What To Do When You Don't Want To Refer A Friend For A Job At Your Company

Getting a job is like getting married. There's lots of searching, researching, competing, and negotiating. And we don't always succeed on the first attempt. That's perfectly normal. However, if we leave our job search to the vagaries of chance and the normal process of elimination, it will take us a long time to land a job. According to TopResume, it takes a job seeker five to six months on average to get a job. Fortunately, shifts in the dynamics of the labor market have given job seekers more flexibility. Today, we can be nimble about spotting job opportunities — such as asking our friends for referrals.

It's no secret that the fastest way to get a job interview is to be referred to it. An iCIMS survey (via Career Sherpa) reveals that referred candidates get hired about two-thirds of the time. That means that you're more likely to get hired if a current employee recommends you for an opening position. Now, imagine the exact opposite and put yourself in the shoes of someone whose friend asks them for a job referral. But for obvious reasons — you don't want to. Being entrusted with someone else's professional goals is a huge responsibility, and it's difficult to say no when the person is your friend. But it's your company and an ill-thought-out recommendation can put your credibility at stake. Here's what to do when you don't want to refer a friend for a job at your company.

Be direct and be prompt

If you've decided to not refer your friend to a job at your company, give them a straightforward answer as promptly as possible. Putting your response off not only gives your friend a false sense of hope but also interferes with their job search progress, per The Balance. If you and the person don't know each other well enough, it's imperative to tread lightly and clearly to avoid offending them. You can break the news in person or give them a call. Tell them that you're glad they reached out to you and gently but firmly let them know you can't accommodate their request.

You can also consider responding to them in writing, which will give them a chance to read over your words carefully, Robert Half advises. It can be as simple as, "I don't think I'm in the best position to refer you to the job. It might be in your best interest to get a recommendation from someone else." Texting might spare you an awkward conversation, but keep in mind that tones and nuances in meaning can be easily lost via words. If the person is close to you, pick up the phone and give them a call. If you don't wish to elaborate, simply stating your intentions in a direct and simple manner will do. There's no need to point out what's wrong with their professional goals and make room for further disagreements.

Explain to your friend your rationale

If you and your friend know each other well enough for you to be comfortably honest with them, take the path of radical candor and explain why you don't think they're a good fit for the job. The truth is a bitter pill to swallow, but your enlightened friend will understand, empowerment guru Jodyne Speyer tells The Muse.

For instance, tell your friends in no uncertain terms that they don't have the qualifications, experience, and traits needed for the job. And if you put in a glowing recommendation for your friend knowing full well it's not true, you run the danger of hurting your relationship with your employer if your friend gets hired and underperforms. Or, you think that your friend's bad temper and unhealthy lifestyle habits will get in the way of their fitting in the company's culture.

Keep in mind that although your honest feedback comes from a good place, it might sound like a put-down to your friend. To avoid demotivating them, try to offer a balanced perspective and make them feel like there's still room for improvement, according to marketing specialist Sonya Krakoff from Champlain College Online. If you'll be pointing out their shortcomings, make sure you mention their strong suits and offer them sincere advice too. By doing that, you encourage the person to learn from their flaws and work harder to make the most out of their strengths.

Try to make the job look bad

Per Alison Green, author and CEO of Ask a Manager, you can dissuade your friend from applying for a position by acting as though you're arming them with inside-baseball knowledge that will help them make an informed decision. We're not advising you to lie, but you can play up the undesirable traits about the job to make your friend think twice about applying for it.

Before telling your friend whether you agree to give a referral, talk to them to find out why they're interested in the job and refute their line of reasoning in the most casual tone possible. For instance, if the person says they're interested in working in your company because the culture is good, agree with them but emphasize that there's no work-life balance in the department they're trying to get into and the manager is a hard taskmaster. Then, leave your friend to draw a conclusion on their own.

If your friend is applying for a job from a department that you're in charge of, it's much trickier. However, you can be honest and tell your friend up front that your relationship with the person will set tongues wagging. If your team members think you're showing favoritism, they may grow to dislike you, and that will put you in a very difficult position, per Harvard Business Review. Tell your friend that you value your friendship too much to let the complex boss-friend dynamic break it.

Come up with an excuse

If grabbing a bull by the horns is not your forte, come up with an excuse or tell a white lie and make it as detailed as possible. One way to get that right is to use the self-handicapping tactic — which is to give the person the impression that you will try — but the chance of succeeding is dim and there's no point trying. For instance, you could say something like, "I heard from HR that they've already found an excellent candidate for the position." or "I'd do my best to put in a good word for you, but I'm afraid my boss won't be back from his vacation until next month so you might want to consider other alternatives."

"The self-handicapper controls the impressions of targets by getting into situations or circumstances that appear quite negative, but paradoxically allow the person to sustain an image of competence, and even sympathy," writes professor Andrew DuBrin writes in "Impression Management in the Workplace: Research, Theory, and Practice". Also, remember that you don't owe your friend any referral, and it's not like your white lies or black excuses can impart a real sting to your friend's career path. Instead of embarrassing your friend with a blunt refusal, telling them a socially acceptable pretext and getting it over with doesn't hurt anyone. Per a study in the journal Organizational Behavior and Human Decision Processes, prosocial lies — or white lies — can increase a mutual sense of benevolence.

Put in a lukewarm word for your friend

If you find yourself in a situation where you can't say no, just put in a lukewarm recommendation for your friend and leave your decision to your employer. According to Alison Green, author and CEO of Ask a Manager, if you have reason to believe that your friend doesn't fit the job criteria, you can subtly bring up your dilemma to your supervisor. For instance, give your manager precise reasons why you think your friend is not a good fit for the position and ask your boss to take your friend's application under advisement.

At the same time, check with your HR department to find out if they permit the granting of references and recommendations. Due to the numerous instances in which employees have filed complaints against employers for giving them bad references, many companies have implemented no-reference policies. "A lot of companies don't like you giving recommendations anyway, good or bad," says Chandra Turner, founder of recruiting agency The Talent Fairy. "Because if the person were to not get the job because of something you said, they could sue you or your company. This is rare, but it's why the rule exists."

Help your friend reroute their job search in the right direction

Providing support during tough times is what friends are for. So if you don't want your friend to join the same company as you, be a dear and help them find a job in another. For instance, offer to take a look at your friend's CV and cover letter and suggest key tips on how to improve them. At the same time, look around for job opportunities that suit your friends, send them links to great jobs posted online, or inform them about any places you know that are hiring in their field, according to Indeed. If you have connections in the industry that you can facilitate to help your friend get a job faster, offer to make the introduction and try to see it through.

Since job searching is a painstaking process, it's possible for your friend to lose their confidence at some point. You can show your support by being there for them in every step of their job hunting progress, such as constantly reassuring them of their strong points and doing job interview role plays with them. You can also drive them to their job interviews or accompany them to some networking or career-associated gatherings so they would feel more confident, PayScale suggests.