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Should you hire your friend?

The benefits — and risks — of bringing a pal on board

friends fishing
Image Credit: Christina Ung

Most of us have seen the posts on social media, or made them ourselves — someone’s company is hiring, and they put out a call to friends who might be interested in the position. It’s natural to want to work with people we know and like, and to help our friends with good opportunities, as long as they’re qualified.

But beyond the obvious reasons to tap people you know socially for jobs, hiring friends can get complicated, with both benefits and drawbacks that may be unexpected. Knowing this, we talked to recruiters, managers, and a few others about what to keep in mind when you refer a pal to be a co-worker.

 

Knowing someone beyond their resume can encourage good decisions — and avoid bad ones

Being a good member of a team can come down to personality as much as skillset. And that can be hard to gauge when interviewing a stranger.

Josh Pryor, a recruiter at IT placement firm Procom, often hires from his pool of friends because he already knows whether they’d be a good cultural fit for the client — and this can help avoid as many problems as it creates opportunities.

“I wouldn’t want to send someone I know to an environment where, even though they may have all the right skills, it wouldn’t be a good match overall,” he says.

As a friend, you may also have important insight about someone’s work ethic, which should be a big a factor as how much you like them. “I have one friend who has too many stories where she constantly takes time off at lunch during a crisis, refuses to work overtime,” says Tara Tucker, a Senior Social Media Advisor with the Government of Canada. “If it seems like you are willing to let your colleague clean up your messes, I would never hire you.”

Once a friend is through the door, especially if you’ve hired one to work for you, it can help them to have a boss who has a window into their lives.

“If someone is going through tough things they know I’m not going to judge them for it,” says Anastasia Chipelski, Managing Editor of alt-weekly The Uniter. “Like ‘this is why all my stuff is not happening’ or ‘I need a little bit of leeway’. Then we can have that conversation.”

 

Being a good source can be good for your career

Being able to play matchmaker is a valuable career move even if you’re not a paid recruiter.

“If you get a reputation for always having access to a bunch of good people, people are going to come to you for that,” says freelance political strategist Jim Ross. “And that’s going to help you in business.”

 

“At the end of the day, my friendship is so much more important to me,” she says. “And as much as I need to protect my business connection, I need to protect my friendships even more.”

 

Unfortunately, it’s not only the good work of our friends that can impact us at work. Sometimes things can go poorly, and that will reflect on us.

Jennifer Hood, owner-operator of web design firm Underscore Solutions, says this has happened to her. But even though she does feel like it shook her client’s faith in her, it hasn’t made her less likely to stick her neck out for friends in the future.

“At the end of the day, my friendship is so much more important to me,” she says. “And as much as I need to protect my business connection, I need to protect my friendships even more.”

 

Always be aware of bias and fairness in the process

We can’t always just jump to hiring our friends, even if they are the most qualified person for the job. Nora Loreto, a freelance editor who does a lot of work with labor movement, is always careful to ensure all candidates go through a fair process. Especially when the community is so small that most people end up knowing each other in some capacity, so the likelihood of hiring a friend is high.

“I have known up to half the candidates that have applied to jobs I’ve hired,” she explains. “So it’s critical is for the job description to be clear and for hiring committee members to be on the same page for what the desired candidate will look like in terms of skills. This shields you from the awkwardness of hiring a friend just because you’re buddies, and it also protects you and your friend if you do hire them in the end.”

Jim Ross echoes the double-edged sword of hiring from within a small community.

“It’s hard, in politics,” he says. “You can’t exclusively not hire your friends, because at some point you’re just hiring your enemies.”


Audra Williams has a giant mental rolodex of her friends that she sorts through every time she sees a cool job opportunity.

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