Career Choices: Agonizing over an Employee Referral

By Paula Santonocito

smw - jpeg, employee referralQ.  There’s a job opening at my company and a friend wants me to refer her. The trouble is she’s not a great worker and I don’t want her performance to reflect negatively on me. How do I handle this situation?

A.  Ah, this is a downside of employee referrals that doesn’t seem to get much attention.

Employee referral programs are generally viewed as great, by both employers and workers. In fact, employer surveys regularly cite referrals as a primary source of new hires.

The thinking is that a terrific employee, like you, knows other terrific people. By relying on these pre-approved people the company sees itself as having an advantage. What better way to build a happy team, right?

From an employee’s viewpoint, the concept also suggests good times ahead. Hey, you get to work with your friends.

Companies like employee referrals so much that they frequently offer financial incentives to employees who refer others. And the amounts can be substantial. A list of 15 companies’ programs, recently featured at HR World, an online resource for HR professionals, indicates accounting firm Ernst & Young pays between $1,000 and $4,000 for employee referrals and Nortel Networks, a leading provider of communications solutions, awards $2,000 for every referral.

When a company offers money as part a program it does so to encourage participation. Unfortunately, it may also create a situation where an employee is more motivated by cash rather than by fit with the organization.

These days, most people (arguably SMW women especially), could use a little extra cash. Nevertheless, it’s wise to consider that seemingly large lump sum in comparison to the two bigger things that are at stake here: your work situation and your friendship.

You don’t say whether your company is offering a financial or other incentive for a referral. But even if it is, don’t be tempted. You have a legitimate concern and, however awkward, it’s one you must address.

The best thing to do is speak with your friend. You’ll want to be as tactful as possible, but you’ll want to let her know you don’t feel comfortable referring her for a job at your company.

You might want to say that your workplace is very structured and demanding and you just don’t think she’d be comfortable there. You should also mention that you’d hate to have a work situation get in the way of your friendship, which you value, and that you have a feeling that if the two of you work together this will happen.

She will probably try to reassure you that all will be well, she’ll fit in, she’ll do a great job, and you’ll remain fast friends. Follow your instincts on this one, though, and maintain your position. As uncomfortable as the conversation might be, it’s nothing compared to what might happen if she does work with you and it doesn’t work out.

How do you soften what is sure to be a blow to your friend’s ego? Let her know there are few friends as good as her, and a lot of jobs out there. Then offer to help her find one of those jobs–elsewhere.

Have a question? Email Paula here.

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