Good Friend, Bad Reference

Handling a Reference Request from a Friend Who's a Poor Performer

Good Friend, Bad Reference

By Caroline Potter, Yahoo! HotJobs

Good references are an essential part of job searching and networking. A solid reference can often mean more than experience or education when it comes to beating out the competition. What happens, though, when someone in your network asks you to act as a reference and you're not sure you can provide the stellar endorsement she seeks?

Your character is on the line when you sanction someone to another professional, and if she's got shortcomings you could be shooting yourself in the foot if you recommend her. Read on for four ways to handle this sticky situation without risking your reputation -- or your friendship with the reference seeker.

Just the Facts

Because of a fear of lawsuits or retribution, many people are afraid to offer up any kind of information outside of confirming the facts about an applicant's employment history. Employers are aware of this, so you may be able to act as a reference merely by verifying an individual's title, dates of employment and salary. If a hiring manager asks for additional information, you can say that you're not comfortable discussing the matter.

Short and Sweet

If you'd like to (or feel you may be forced to) go beyond confirming a cursory list of facts, be prepared by coming up with a list of the individual's strengths ahead of time. Choose her positive traits carefully and sincerely and then compile a short list of areas in which she needs to grow. Explain them in a constructive manner, leading with a positive trait and segueing into one that needs improvement. For example, say, "Jane is a solid team player, but the opportunity to work more independently might help her grow professionally."

Sorry Seems to Be the Hardest Word

You don't have to tell your job-seeking friend that you don't think you can be a good reference for him. Rather, you can tell him you're not comfortable being a reference at all. You can mention a fear of legal action or the fact that you hate talking on the phone, or are unreliable when it comes to returning phone calls. Whatever excuse you use, tell your associate that it's nothing personal; you'd just really prefer not to be anyone's reference. It's a white lie, but one that may save your friendship while allowing him to save face with potential employers.

Tag, You're It

Despite the extreme popularity of PDAs and mobile phones, it's become harder than ever to get people on the phone. If you can't bring yourself to act as a reference or be honest with your friend about your reluctance, avoidance may be the best bet for you. You can choose to ignore a recruiter's call and then conveniently "forget" to return the call. Or you can return the call at an hour when you're certain the recruiter won't be at his desk.

This approach is a bit cowardly, but keep in mind that most folks have multiple references and it may take just one compelling endorsement to land a job. However, if a recruiter is phoning repeatedly, as is your frantic job-seeking friend, then pick up the phone and at least confirm facts (see first tip above) rather than hold up the hiring process.