referring a friend for a job? not so fast…

A job opens up at your company. You have a friend who’s job-searching. Yay, get your friend a job and get to work with someone you like!

Not so fast.

Referring a friend for a job can have consequences that people often don’t take the time to think about. While there are of course times when it makes sense to refer a friend for a job, you should think it over carefully and proceed with caution. Here’s why.

1. It can reflect poorly on you if your friend is hired and doesn’t work out. When you recommend someone for a job, your own reputation is at stake. You’re saying, in effect, “This person has my stamp of approval. I know them to be competent and to have integrity.” But in reality, it can be very hard to know what someone is like professionally if you’ve only known them socially. Do you want to be the person who recommended the guy who ends up embezzling from the company? Or less dramatic and more common, the person who recommended the guy who just never quite caught on?

2. It can reflect poorly on you if your friend isn’t hired because they weren’t a strong candidate. Again, your reputation is at stake. If you refer a candidate who isn’t especially strong, what does it say about your judgment or insight into the company’s needs? At a minimum, it can erode your credibility. And it can particularly come back to haunt you if you’re applying for a promotion into a management role at some point, where it’s especially important that you demonstrate an ability to distinguish between strong and weaker matches.

3. It can harm your friendship. Let’s say your friend gets hired and you start working together. You liked your friend just fine as a friend, but do you know what she’s like as a coworker? People are often different at work than they are socially, and plenty of people have discovered that the friend who’s fantastic on weekends is a huge nuisance 9-5 – a slacker, or a toxic gossiper, or a credit-stealer.

Or alternately, your friend might be just fine as a coworker, but have you considered what happens down the road if one of you gets promoted and ends up managing the other one? Can your friendship survive being her boss, or having her be your boss? Can the friendship survive one of you having to fire the other?  (Warning: Even if you think you can, most of the anecdotal evidence says you’re probably wrong.)

None of this is to say that you should never refer a friend for a job. But often people’s tendency is to just think that working with a friend would be fun (which it can be) or that referring a friend would be a good deed (which it might be). Instead, you should make sure that you really know something professionally about the person you’re referring, and proceed with quite a bit of caution … making sure that you’re prepared to deal with all the possible consequences, not just the pleasant ones.

I originally published this at U.S. News & World Report.