my CEO wants me to send his relative’s resume to “all my contacts”

A reader writes:

My first job out of college was in Washington, D.C. as an analyst in a three letter agency, a highly sought after experience. I don’t talk about it much anymore because inevitably, now that I am on the outside and in the private sector, I get asked to forward along resumes of sons/daughters/nieces/nephews/friends who I’ve never met and don’t know. I don’t know too much about formal networking etiquette, but it seems to me that referring someone should be done very sparingly and only if you personally know and can vouch for the person you are referring, and I don’t want to annoy my old coworkers and hiring managers on the inside who I know by streaming them resumes from people wanting to start in the industry who I don’t even know. Am I off the mark?

In the past, people would get upset with me when I tell them that I am not referring someone I don’t know for the above reason. Even if it was people I just met at a bar. Now I’m wondering if there is another way to frame my decision not to refer or forward resumes to my contacts, especially since the CEO of my current company emailed me on Friday out of the office saying he wants me to forward along a resume of a cousin’s daughter to all my contacts in D.C. and I don’t even know her.

Nope, you’re right. If you use up your capital sending resumes of people you don’t know, you’ll have less available when you want to use it for people you do know (or for yourself). Plus, depending on how you frame the message, you may be seen as vouching for people whose work you don’t have any actual way of vouching for. You can be very clear about that — as in, “I don’t know Jane and have never worked with her but she’s interested in getting into this field” — but that message can be annoying to receive, especially in a field where people are getting bombarded with lots of requests of this sort.

As for your CEO’s request: The reality is that if you happened to help get your CEO’s relative a job, that’s likely to generate some good will from him toward you, and that can be a smart move for your career. So if you look at the relative’s resume and it’s reasonably strong, you might decide to forward it along to people who you think could genuinely be interested.

But you’re never obligated to do that. Your CEO isn’t going to know how widely you send out his relative’s resume, or even if you send it at all, so you can use whatever judgment you think is appropriate there — including quietly not sending it if you don’t feel comfortable. Or you can say something like “I don’t think I know anyone looking for this kind of professional background (or people without experience in X, or so forth).”

But the power dynamics in this situation (he’s your boss, and frankly it’s not appropriate for him to direct you to use your contacts for his family’s gain)  make it ethically acceptable to say something vague like “I’ll see what I can do” and then privately have what you can do turn out to be nothing.

{ 135 comments… read them below }

  1. Anonymous Educator*

    If you use up your capital sending resumes of people you don’t know, you’ll have less available when you want to use it for people you do know (or for yourself). Plus, depending on how you frame the message, you may be seen as vouching for people whose work you don’t have any actual way of vouching for.

    Absolutely. If I get an unsolicited résumé from a third party (not directly from the applicant herself), my first immediate questions will be “What is the relationship between this applicant and the person sending me the résumé?” and “How well professionally does the person contacting me know the person whose résumé this is?” If I find out the person contacting me doesn’t know the applicant at all or barely knows her and is doing this only as a favor to her boss, her future credibility with me is completely shot.

    1. AMPG*

      I’d rethink the judgment around “doing this only as a favor to her boss” part – it’s not really fair to punish someone who was put in a difficult position by a superior through no fault of their own. If the connection is represented honestly (i.e. your contact doesn’t attempt to personally vouch for someone they clearly don’t know), I’d just think sympathetic thoughts at them for having a boundary-pushing boss and let it go.

      1. Anonymous Educator*

        If someone says “I was put in a difficult situation by my boss, so I’m forwarding this résumé but don’t look at it, because I don’t know the person and can’t vouch for her,” I’d certainly cut that person slack. Common sense.

    2. Swamp Monster*

      Yeah, if I got a resume sent to me by someone I barely know asking for a favor for someone I know even less, it’s pretty close to how I would feel if I was approached about an MLM.

    3. Annonymouse*

      As far as I understand the ways you network are:
      1) Ask for informational interviews from people you are directly or 1 (maybe 2) degrees of separation.

      2) ask people in your network (including people in their networks) if they know of any openings you’d be qualified for and passing that information to you.

      3) asking you to pass their resume on for an open position/ to your contacts if they are in the same industry.

      For one and two it doesn’t matter if you’ve never worked with them before because you aren’t spending capital or staking your reputation on this interaction. In fact you’re an information resource.

      For 3 they’re asking you to be a job resource and make connections they have no right to if you’re not directly connected to them and/or have less than stellar work product.

      In this case you’d either say:

      I’m not comfortable referring someone I’ve never worked with.
      (If you want you can lie and say “I’ve done it in the past and it didn’t work out so both they and I won’t seriously consider anyone unless I’ve worked with them and can personally speak of their high work quality.”)

      “I’ve asked around my old job but there are no suitable openings at the moment. But if any come up I’ll pass the details of it on to you.”

      “I don’t know anyone with hiring power at old job so I don’t think I’ll be very helpful with their job search.”

  2. AdAgencyChick*

    If your CEO is the type to want to see confirmation that you did this, here’s what I suggest you do:

    1) Email your contacts to say, “My boss has told me to hit up my contacts on a relative’s behalf. The next email I send you will be his cousin’s daughter’s resume. What you do with it is up to you.”
    2) Email your contacts with an “Wanted to pass along this resume for your consideration,” and attach the resume.

    If I got an email like 1) from someone I used to work with, I’d totally understand the power dynamics and not be upset with the sender at all.

    (But if you don’t think he’s going to ask repeatedly “Hey, did you send Matilda’s resume out like I asked you to?” until you show him that you did, skip both of these steps and do what Alison says.)

    1. AMPG*

      I’ve done this before, and it’s worked pretty well. In one case, a contact at a funder’s office was asking me to set up an introductory conversation with someone in my own organization where he was applying for a job (the job was in a different state and with a division I never interacted with). I called my colleague and said, “Listen, this guy is with an important funder so I can’t get out of making this request. I apologize for making it your problem, but if you would be willing to speak with him for just a few minutes it would make my life so much easier.” He agreed to take the call and I was profusely grateful, and I don’t think it damaged any relationships (either personally or between divisions).

  3. Detective Amy Santiago*

    Could you say that you’ve been out of the field for so long that you don’t really have any contacts anymore?

    1. Frozen Ginger*

      Yeah but then if it gets back that you recommended someone else, someone you actually know, people will be angry.

  4. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

    You can be very clear about that — as in, “I don’t know Jane and have never worked with her but she’s interested in getting into this field” — but that message can be annoying to receive, especially in a field where people are getting bombarded with lots of requests of this sort.

    I get these kinds of referrals frequently, and it’s extremely annoying. Doing it once in a while is ok, but doing it often will expend goodwill and political capital in a similar way to actually vouching for someone. I think OP is spot on in their framing and approach.

    OP, I’m not sure what your relationship is like with your CEO, but I’d be tempted to say “I don’t know anyone looking for that background” (if I felt confident/strong about my job/position), and alternately, Alison’s “I’ll see what I can do” vague statement if I was worried about how my boss would react. I’m sorry you’re in this position—it’s not really fair of your CEO to do, and I’m sorry they’ve done it.

  5. Saturnalia*

    In similar situations I’ve been in, the person making the inappropriate request will often follow up to ask if I’ve heard anything, or if I can get an update from the hiring manager (no joke). I’m assuming the best script here is vague excuses? “They have a lot of applications for this role; my contact is super busy; I’ll let you know when I hear back about your person.”

    1. Matilda Jefferies*

      I think the better response is to remove yourself from the equation entirely at that point. “Yes, I sent Petunia’s resume to a few people. I’m sure they will contact her directly if they want to talk to her.” Which has the added benefit of being true – it’s not likely that your contact would come back to you if they wanted to get in touch with Petunia. You did what you could, now the rest is out of your hands.

    2. AdAgencyChick*

      If I thought my boss were going to do this, that’s when I would take the two-email approach I mentioned above (and in the boss-facing version of the email, I’d be sure to include a line of “Please contact Petunia directly if you have any openings”).

      Then I could shrug with a straight face and say, “Petunia hasn’t heard back? I’m sorry to hear that.”

  6. Grits McGee*

    In addition to being a reputation liability to OP, unless you’re talking about high-level folks or political appointees, there’s a very rule-heavy process for hiring in the federal government, and “pass on a resume to a contact” definitely isn’t part of it. I don’t know the specifics for your former agency, OP, but maybe explaining that to the requesters will take some heat off you.

    1. Government Worker*

      +1. I don’t know of a 3-letter agency where you can get a job via passing on a resume instead of applying through USA Jobs. If I were the OP, I’d probably tell the CEO something like “Federal hiring rules are pretty strict, but if cousin’s daughter has applied for a job in [sub department of office of agency where I used to work and actually know people], I’d be glad to let my contacts know to keep a look out for her resume if it makes it past the central HR screening process. Just let me know which job listing numbers to reference so I can follow up with the right people.”

      Then I’ve obligated myself to follow up in the unlikely event that he comes back to me with something, but I’d be willing to take that risk. Especially given the state of federal hiring right now.

      1. AMPG*

        This is a good script, and you can especially emphasize the “automated screening” part of it. It can be really hard to get past the filters, even with a lot of relevant experience, and that gives you a lot of plausible deniability.

      2. Snark*

        Even this is kind of a big ask, in my opinion. The process is not easy to game, and asking people to do so is an imposition.

        1. Government Worker*

          Fair enough. I’m not in the federal government, but in a local agency. We’ve got the same central HR screening structure as the feds, but once a stack of qualified resumes makes it to the hiring manager it can feel a bit more like dealing with normal people in a normal company. I had talked to a couple of people at my agency before applying to get a sense of the place, and I think that at least one of them gave my boss a heads up that I was applying.

          My goal in OP’s shoes would be to try my hardest to *sound* like I was offering real help while minimizing the chances I’d actually have to do anything about it. I’m assuming that boss’ cousin’s daughter has a degree in beverage studies but isn’t actually going to apply to the position of Spout Curvature Analyst II in the Teapot Materials division where OP used to work.

          1. Snark*

            My approach would be to offer a brief chat to outline the Federal hiring process and refer them to Ten Steps to a Federal Job, which is basically the bible on that subject. I had a grad school mentor very kindly walk me through the basic process and it was a great help just to know that the process was different and complicated and that one has to pick their line through it.

      3. Jeff*

        Having worked as a hiring advisor for a 3 letter agency, referring people to usajobs or to the agency’s own website is the official way people get hired nowadays. If OP wanted to help directly, having a conversation with the actual owner of the resume and making some suggestions about dos and don’ts of the resume, what might get noticed quicker, what might make the resume and application rise to the top of the pile, might help.

        1. Snark*

          Yeah. It’s a real process, and if you’re new to it, you’re screwing it up and you won’t make it past the keyword screen even if you were raised in a dojo from birth to be the perfect GS-12-0028 Environmental Scientist. I probably applied to 75 federal positions to get hired for three – which is, not to pat myself on the back too hard, a really good success rate, because one can feel like a shaman reading the future in newt entrails or something while doing it. It’s not intuitive and you’ve basically got to remotely psychoanalyze an algorithm and an HR specialist in Cincinnati who will never meet you or the hiring manager, as well as the hiring manager.

          1. Xay*

            Yes to this entire comment. There are always rumors of the rare contractor who converted to FTE because the hiring manager wrote the position for them, but I’ve never heard of someone getting through the system because a random resume was circulated.

            1. I woke up like this*

              My husband is one such unicorn (FTE contractor turned GS-employee). Still, even though the job description was written specifically for him, he was very worried he wouldn’t make it past the keyword screen. After all, we have friends who, even when applying for jobs written specifically for them, did NOT get past the keyword screen. It’s a very rigid process!

    2. Snark*

      Came here to say this. You don’t get hired at government agencies with resumes and personal references. You apply through USAJobs like everybody else, you lash together this giant ugly resume with all the keywords, you submit a vast number of forms, some faceless bureaucrat in Cincinnati or somewhere screens each and every one numerically and according to various special hiring considerations, and the top scoring resumes finally make it to the hiring manager, who then must interview every single one. There’s entire books written about how to make it through the process. “Send a resume to all your contacts” appears precisely nowhere in it.

      What the CEO is asking is not only presumptuous and annoying, it’s simply not done. It’s not actionable by the recipients, it’s not legal, it’s not a viable path to a job. It’s worse than useless, because if I were a Federal hiring manager, I’d be so annoyed that someone thought they could jump the queue that I’d trash it instantly.

      1. Grits McGee*

        Yeah, one has to imagine that a lot of this is coming from a place of ignorance about the realities of federal employment, or people are basing their knowledge of an agency based on fictional TV shows.

    3. Ubergaladababa*

      This is exactly right. Now, who knows if the boss would be reasonable upon hearing this, but networking in government is a very different animal than in the private sector.

      OP, maybe you could tell your boss you can’t get really help that way because of the hiring process, but offer to talk to the cousin about your experience there and give a few tips about how to navigate USA Jobs? That way you can still get gr brownie points without wasting old co-workers time.

    4. Snarkus Aurelius*

      Really? I was under the impression that the bulk of federal jobs were filled via personal connections and not the traditional way (apply->get interview->get hired). Sure on paper that’s not true but I always thought reality was much different so this letter didn’t surprise me.

      For years, I applied for federal jobs via OPM. I’d spend house on KSAs, filling out forms, writing cover letters, etc. with nothing to show for it. Not even an interview.

      A zillion years ago, the Washington Post had a government job columnist expert who had worked in HR in the federal government. He basically said you could A) hire him to help you with your search or B) use your personal connections. He was also said that KSAs were basically Mad Libs and the key to being successful was to regurgitate as many key words in the original question as possible. The best advice he ever gave me was to never apply to a job that was only open for five days because that means there’s an internal candidate so don’t bother.

      Now I don’t bother to apply for federal agency jobs unless I have a connection.

      1. Snark*

        “I was under the impression that the bulk of federal jobs were filled via personal connections and not the traditional way (apply->get interview->get hired).”

        It’s so very, very much not like this that I honestly wonder how you got this impression. It’s really the diametric opposite of this; the process is hostile by design to personal connections and referrals, and there are multiple levels of screening, scoring for various hiring schedules, and vetting before a hiring manager even sees your resume. And it takes six months.

        KSAs are indeed mad libs, and it’s insanely hard to get an interview for a Federal job, but if personal connections were a thing…..that was a zillion years ago.

        1. Lora*

          Hey, it worked for Sarah Huckabee! And Rahm Emmanuel and so forth. There’s a big difference between Political Appointee, an actual Congresscritter’s relative, and some random person looking for a GS-7 level whatever though.

          IIRC, the way to get to the top of the pile for the GS jobs was to be a veteran AND totally qualified. I’ve no idea if ROTC counts for anything? Although the last time I checked it was the end of Iraq War 1.0, Bush Sr. so things probably have changed.

          1. Snark*

            Yeah, political appointments, Senate office and White House positions, and some others operate differently, but if you’re just applying to be a standard GS employee, which is the majority of Fed jobs, you’re jumping through lots of hoops.

            Veterans do get a strong score boost, but one still has to be totally qualified. Also, it’s not widely known, but having a documented disability can allow you to be noncompetitively hired – effectively appointed – under the so-called Schedule A hiring authority. That’s how I got my second Fed position, thanks to my hearing loss.

      2. Danger: Gumption Ahead*

        So not true for GS jobs. Connections only matter after the initial screening process. SES and Hill/WH appointments are different

        1. Jen S. 2.0*

          Agree. Connections helped me get my GS job, BUT I still had to make it through the initial USAJobs screening first. My contact basically told me that I had to get to the interview stage on my own, but once I was one of a few candidates, he could encourage them to move me to the top of the list. (Note: I was hired from an announcement that said there were “few” vacancies, so there were several positions available, and there was some flexibility. I think they ended up hiring 17 people from that one announcement.)

      3. Lily in NYC*

        Interesting, that is not my experience at all. I lived in DC for many years and most of my friends work for the federal government and maybe two of them had connections. My sister got her federal job through and didn’t know anyone.

    5. CatCat*

      I got a lead on a federal job through a personal contact referral. I sent my application materials directly to the hiring manager after my contact referred me. I never went through USAJobs. I am not sure it was ever even posted there. So it certainly can be done.

      1. Snark*

        Were you applying under some kind of special hiring schedule, like for a disability or veteran’s preference thing? And were you actually hired?

        1. CatCat*

          Yes, I was hired. And I made an internal move to another position without having to go through USAJobs.

          No idea about a “special hiring schedule.” I’m not a veteran and I don’t have a disability. The funding for the positions was through a special appropriation so I don’t know if that might have had something to do with it.

          1. Snark*

            I’m astonished, frankly, because this really shouldn’t be possible unless you were appointed. I’ve held three federal jobs at two different agencies, and never once ran into someone who’d gotten their job through a referral. And honestly, I don’t think it should be possible.

          2. Grits McGee*

            That might have been the key part. Where the money is coming from often dictates what kind of rules you have to follow for a position, and what kinds of benefits have to be offered.

              1. Snark*

                My feeling is that there’s some reason your position was unique and unusual that gave the hiring manager a lot of flexibility, because for most GS positions, it’s just not possible. I helped my last Fed boss fill a couple of positions, and it’s like Sisyphus endlessly rolling a stone uphill, for all parties.

                1. Danger: Gumption Ahead*

                  I’m thinking contract (e.g. Snowden at NSA) or on some kind of special commission or legislatively mandated group. Could have also been a WH office like ONDCP

                2. Snark*

                  If CatCat was a GS, they weren’t a contractor. Like you said, though, if it was a special appropriation, that might have carved out a little bit of flexibility for their boss that normally doesn’t exist – a legislatively mandated group being a great example.

                3. Grits McGee*

                  Now that I think about it, people used to be able to get around GS hiring procedures by hiring under Pathways/student worker programs (my internship supervisor had me enroll in an online community college program specifically so she could hire me), but I think they closed that loophole a couple years ago.

          3. Just another fed*

            Special appropriation might be the key. It could have been an excepted/noncompetitive status position, so it has a streamlined hiring process to get people in faster than usual. My friend had a job that hired like this, but it also meant it didn’t come with all the same benefits/protections that a competitive status job has.

    6. rory*

      Yeah. The *only* time this could be helpful if it’s for an internship. There are a lot of internship programs and outside folks may not be aware of them, so it can be helpful to send an e-mail saying “hey, I’ve got someone here looking for an internship, which programs are you using and where do they go to apply?” And *then* the person has to apply, get screened, and hired.

    7. Kathenus*

      As many have mentioned, the GS hiring process is generally very complex and regimented, a recommendation can usually only help if the person makes the ‘cert’ or certified list of candidates.

      I spent over six years in a GS12 position, and then left the federal government but stayed in the same field. A few years later I applied for a similar GS12 position (same role in the same facility but in a different department) and was told I didn’t meet the minimum qualifications for the job due to my specific degree type. For the job I had already held in the federal government for over six years successfully! It can be a crazy corn maze trying to navigate the system.

      1. AMPG*

        I spent almost 15 years working at a non-profit on a team that was 100% federally-funded. During that time, I applied at least 3 times for open positions on the government side of that same contract, and kept getting told I didn’t meet the minimum qualifications to work on the project I was currently running.

    8. Dan*

      Yup. Fresh out of school, I met a fed hiring manager at a conference. He wanted me to apply for an open job he had, and the direction was to apply via usajobs. Except HR bounced me for reasons I don’t know.

      Fast forward a few years, an I made it past the opm gauntlet… Which was still required, even with personal connections through an old boss.

      Pass along a resume from someone you don’t know? Yeah right.

    9. Just another fed*

      Just came here to say this. Very few jobs are filled outside usajobs, so this is an incredibly easy out. Maybe have a couple of article links on hand for hope to get through that first step, maybe some for the new grad programs (pathways, PMF, etc.). And wish them luck, they’re going to need it.

    10. LizM*

      This has not been my experience at all.

      The only exception i know of is that students in certain types of internships can be brought on as permanent employees through direct hire authority without having to go through a competitive process. But that’s just for entry level positions, and the internships are competitive.

      Once you are in government and applying for promotions or transfers, your connections can make a big difference, especially if the hiring manager has a firm understanding of the hiring rules.

  7. Snarkus Aurelius*

    Resume spamming is as common advice as it is terrible. When I got my first internship in DC, this is all we interns were told to do to find a job so I am guilty of doing this myself. Surprise! Nothing ever came of it.

    Get your resume out there! Send it to as many people as possible! The more people the better! You never know who might need someone immediately! Do you know how many resumes jobs in DC get? HUNDREDS! Send, send, send! And ask your contacts to send it to their contacts and their contacts! (No seriously, this is all the stuff I was told.)

    The problem is that this advice only works in very specific environments, i.e. people who know each other and a job that somewhat fits the resume that’s being passed on. Vomiting your resume all over the place to faceless people is pointless. It also sends the message that you don’t have a focus, and you’ll take whatever job comes your way.

    So no, OP, you don’t have to do it, and I wouldn’t do it if I were you simply because you don’t know this person. Now, if this person wanted to reach out to you herself, make contact, and get to know you a bit better, THAT is a different story because she’s making an effort.

    But passing around a resume like pieces of sheet cake at an office party? Nope.

  8. Foreign Octopus*

    Eugh. This is super annoying.

    OP, you’re stuck in an unpleasant situation right now. To send or not to send. The CEO shouldn’t have put you in such a position, particularly for a relative as distant as a cousin’s daughter. In your shoes, I’d say that I sent the email but your contacts are busy people and it would be better for the cousin’s daughter to contact them directly.

  9. Antilles*

    Plus, depending on how you frame the message, you may be seen as vouching for people whose work you don’t have any actual way of vouching for. You can be very clear about that — as in, “I don’t know Jane and have never worked with her but she’s interested in getting into this field” — but that message can be annoying to receive, especially in a field where people are getting bombarded with lots of requests of this sort.
    I don’t know. I just don’t see this as effective. There are just too many pitfalls here:
    1.) Sadly often, your lack-of-recommendation message will get dropped somewhere along the line due to bad memory or the vagaries of passing around emails/resumes. So someone gets “oh, this resume came from Andy” but doesn’t also get/remember the corresponding message that “…but Andy hasn’t actually worked with her”. In which case, they view it as a recommendation – why would I have this resume from Jane if Andy didn’t think Jane was good?
    2.) If they DO get that message, people might still think of the resume as a quasi-recommendation – after all, while you may not be able to vouch for Jane’s work quality, presumably you think she’s a pretty decent and morally upstanding person generally since you’re doing her a favor – you wouldn’t be sending out resumes for a mortal enemy/known horrific person/etc after all.
    3.) And then even if you get past both of those and manage to make it explicitly clear that “I don’t know this person and can’t vouch for them personally or professionally”…well, then heck, why are you sending it to me at all? The whole point of short-circuiting our typical process and sending me the resume directly is that you think I can benefit from this; if you can’t say that I’d benefit from it, you might as well go through the usual channels.

    1. Sam*

      Yes, I think at minimum you’d want to include something that explains why you felt pressured to send it along. I think many people would assume that a “this came from my boss; I don’t know them” email from a contact was sent under pressure and feel comfortable deleting without spending any additional time on it.

  10. Barbara in Swampeast*

    Don’t “three letter agencies” have their own, strict hiring procedures that have to be followed? Can you get out of forwarding resumes by saying that the few contacts you still have are sticklers about following the rules?

    1. AFH*

      This. Federal hiring is designed to minimize the advantage for folks who ‘know someone’ as much as possible. Sometimes that backfires in that the system is so convoluted that knowing someone who’s done it is the only way to know how to navigate it, but for most civil service positions, ‘passing along a resume’ just isn’t a thing. There’s no way to get that resume into the hiring pipeline unless the candidate submits an application per the instructions for the position.

      If someone for whom I genuinely want to do a favor asks me to pass on their resume, I’ll point them at the application instructions for open positions and offer to talk to them about how to put together a government resume (because the advice for a good government resume is the polar opposite of the advice for a good private sector resume). But then I have to turn around and disclose that I know the person–not it a “hire them” way, but in an “I cannot be involved in their candidacy in any way” way.

    2. LizM*

      The only time it’s useful for me to receive a resume is if the person has done an internship and qualifies for direct hire authority, meaning they can be hired noncompetitively. It’s fairly common in my agency for those resumes to be circulated widely, as our culture is that if we find a good student, we want to keep them in the agency, and we’re never sure who has openings in the queue. But I wouldn’t know what to do with a resume of a person that didn’t have that status. Probably nothing.

  11. Just Biz*

    Perhaps you could offer to email or meet with your CEO’s cousin’s daughter, if you were so inclined, to give her an opportunity to network and ask about the field and your experience?

  12. animaniactoo*

    I think the best way to push back against this kind of thing is to attach negative consequences for it – particularly if the negative consequences are for the requestor:

    “They’d be really upset with me if I sent them the resume of someone I haven’t worked with personally. So many people try to get an “in” this way that they find it really annoying in the end; and due to that they tend to immediately dismiss any resume they get through this kind of avenue. Friend/relative/etc. actually has a better shot of their resume being reviewed if they send it through normal channels.”

    1. VA Anon*

      I would use a version of this.

      “Friend/ relative/etc. actually has a better shot of their resume being reviewed if they send it through normal channels. Here’s a link to get her started: link.”

    2. Bibliospork*

      IMO, this is the way to go. This leaves you free to send recommendations to the people you actually have worked with, without offending the CEO.

  13. Shadow*

    Why don’t you just act as sort of a recruiter. That way you can say “sure send his/her resume and I’ll take a look at it and will pass it along if she/he has the type of exp they look for”. And to your contacts you can say “I can’t vouch for this person but I came across a really good resume I thought you might be interest in”

    1. Snark*

      Because that’s not how any of this works in Fedland. It’s literally impossible for them to hire based on a secondhand resume. You’re essentially providing them light bathroom reading and nothing else.

      1. Shadow*

        Oh that’s not completely true. My friends in govt get these same types of referrals and call back the ones they want to consider to say “go apply”

        1. Snark*

          It’s completely true for most purposes. “Go apply” means “I’ll do my best to get you in for an interview if you can get your resume through USAJobs and there’s not a disabled veteran that gets preference” not “Yer hired, young gumption-haver, now go take care of the fiddly bureaucratic stuff and make it official.”

    2. Nolan*

      But the OP isn’t a recruiter, so forwarding a seemingly random resume in that manner would be even more out of place.

  14. Mike C.*

    The entitlement of this CEO simply reeks. If this cousin once removed is such a great candidate, surely they can make it through the gauntlet that is USA Jobs.

  15. Stellaaaaa*

    The problem is that resume spamming really does work in a lot of fields, especially when you’re at the level where you’re overqualified for any of the jobs on Indeed and don’t have any other way to get your foot in the door. Perhaps OP could say something like, “I know that referrals are effective in other fields, but this just isn’t one of them.”

  16. Katie the Fed*

    The nice thing about government work in those agencies in particular is that resume forwarding won’t get you anywhere. There are very regimented application processes. So when people ask me if I can help get them a job I just say “oh, all hiring is done through the agency website – be sure to apply there!”

    1. Snark*

      Yes. At best, it might get you a “If on the very tiny chance their resume actually makes it into the stack the HR folks forward me, I’ll be sure to skim it very thoroughly,” but it’s really not a productive approach. And I know my boss at EPA absolutely loathed it when people tried to contact her directly, so at worst it might be actively counterproductive.

    2. paul*

      Is there a way to guess what the relevant keywords are? I’ve applied to two or three federal jobs in the past (I’ll be honest, mostly because I thought the area they were all in would be awesome to live in and the work seemed kind of up my alley). And it just…I felt like I was approaching the frigging Oracle at Delphi or something.

      1. Snark*

        You were! Feel better? :D

        In all seriousness, yes, you basically work every consequential word in the KSAs into your resume, for every position you’ve had, in multiple ways. It just turns into this semicoherent kludge of KSA language, repeated endlessly for pages.

      2. Grits McGee*

        This may not be the case for other agencies, but I know for jobs at mine one of the big issues was the rankings in the KSA more than the answers. If you don’t rate yourself as most experienced/qualified on every time, you’re not going to get a high enough point score to make it to the referral stage. My old supervisor used to say that as long as you aren’t outright lying, rate yourself at the top and say you have time in grade, because it’s up to HR and the hiring managers to prove you aren’t qualified.

  17. Snark*

    One bit of advice, if you’re looking for a government type job and have been lashing giant resumes into USAJobs for a year without results: apply with contractors! Contractors provide support to a lot of federal offices, and they’re often higher-paying.

    1. animaniactoo*

      Five bucks says that contractors are among the “contacts” that OP is expected to have as an “in” for jobs by those trying to get this foot in the door.

        1. animaniactoo*

          And exactly why I think the way to go in most cases is to make it clear that having YOU send on the resume when you haven’t personally worked with the person raises the chances that it will never be reviewed, rather than lowering them. Make it a less desirable option for those trying to get their foot in the door this way.

    2. Anna*

      Man, I wish I’d found those higher paying contractors than the ones I’ve been working for! I like to tell people I get all the headaches of being a government employee with none of the benefits. :)

    3. periwinkle*

      And… when the politicians begin yet another “mine’s bigger than yours” contest that leads to a federal shutdown, contractors are hosed. The last two times, fed employees got back pay for the time they were locked out; contractors are simply unemployed during shutdowns.

      Yeah, ask me how I know. Thank goodness I got a private sector offer toward the end of the last shutdown, I’m implementing a permanent NOPE to ever contracting at the federal level again.

      Despite that, yes, it can actually be a good foot in the door for a permanent federal job because you’re making contacts and getting to understand the agency from the inside. (but, nope)

  18. New hiring manager*

    Ugh. Every time I open up a position, I get a few of the, “hey, this person wanted me to pass along their info” emails, and I’m inevitably annoyed when I dig a little deeper and realize the person doing the passing doesn’t know the person they’re referring. If it’s someone you can highly recommend, send me their info. If it’s someone you don’t know, encourage them to apply by the usual routes. I get that the LW is in a tough spot, so I’m not faulting them, but as the person doing the hiring, it’s the opposite of helpful.

  19. MommyMD*

    Just be honest and say you aren’t comfortable making recommendations for people you don’t personally know well. Unless your boss is completely unreasonable he should let it go.

    Agreeing to do it and not doing it or inventing convoluted tales can backfire. Good luck. Your boss should have never asked this of you.

    If he harps back at you, calmly state “that’s my policy”.

    1. Blue Bird*

      By making that ‘request’ in the first place, the CEO already behaved pretty unreasonably. Brushing them off like that could do more harm than good…

      1. MommyMD*

        I would not brush them off. I would tell them I’m honestly uncomfortable doing it. I think spinning tales can get someone in a lot deeper.

        1. Snark*

          “I’m sorry, but given that all hiring for GS positions is handled through the USAJobs process, there’s not much I can do to help. The Federal hiring process is specifically designed to make it impossible to hire personal contacts, and hiring managers there have next to no flexibility. I wish I could help, but anything I would do is likely to annoy people, not help your cousin get a job.”

          1. Swamp Monster*

            Yes. Absolutely. That’s what I would suggest saying too! It’s so easy to just turn it down by blaming it on the actual process that is in place.

          2. Snark*

            And then I’d offer to give them 20 minutes on the phone to explain the Federal hiring process, a hearty good luck, and a referral to Ten Steps to a Federal Job by Kathryn Troutman.

            1. Blue Bird*


              This seems like the perfect way to go about it. Cooperative and friendly, while not wasting capital at the old job.

  20. Essie*

    Given the nature of what these people are requesting, I would be SOOOOO tempted to mess with them.

    “I’d be glad to pass along a resume…if this person meets the appropriate criteria. Have her include a hair sample, and tell her to take The Thing to The Place at The Time. She’ll know what I mean.”

  21. Swamp Monster*

    Hi! So, I’m DC-based, and while my own field is completely separate from politics/the government/Prestigious Organizations With Tight Acronyms, my wife does work in the govt as do others I know. So I’m not the mooooost insidery of an advice giver here but I have some insight.

    As the people asking for your help with contacts likely know, it can be hard to break into the government if you’ve never worked for them before. Application processes are long, and preference tends to be given to people who already work for the government/have a certain level of clearance depending on the job/have been in the military. And all jobs need to be posted to USA Jobs (I believe that’s the one – it’s been a while since I’ve had to job search) and go through a formal application process, because they have to be very careful to avoid nepotism and the appearance thereof (despite the rampant nepotism going on at, ahem, the top of the government right now, which is of course not in line with how civil servants are generally expected to conduct themselves).

    So, with that in mind, one of your “gentle rejection” comments to have in store could be “you know, they place a lot of stock in the formal application process for new hires, sending the resume to someone isn’t going to be much of a shortcut.” I don’t even know how true that is but neither will the people asking you if they’re this inconsiderate about mining you for government contacts.

    You can also just say pretty general things like “oh, that’s in a different department, we didn’t have any contact with them, it’s pretty separate” or “I don’t keep in touch with them anymore, it would be odd for me to reach out,” “I didn’t save the contact info for everyone I ever worked with” etc.

    Another tactic could be “Hey, I really wouldn’t be able to help by sending this to a contact in the company, but please let me know if I can answer any questions about the company/interview process if you need advice.” (If it’s someone’s niece or whatever, offer to speak to them directly instead of your coworker. A lot of times they probably won’t even follow up and don’t want their relatives digging around in their job business, and if they do get in touch with you, they’ll probably be a little more chill about it.)

    There’s also “oh, I’ve actually been asked to do that a lot and I have to say no. Lots of people are looking to get into the organization but I really can’t help.”

  22. NK*

    People have given lots of good information on the government jobs angle of this, but if this were a private sector job, I’d tell the CEO that I’d be happy to set up a chat with the relative to learn more about her experience and background so I could make a recommendation that would carry some weight. This would accomplish a couple things. First, it would indicate how serious the relative was about this based on whether she followed through on the chat. Second, it would give me enough of a sense of the relative to determine whether I wanted to actually pass her resume along to any contacts.

    I haven’t been in this exact situation, but I have conducted informational interviews with people referred to me by friends, and based on the conversation I’ve determined whether to reach out to the hiring manager to make sure they saw the candidate’s application. Also, I wouldn’t do this for just anyone, but I have done it for select people, and would for my company’s CEO.

    1. animaniactoo*

      I 100% would NOT do this because you risk running afoul of “What do you mean you don’t think she’s qualified enough? Send her resume. I don’t care if you think she’s qualified and I’m REALLY unhappy with YOU now, I want THEM to see it.”

      1. animaniactoo*

        My bad, I re-read and realize that you did not mention indicating back to the CEO what you think – but I think you’d have to be pretty careful about how you set it up so that you’re not dealing with needing to give that kind of feedback.

        1. Snark*

          Oh, even so, there could be blowback, if CEO is super entitled and pushy – “What do you mean, you want to have an informational interview with Bleminda? She’s the most qualified applicant there is! Just send on the damn resume like I told you.”

          1. NK*

            animaniactoo, yes, I wouldn’t go back and tell the CEO if I didn’t pass their resume along. Snark, that’s always a possibility, but I would frame it as wanting to talk to be able to give her a stronger recommendation, not as being a gatekeeper (and really, the latter is also true – I’m happy to give people career help, especially since I only get these requests maybe a handful of times a year). If I thought the CEO would be unreasonable about the whole thing, I’d probably just use Alison’s “I’ll see what I can do” line and do nothing.

            1. Naruto*

              If you don’t frame it as being about giving a stronger recommendation, but just say you’re happy to meet to offer advice and talk about your experience, that probably gets you past this concern.

  23. Career Specialist*

    This would be a great opportunity to do a real favor for your CEO and do an informational interview with his relative. Spend some time (company time, this is a request from your boss) answering the girl’s questions about that line of work and giving her some insights into the federal hiring process, which is very different from corporate hiring. Send a link for tips on informational interviewing so that she arrives prepared (and knows not to ask for or expect a further introduction). This would be a huge help, make you look good to the CEO, and wouldn’t involve bothering your contacts.

      1. Non-profiteer*

        Second, this is what I was going to suggest if no one had beaten me to it. Then if you like the person, you can give them the low-down on how to actually effectively network and apply for jobs!

  24. Naruto*

    I would personally just tell the CEO I would do it, and then not. If asked, say I sent it out to my applicable contacts and hope for the best, and of course I will update if I hear anything.

    1. Snark*

      This does a disservice to the applicant, who is going to waste a lot of time on unproductive strategies if she’s really committed to public service.

      1. Naruto*

        Sure, but the CEO is making a really unreasonable demand of their employee. Given the power dynamics, I’d be way more concerned about not putting myself in a bad position than about doing what’s best for the applicant. The problem is that doing a service to the applicant here involves potentially pushing back on the CEO’s unreasonable demand — which involves risk to the OP.

  25. Snark*

    Hey, Alison! Since it seems like some of us have Fed experience, and since Fedland hiring is weird and bonkers and complicated, would you ever want to run an entry on how and how not to apply to Federal jobs? I think a lot of folks would be interested in it.

      1. animaniactoo*

        Hmmmm… could you do some Ask the Readers posts targeted for people who have particular kinds of experiences/work in particular fields?

        “Engineers: Tell us about you. Your job search, your job history, your qualifications, what’s particular to your field in your experience, etc.”

        • Librarians
        • Lawyers
        • Federal employees/contractors
        • Creative – design/editorial/writing/marketing

        1. Ask a Manager* Post author

          In theory but it feels like it’s getting away from the point of the site and those posts would each be of very limited interest. I’ll think about it though.

          1. animaniactoo*

            I hear you on moving away from the point of the site. On the limited interest: If it’s worth anything, I’d be interested in reading about the fields that aren’t mine. Just out of curiosity. I don’t know how many people are that curious though; I tend to be into, well, everything. :)

          2. This Daydreamer*

            Maybe as a kind of themed open thread on a weekend or holiday? Maybe just ask “what is your line of work and how did you get into it?”

  26. SofaSolver*

    I would tell whoever is asking to pass along the information: “I’m more than happy to forward along information to my contacts once the candidate has cleared the initial HR screening. Government is notoriously slow at hiring and given this is a highly sought after agency, over the years my contacts have remarked they’re overwhelmed with resumes from candidates who didn’t pass the HR screening. I believe it’s in everyone’s best interest to hold off on passing along the resume until it’s officially in process. This way my credibility with these contacts is upheld and the candidate will be given more attention when the reviewer knows this is actually a serious candidate.”

    I spent over 10 years working for an extremely noteworthy organization and used this line all the time. The reality is the company wouldn’t hire anyone without passing through HR first. This helps reduce the noise/clutter and streamlines candidates who are serious about applying and have passed the HR sniff test.

    1. SofaSolver*

      Adding: I would cheerfully tell the CEO to let me know when the girl has passed through HR and I’ll happily reach out to my contact. I think a kind and positive attitude is key to not making this situation awkward.

      1. Tealeaves*

        I really like this and I’m going to remember it for the next time when people start asking me for help!

  27. Zip Zap*

    I think it would be fine just to say that you don’t feel comfortable vouching for people you haven’t met (and whose work you’re not familiar with). There’s nothing wrong with being honest and showing some integrity.

  28. Kirk Tentaprice*

    “I’m glad you brought this up, because some of my friends have asked for contact details at the place I work now. Shall I pass them your e-mail address?”

    Best delivered without smirking.

  29. RA*

    OP, I know this is a little late, but if you’re still checking for comment updates I have a suggestion!

    I used to work for a well-known organization and regularly interacted with people who were high up in the organization. All of the time, friends and family members would come up to me and ask me to put in a good word for them- even if there were no job openings! My response was always this:
    “I’d be happy to help! Why don’t we meet up for a quick chat over coffee next week to go over your qualifications so that I know what to say about you”

    I figured saying this would be a good way to weed out people who were just rapid-firing resumes because they would need to make some effort. Also, if I realized after our discussion that they would actually be a good fit, then I would have solid grounds to provide a recommendation with less risk to my professional reputation. In almost all cases, that would be the end of the discussion and I would never hear about it again. I only ended up meeting with one person, and after talking with her about the organization she realized that it wasn’t the kind of work she truly wanted to be doing, and moved on to work somewhere she was better suited for.

    So if you have the opportunity at all, I’d highly recommend that you ask to sit down with your CEO’s relative for a small chat. I don’t think this kind of professional networking is something a CEO would balk at, and if she is actually willing to meet up and seems to know what she is talking about then you can comfortably provide her with a good reference.

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