down so we weren't caught completely off guard with our boss. And third, all four of us compared notes on the girl and found out that the only thing we knew about her aside from the fact that she constantly lamented getting D's and F's on tests and papers (loudly, and specifically, as in "OH MY GOSH! ANOTHER D-! My parents are going to be so mad!") was that she was untrustworthy as she had worked in a group with my coworker and didn't deliver any of the work she had volunteered for, or an explanation, and rude, as she had walked out of classrooms after screaming that the teacher wasn't her mother and couldn't tell her what to do.

    Needless to say, she didn't get hired, but I learned a very important lesson that day. I don't assume that my references can give me a good endorsement for every job I apply for. Instead, I ask and make sure that the person would be comfortable answering questions about my performance, and knows my style and quality of work. All things this girl in high school hadn't thought of when she wrote our names down.

  5. Anonymous*

    I would answer honestly any questions a boss asked me about someone who used me as a reference. If they asked about the person's abilities to perform the job duties, I would answer those questions. If they asked about the person's abilities to be a team player, I would answer those questions.

    What I would definitely NOT do, is presume my boss is interested in my opinion about anything before they have asked. Doing so is not only presumptuous on my part (assuming my opinion is more valued than it probably is), but it also interferes with the employer's otherwise orderly hiring process (which often doesn't involve checking references, let alone those that do working for the same company).

  6. Anonymous*

    I'm not in HR, but I have been a manager for close to 10 years now and I have to say I completely disagree with the comment above. Managers aren't royalty who can be approached only after they have summoned you. No employee should feel they have to wait until their manager speaks to them before offering their opinion, especially in a situation where a potential employee has listed them as a reference.

    Unless the OP tells him otherwise the manager might believe the OP encouraged the applicant to apply, and therefore that she feels the person would be a good fit. The OP's reputation could be on the line, so she shouldn't hesitate to let her manager know that she doesn't recommend this person, nor does she feel this person would be a good fit.

    I think it would be a good idea for her to go easy on the specific details about why she feels this way (unless her manager asks her for more information), but I strongly believe that it is in her best interest to speak up as soon as possible to let her manager know that she does not recommend this person for the job.

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