So Your Friend Asks You to Be a Reference


With so many people looking for work right now, it's increasingly common to get recommendation requests from former coworkers and friends. Some of these requests may put you in an awkward position – you want to help, but in a professional way that protects your credibility and preserves the relationship with the requestor.

If you haven't thought through this scenario, here's what often happens when a hypothetical acquaintance (let's call her Rachel) asks for a reference/recommendation:



Rachel is a former coworker

Rachel is a friend

You like Rachel

Give a positive recommendation without checking your company's reference policy

Provide an entirely improvised recommendation

Rachel is a terrible employee

Say it's against company policy to give recommendations (maybe even lie about it)


The wrong response can create potential problems for the requestor and also place the person making the recommendation at risk of violating a company HR policy.  If the recommendation requestor is a former coworker, be sure to always verify your company's policy on references and recommendations. Many firms only allow human resources to give references or recommendations, or will only verify employment dates for reference checks.  

Second, regardless of whether it's a friend or coworker, ask if you'll be providing a professional or personal recommendation. Follow-up with questions about the position and the specific skills, stories, or personality traits that your friend would like highlighted in the recommendation. 

The worst case-scenario is that you don't want to give a recommendation for this person. To maintain your professional credibility, you should never lie in a recommendation. As awkward as the conversation may be, you need to address your concerns with the requester. If you are a close friend, they may appreciate the constructive criticism. Express your concerns tactfully, but make it clear that you are not comfortable giving the recommendation.

Now that we're more prepared, let's revisit Rachel's reference request:



Rachel is a former coworker

Rachel is a friend

You like Rachel

I'd be happy to help. Tell me more about the position and let me check our company's reference policy.

Yes! Is this a personal recommendation? Which good thing should I say about you first?

Rachel is a terrible employee

I'll check our company's policy on references, though I may not be best person for a professional reference

I'm happy to be a personal recommendation, but I can't really speak to job performance.

Have you ever turned down a request for a recommendation? Have you ever wished that you had? Please share your story.