(I hope this is safely assumed but just in case, poor does not mean financially; in this context, poor = lacking in some characteristics; below in standards)

Two years ago, upon graduating from university, I went into (what I think is) a very nice company and have been working there ever since as a software developer. I mean this in the most humblest way but I work my absolute butt off and try my best to stay on top of work. By now, I think it's safe to say that I have a 'hard-working' image attached to myself.

Lately, I've received several requests from friends/friends of friends asking me if I can refer to them to the company I work at.

Among the people I can potentially refer:

  • Some (in my opinion) are very qualified
    • I think they'll both learn a lot and contribute a considerable amount
  • Some, while they may have the technical knowledge - but (in my opinion) have some 'poor' characteristics
    • Very forgetful, need to ask them multiple times to get things done, frequently late, sub-best effort [lack of commitment/motivation/effort]

The reason why I have considered accepting and referring all the referral requests I've received is because of two reasons:

  1. Who am I to claim that they are low-effort now, so they will always be low-effort? I've never worked with them so for all I know, they might be the next key player for the company
  2. Being their long-time friend, I wish the best for them - and I know the first job is always the most daunting.

But on the flip-side, if the work at the company requires a skillset that someone can't meet, I feel like ultimately (whether or not they get hired) it would be a waste of time for both parties. Additionally, if their personality has multiple 'poor' characteristics, they might have a hard time in the 'real-world', and potentially clash with coworkers.

So I guess I'm wondering - is it okay to refer 5+ people for a company? Would it look poorly on my part if I simply referred anyone who requested it? What are some of the 'consequences' that I could face if I keep referring people that are not qualified (both technically, and personality-wise)?

  • 2
    Those bad characteristics were in college, do they continue now? Do you think that they could change? If your company can engage them with interesting work maybe they can manage them successfully? In any case, you can make a neutral referral and let the hiring manager figure it out.
    – ventsyv
    Commented Jan 17, 2020 at 14:31
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    @ventsyv. If you refer a couple of bad candidates, you run the risk of not having your referrals taken seriously in the future. Commented Jan 17, 2020 at 18:56
  • 1
    Those traits might also disappear with financial motivations, and even if they don't disappear they may be permissible/potentially beneficial in a different context. For instance the recruiters might be looking for someone obedient, but the rest of the employees and higher management may prefer a culture which challenges unwise authority. I've known a few people who are self-described lazy, low-effort people... but they'd do things efficiently, and just not do stuff they felt wasn't important. Their traits of laziness are much healthier than mine.
    – Brayton
    Commented Jan 18, 2020 at 11:34

9 Answers 9


Here the advice my manager gave me once about referring people to your own company.

Don't refer anyone that you wouldn't want working along side of you on your team.

This is really sound advice. There could be reorganization in the future and you end up with this person on your team or you reporting to this person. Given that, would you still want to take a risk and hire this person? If the answer is no, then you should not refer this person.

Many companies offer referral bonuses for their employees referring candidates, but if you refer too many candidates or you refer subpar candidates, it reflects badly on you. It seems like you're just trying to earn a quick buck while the company is taking on all of the risk.

  • 13
    Referral bonuses typically only apply when the candidate gets hired (in my experience). Commented Jan 17, 2020 at 14:43
  • 25
    @Dukeling Most places I've been, the referral bonus doesn't apply unless the candidate gets hired and stays at the company for at least a year, to prevent cases where a candidate might look good in interviews but turn out to be sub-par (or leave for another job) later on. Commented Jan 17, 2020 at 16:30

Does referring a poor candidate look bad on me?

Not if you do it correctly.

A "referral" is simply making a connection between a hiring manager and an interested candidate. If you make the connection, make sure it includes all your knowledge & data you have about this person. This should include both the positive and negative. It's perfectly okay to attach to a referral "I thought the person was technically quite good but was not super reliably to work with and not great at follow through".

Neutral or even negative referrals are still useful. You don't know exactly what the hiring manager is looking for and the referral gives them more choices and data. The decision is done by the hiring manager and as long as you provide accurate information, you did the right thing, regardless how it turns out.

The only exception would be a referral for anyone that clearly is not suited for the job. That would just waste time.

A "referral" is different from a "recommendation" or "reference" where you actively recommend hiring a candidate. You should only do this, if you are reasonably sure the person will do well.

  • 3
    Best answer.I would refer the best candidates first though, unless the company is doing a massive amount of hiring...
    – ventsyv
    Commented Jan 17, 2020 at 14:36
  • This is the right answer. If your company is struggling to get enough applicants, they may appreciate you steering people their way and giving any feedback you can about them. I referred someone I knew personally but not professionally, and I was honest about what I knew about the person (and how I couldn't vouch for their technical abilities or performance in any way). They were happy with the referral regardless, because they were really struggling to fill the position.
    – Kat
    Commented Jan 17, 2020 at 21:13
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    The problem with this answer is that OP said: "I've never worked with them so for all I know, they might be the next key player for the company". So it's not necessarily accurate to say "but was not super reliably to work with". And as OP mentions, they don't know how the referrees will be on the job. They may be laid back and disorganized in normal life, and a go-getter on the job. Or not. So I think giving negative info is dangerous unless its something certain to transfer to the workplace. Though in that case, why give the referral at all? That seems like sabotaging friends or family.
    – bob
    Commented Jan 17, 2020 at 22:09
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    After all you might hurt their case, and perhaps unjustly so. In that case, no referral is actually better (and more just) than giving a referral that badmouths the person. So actually I don't think is answer is the best advice unfortunately.
    – bob
    Commented Jan 17, 2020 at 22:10
  • "Neutral or even negative referrals are still useful." Only if you can live with the possibility of giving a long-term friend the kiss of death in your company. Because if you say something like "not super reliably to work with and not great at follow through" about a person they know you are friends with, most hiring managers will stay far away.
    – xLeitix
    Commented Jan 20, 2020 at 14:18

A good thing to do here is frame it as an introduction rather than a referral.

For your friends who you think may be a good fit generally, get their resume and give it to the relevant hiring manager. Tell the hiring manager you know them well, and their good characteristics, but make it clear you haven't worked with them and so can't vouch for their hard skills. Suggest it may be worth an interview, then leave the decision to them.

For your friends who you don't think will be a good fit, that's obviously awkward and you'll know best how to deal with that with each individual concerned. But the line to never cross is the honesty one - if you honestly don't think it's even worth an interview, then don't tell the hiring manager that.

  • 3
    This is exactly the approach I go with. The company will already have processes in place to ensure that potential candidates meet their requirements. They're not going to hire someone just because you know them (and if they did and the person turns out to be a poor fit, that's on them, not you), but there's nothing wrong with just flagging that you have a friend who is interested in applying.
    – delinear
    Commented Jan 17, 2020 at 15:55
  • 1
    I feel this is the right answer. If you have not worked with a person, don't extrapolate (positively or negatively) from your private experiences how they would do in a work context.
    – xLeitix
    Commented Jan 20, 2020 at 14:19

The answer is yes. The way that I always thing about it is that a referral is the equivalent of your stake in a bet. You are betting a portion of your credibility that the person is worth the trouble of hiring.

If everything goes well, then not only do you not look bad, but it reflects well on you, because your judgement paid off.

If it all falls apart, you lose what you bet, and you'll lose an element of credibility from it. It might not impact you much (unless it happens frequently), or you may have staked everything you have on it.

So the answer is that you don't make the bet unless it's something that you're reasonably confident about.


Your posture should "mirror" that of the company you are working for.

One company I spent several years at had a high turnover problem. They were talking to potential new hires "all the time," and the HR and line departments were happy to get "reasonable" (not perfect) candidates.

Another company I worked for wanted to hire "only the best." In that kind of situation, I wouldn't refer anyone except someone I thought was "top of the line."


The number of people you recommend is irrelevant. The important thing is that the recommendations are useful, in the sense that they lead to people being hired and progressing well.

The strategy of "recommending friends who ask you to recommend them" has two clear downsides for you:

  1. If most of your referrals are rejected, the company has learned that your ability to assess other people's ability is poor. That may impact your future career development, if you want to progress from technical work to a supervisory or management position.

  2. If the "friends" you refer expect to get jobs because of your referral and are rejected, you may end up with fewer friends!


Referring friends allows you the role of bridge building. You can discuss about the job requirements and work place culture and processes and prepare them. With friends, beside you being able to market their strengths to the hiring manager, you can openly discuss with them about how you view their suitability and how they can prepare to succeed in applying for and striving in your company. If they lack some skills, you can point that out and help find ways for them to learn those skills so that they can sooner be productive. This is all good for you, your friends and the company. Also as you know your friends, you can act like a good mentor for them, helping them succeed once they join as your colleagues.

If you think a friend is not a good fit, you can also communicate this to him/her, and depending on in which ways you value your reputation or that particular friendship if it would be affected by your refusal, you can shape your approach in introducing (or not introducing) him/her to your company. If there is difficulty in shaping your refusal to introduce a friend to a company, you might find help in interpersonal stack exchange, as this question is out of context here.

Basically I am saying that, because you know the candidate, a currently poor candidate in some cases can be coached to become a good fit if you have some days, weeks, or even months available. Or poor candidate, with your insider insight, can himself/herself make the decision that the job is not good fit for him/her.


One thing you didn't specify was the size of the company and how many positions they are likely to have available.

Referring 5 candidates to a major multinational which may be taking an 'intake' of 50+ new graduates per year from an interview pool of hundreds is very different to a company of 40 people who are maybe looking at making less than 5 hires in a year. Ultimately it's the companies decision as to how good/bad they are relative to the other candidates they have a chance to see.

Does referring a poor candidate look bad on me?

The factor you can use to gauge what is appropriate is trying to estimate the 'cost' to the company (a big HR department with a standard process will have less incremental cost in interviewing an extra candidate than one where perhaps senior managers disrupt their day to interview each candidate) vs. the likelihood they'll be a successful candidate.

Take each person on a case-by-case basis and judge if you think the likelihood they will be a good employee will justify the cost of the interview process at your workplace.


The following advice relates solely to my experience in a professional career that usually requires a college degree and beyond.

I have referred people and the company was very pleased (good productive people without an expensive referral fee).

But why were my candidates good? Because as a highly educated (math, statistics, computer programming, numerical analysis, operations research, ...) it takes me but a few minutes to defect another nerd.

Companies need people who are exceptional in areas that may allow them to solve problems!

Not the very good looking airhead who went to a very good school due to family connections.

Also, not the person who is not truly into his profession.

Finally, the integrity test, this takes a bit more expertise in your one-on-one conversation and eye contact (to tell if a person is lying) to determine if a person is of low moral character.

Companies need exceptional people to be innovative and ahead of the curve! It's actually a matter of survival in an increasingly competitive world!

If you are not actually an expert in the area for which you are a manager, let your best people interview a candidate also and take their advice!

To be honest, my career saw unanticipated regulatory changes, impacting my company's ability to compete and in my last job, competion of highly educated foreign workers (legally allowed) were imported to hollow-out the base of highly compensated Americans with expensive pension plan and significant healthcare cost to the employer. So no matter what ideal candidate anyone could have brought into the company, it was probably to no avail! Based on that history, employing only targetted high-end people may still be NOT enough and that is the unvarnished truth.

  • 3
    Companies need exceptional people no sense. No one has been exceptional before being exceptional. Give people time and trust them.
    – AshBringer
    Commented Jan 17, 2020 at 14:36
  • I apologize for the unsugared truth, but many reading this question may actually now be working for a company that is spiraling downward (competing against robots and AI) and belatedly may wish that had listened and implemented my advice.
    – AJKOER
    Commented Jan 17, 2020 at 14:42
  • 3
    If you are maybe average OP did not mention him being average, nor does this relate at all to the question he is asking.
    – PeterH
    Commented Jan 17, 2020 at 14:42
  • I have edited my comments, heed my advice.
    – AJKOER
    Commented Jan 17, 2020 at 15:14
  • @AJKOER Could you perhaps address the exact question that was asked? Would you say that referring a person who was hired after that, but later turned out to be below par (despite all due nerd detection) could reflect on the referral? In what way?
    – Igor G
    Commented Jan 17, 2020 at 15:21

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