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I am currently an employee in the client services department of an extremely selective financial institution. I graduated college recently and just started my full-time role a month ago.

Today, a friend of mine from college asked me to make a referral on his behalf to recruiting for a software developer job at the said institution. He studied computer science in school, has internship experience in software, and did research. I believe him to be a pretty smart person. But I told him it wouldn't be a good idea for me to make a referral. Am I a bad employee / friend for doing so?

Here's my rationale: I did not study computer science and have no software experience (I studied English). I can't vouch for his technical skills objectively (I can subjectively say, as his friend, that he's competent). I am also a very junior employee in a completely different department; my voice likely does not have much sway in hiring decisions. And, while I like this friend, I know he has some personal idiosyncrasies / oddities that may be a poor fit for this work environment. (He may be better suited for an actual tech company.) In general, I am unsure about sticking my neck out for people I care about but whose professional qualifications I know nothing about; I feel uncomfortable referring people on purely personal connections alone.

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Here is how you make everyone happy, make the referral and state exactly what you said here:

  • "He studied computer science in school, has internship experience in software, and did research."

  • "I did not study computer science and have no software experience (I studied English). I can't vouch for his technical skills objectively".

Did he apply already or planning to apply? If he is asking you for a referral meaning he is basically asking you to "apply for him", then redirect him through the "formal" applying process. Unless you really like him and him working with you on daily basis, then get his resume and forward it to the hiring manager, with the above two bullet points.

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    This was basically going to be my answer. I agree fully. Put your "referral" in context. Although, you may not even really need to - no one expects a client services employee to be an expert at evaluating software skills, and no one would hire without interviewing and making their own decision, anyways. Recommendations are nice but don't carry the weight (and burden) the OP seems concerned about. – dwizum Aug 12 at 18:36
  • This seems like a fair move -- but what if I have misgivings about him personally? As in, I like to hang out with him once a week, but I wouldn't love being his regular co-worker at all. I also know that he got into trouble at school for cheating during a CS course (he was never formally sanctioned or expelled or anything like that). Should these facts factor into my decision at all? – confusedEmployee Aug 12 at 18:41
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    If you don't want to refer him you don't have to. Regardless, I almost definitely wouldn't bring up the cheating unless you have really don't want him to get a job and you're certain about all of the details. If the school didn't think it was a big deal I see little reason to do something to so actively sabotage a friend. – pip install Monica Aug 12 at 19:11
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    +1 This is the way to do it. @confusedEmployee I always say there is a difference between a referral and a reference. A referral is simply making sure the person's resume ends up in the right place, without saying anything about your assessment of their skills. A reference is when you vouch for a person's skills and ability to do the job and recommend that they be hired. You are doing the former, not the latter. – David K Aug 12 at 20:06
  • @DavidK is on point on this. I would do a referral for about anyone interested, but I would only do a reference to people I'm willing to stick my neck out for and like to work with them on a daily basis. I can count these people in one hand with a couple fingers to spare. – Juliana Karasawa Souza Aug 13 at 6:52
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I think you may be overthinking this.

You can tell your friend 'hey, I don't think you'd enjoy working here. You'd be much happier at (insert tech company name) with your skillset and goals.'

Equally, you could make a referral for him to the hiring manager at your company and say in that email that he is your friend, you can't speak for his technical skills but that you know him as smart and integer.

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No you are not a bad friend or bad employee for not referring him. If you're uncomfortable or truly believe he's not a good fit for that company then by all means tell him that. He may get a little annoyed with you but he'll probably get over it pretty quickly.

However, if you do decide to give him a referral then don't over think it. Simply forward his resume to the relevant people (usually the hiring manager) with a simple message saying something like "I have a friend who's looking for work and I think he might be qualified for but I cannot personally vouch for his skill set" and let them take it from there. They may decide to give him a call or they may decide to dumpster his resume. Either way you did all that you could do at that point.

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What worked for me in the past was something like:

I'm not involved in the recruiting process but I can forward your CV to HR

At the time it was actually possible for me to do so and that's what I did, with no endorsement or suggestion to HR but:

a friend of mine read a job posting for position XYZ on our site and asked me to pass on his CV

YMMV obviously, your friend may not be happy with that answer or you may not be allowed to forward a CV internally but if it works your involvement is minimal and your friend is happy.

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