8

I am a student researcher pursuing an internship (thesis, actually) at a research institute in Germany. I have been working here for a few months now.

One of my friends had asked me about my experience here. I told him the truth that I was enjoying my work and learning a lot. So, he also decided to apply for a position under my supervisor. Interestingly, my friend told me that he was primarily interested in this opportunity because it was in Germany and he was mainly interested in travelling and partying.

Recently, upon receiving his application, my supervisor asked me whether I knew this person (my friend) and if so requested me to comment on his technical abilities. My supervisor made this request because he saw that my friend and I were from the same class at the same university.

I am in a fix now. As a friend, I don't want to spoil my friend's chances of getting a fair shot at this opportunity. At the same time, in all good faith, I cannot recommend him to my supervisor because I have worked with my friend previously and know his technical skills are not great. Add to this the fact that he said he is only coming here to party (if he says it, he means it).

I have considered simply telling my supervisor that I don't know him, but in case my friend gets selected or is simply called for an interview, there is a pretty good chance that he will mention to my boss that he and I are good friends and I was in fact the one who told him about this position.

Any ideas? What is the "ethically" correct thing to do? I know this is subjective but I am too close to the issue and would like to know what others think about it.

EDIT:

I have only worked with my friend on a college project (although which was in a closely related field as this job) - what if that's not a real indicator of his skills? What if he was slacking off then and didn't take the project seriously due to some valid reason? I feel the fairest way to judge his abilities would be for my boss to call him for an interview, and am uneasy judging a candidate's abilities due to my own lack of experience in the field. Vouching for him could hurt my reputation later if he does not perform well (which I think is likely), but at the same time hurting his chances seems unfair to me because I do not feel experienced enough to judge his performance, given that he is my peer - it would have been easier if I had to judge a junior hire, for instance.

  • 2
    " in Germany and he was mainly interested in travelling and partying" - ah, Germany, Europe's #1 party country :-) – Mawg Sep 13 '18 at 7:06
  • That your friend wants the job for travel and party doesn't mean your friend won't work hard and do a good job. – David Thornley Sep 14 '18 at 22:51
  • @DavidThornley that's an excellent point. But I know him for some time, and his skills and knowledge in this area are not great (imo). As I said, we also worked on a project together, and he didn't put up a good effort even though we intended to do well in that project. – James Bond Sep 15 '18 at 2:42
2

Recommending someone who turns out to be a bad employee will not only reflect on you (get tarred with the same brush, as the saying goes), but also will directly impact YOUR workload.

The "ethically sound" way to respond is to say that based on the admittedly limited experience you had working with him on a project, you don't think he would be a good fit for the team. You get to be honest without having to go into details.

Additionally, I would recommend you consider what a 'friend' is. Would you invite this person to your wedding? Do you intentionally keep in touch with them? If you can't say an enthusiastic 'yes' to either or both of those questions, this is just an acquaintance and there is not going to be any issue if the job goes to 'a more qualified candidate.'

  • Thanks, Maigen. I like this answer for multiple reasons: 1) Recommending my friend could hurt me in the near future 2) I can admit to my boss that I am not impressed with my friend's skills, but this impression is based on limited experience. 3) Upon thinking about it, this person is more of an acquaintance and not a friend. – James Bond Sep 15 '18 at 2:49
7

What is the "ethically" correct thing to do?

When confronted with similar situations, I always told the hiring manager that the person was my friend, but that I didn't know his/her professional abilities. That was always the truth.

When stated bluntly, without any platitudes about the applicant, the hiring managers usually got the message. Sometimes they went ahead with an interview anyway, usually they didn't. None got hired.

In your case, you were specifically asked about his technical abilities. And you have worked with him so you have some sense that "his technical skills are not great". That's the truth and that's what you should say. Leave off the partying aspect, you don't really know how that would play out. Then trust your manager to do a decent job interviewing.

As a hiring manager, I always made a point of bringing in friends of folks I worked with as potential hires whenever it made sense. I consider that a great way to find new hires, and also a professional courtesy. But I always asked the coworker first. Most times I got glowing reviews about the friend. When I didn't that always stood out.

  • 1
    I agree with this. It sounds from OP's edit makes it seem like he can honestly say he's not really in a position to comment on his friend's current technical skills, and the friend's desire to party is irrelevant (I've known people who party a lot and are very good at their jobs). Best to diplomatically take a step back and leave it in the hands of the person who is doing the hiring. – delinear Sep 13 '18 at 14:43
3

You could always just tell your boss the truth and then ask him not to mention your input to your friend as a personal favour.

Edit for clarity:

The Reason I would go this route, is that it would protect my professional reputation from being tarnished due to recommending an individual with poor performance. At the same time, asking your boss not to mention your input protects the relationship you have with your friend. This route may seem a bit callous, because I guess it kind of is. But it is definitely the safest route from a self-protection perspective. Of course, if you have a particularly close relationship with this friend of yours you may feel that this isn't something you want to consider, due to any guilty feelings you may hold afterwards

  • Right, but I feel somewhat uneasy about doing that. I have only worked with him on a college project - what if that's not a real indicator of his skills? What if he was slacking off then and didn't take the project seriously due to some valid reason? I feel the fairest way to judge his abilities would be for my boss to call him for an interview. – James Bond Sep 12 '18 at 20:53
  • Then you tell your boss that you only worked with him directly on one project and don’t feel able to give an overly insightful response. Though you could still put in a good word for your friends character. – Matthew E Cornish Sep 12 '18 at 21:09
  • without an explanation, this answer may become useless in case if someone else posts an opposite opinion. For example, if someone posts a claim like "You could never just tell your boss the truth and then ask him not to mention your input to your friend as a personal favour.", how would this answer help reader to pick of two opposing opinions? Consider editing it into a better shape, to meet How to Answer guidelines – gnat Sep 12 '18 at 21:28
1

If you recommend someone and they are a bad hire, that most definitely reflects on you. You do not want to use up political capital on someone who you really shouldn't recommend, no matter how much they want a job. In fact, a real friend would not ask you to.

You need to tell the boss that you've only worked with him on a project, but based on that very small sample size, you can't recommend him. Boss is welcome to interview him, if he wishes, and make his own assessment. You won't stand in his way, but don't give him a boost he doesn't deserve.

1

First off, I think Jason's answer is the correct course. It might feel shitty (it's a shitty situation all around, really) but it's the option that protects you the best. If your friend is really the easy-going party animal you think he might be, he's more likely to get over your "betrayal" than your supervisor is.

Taking into consideration your edit, I'd like to add a bit more:

I have only worked with my friend on a college project (although which was in a closely related field as this job) - what if that's not a real indicator of his skills? What if he was slacking off then and didn't take the project seriously due to some valid reason?

If this is really how you feel, then this is what you should tell your supervisor. To wit:

"In my experience, So-and-So can be somewhat lax and tends to focus on partying more than studying, however, I've only really done one serious school project together with him, so I could be mistaken about his abilities. I think you should interview him for yourself to see what you make of him."

Assuming your supervisor is any kind of professional, he probably wouldn't repeat your feedback to your friend anyway, but you could always ask him not to, to be sure.

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.