An old colleague asked me to recommend him for a job in my company. I'm hesitant because when we worked at the same company, he didn't have the best reputation. He constantly missed deadlines, never took accountability, and did the bare minimum to not get fired.

He told me that he wants to apply for a Director role in company and the duties are the same as his current job. Actually, he is a Manager at his current job and his responsibilities are very different. It also requires at least 10 years of experience in the field, which he only has 5. On top of that, he has no experience in dealing with clients, which is exactly what this Director job needs.

How do I tell him I don't think he's qualified?

  • 2
    In the title he's a friend, in the question, he's a colleague - which is it? If you conider him a friend, how much of a friend? How often do you communciate, when did you last socialize?
    – Mawg
    Commented Jun 8, 2017 at 12:51

7 Answers 7


First off, I would try to talk my friend out of it with things like

  • They're looking specifically for someone with 10 years, and you've only got 5
  • They're really interested in someone who has a lot of experience working with clients, and I thought you didn't work with clients at all
  • They are very focused on meeting tight deadlines, and you'd be held accountable for all missed deadlines

Even if I fail talking him/her out of it, I've at least given him/her the impression that they are not exactly what the company is looking for.

Second, I'd tell my friend up front that I will be honest if asked about him/her. I'd definitely promote my friend's good points, however I would probably be asked questions related to some of their shortcomings as well (such as experience at client interactions, working under pressure, meeting deadlines, etc), and I would be honest with the company about them.

With that information in mind, I would encourage my friend to apply if they still wanted to, and it would be up to them if they wanted to let the company know that they know me or not.

If they choose not to mention me, that's fine. The interview and hiring process would be the same as if a stranger applied.

If they did mention me, I'd be honest with the company and be happy knowing that my friend already knows in advance what I'd be telling them (both good and bad).

Oh, and I'd also make it clear to my friend that the final decision to hire is up to someone else, so they don't blame me if they don't get the job :)

  • 6
    That's a very reasonable way to handle it. But it might also terminate the friendship. I can't imagine someone would still want to be my friend after a talk of this nature.
    – Mohamad
    Commented Jan 22, 2014 at 23:50
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    @Mohamad: Well, it's an honest and respectful answer that tries to help you. What else do you expect from a friendship?
    – sleske
    Commented Jan 23, 2014 at 0:55
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    @sleske yes it is, and that's why I up-voted it. In my culture of friends, however, I don't think this would come to pass without repercussions, that's all. I'm not the OP, btw.
    – Mohamad
    Commented Jan 23, 2014 at 0:59
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    In a situation like this, if the friendship is damaged, it is the fault of the underqualified applicant who asked for an unreasonable favor. Tell the person the truth in love and if they don't want to be your friend, then the probably weren't REALLY your friend anyway.
    – TecBrat
    Commented Jan 23, 2014 at 2:10
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    @Mohamad You claim you cannot imagine this, but personally, I would remain friends with a person who gave me such a talk. I do understand what you mean regarding culture - but there are limits. Recommending a clearly poor candidate may jeopardize your own position in the company; and you, as a friend, in turn must have the right to ask your friend not to endanger your career.
    – Superbest
    Commented Jan 23, 2014 at 5:37

Depending on how close you are to him, your possible responses run from "um, that doesn't sound like what they say in the job description, but if you want me to pass along your resume I can" (with possible discussion about why you think there's a mismatch) to "dude, did you read the job description?". This latter should be reserved for really close friends.

You asked how to tell him, but I suspect your underlying question is "how do I get out of this awkward situation?". I have sometimes had unqualified friends or acquaintances ask me to submit resumes for them and "put in a good word". What I always tell them is: I'm happy to submit your resume for you, but to avoid conflict of interest I will not be part of the decision-making process. Then when I submit the resume I say I'm just passing it along; I don't say that I'm recommending the person. Generally the HR people or hiring managers know what to do from there.

If you take a resume be honest: you're submitting it for him. Don't tell him you're recommending him if you aren't going to.


Whenever somone asks me about it, I just say:

"Sorry, i never recommend anyone, It's not personal. I'm not in possition to
judge and recommend anyone. Also, you never know what might happen and I dont 
want to to be held accountable. Thats the rule I follow and apply to everyone no
matter who they are. brother, mother, friend, girlfriend etc.".

It always works for me. I know it's simple, maybe too simple for some. But sometimes simplest explanations are best.

You can also ask, not to put you in this uncomfortable position. You got your own rules you follow and you just don't want to break them. None can blame you for this.

EDIT: PS. None should blame you for abiding to rules you set for yourself. It's like to tell pacifist: Go fight and kill! You dont belive it but make war. Feel uncomfortable with yourself, break your rules.

  • It doesn't sound like he wouldn't recommend anyone, but more so that he wouldn't recommend this friend. Taking your suggestion could just be a blatant lie if he doesn't actually feel that way about recommending other people.
    – Danny
    Commented Jan 24, 2014 at 19:43
  • You got to consider language differences and apply it. All i meant is that to tell somone asking you to do this, you never do this, not matter who someone is. And its not personal, but thats your rule. Everything. Maybe in your country (taking your customs) it would sound like this. But you need to adapt it to you.
    – Gacek
    Commented Jan 30, 2014 at 0:56
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    @Gacek Telling somebody you never recommend people only works if you never recommend people. If you've recommended people in the past - in particular if your friend knows this is the case - you can't turn around and say "Sorry, I never recommend people." because you're just lying to get out of the situation. In your case, it works because it's the truth; in the case of the person asking the question it's not necessarily the truth. Commented Jan 30, 2014 at 16:54
  • @AnthonyGrist I believe that's what Gacek was saying: Don't give references. I don't think they're advocating a "I don't give out references on a case-to-case basis" attitude, just a stance against it overall. Commented Aug 10, 2017 at 19:34

You might have a conversation that starts with, "Can I be frank with you? I don't feel comfortable making a recommendation." And of course, this opens up to maybe hearing, "Why not?"

Be fair and honest. If this is really your friend, he/she will listen objectively. If not, you're better off.


I wouldn't bother with telling the friend why he/she doesn't qualify for the job. That's what the job description and HR are for, and it's only more to get bogged down about in unpleasant conversation. It's the fact that the friend is asking for the recommendation that's the most uncomfortable part, and that part only concerns the past.


As you are close friends with him, I think being honest and telling him the truth is the best way.

If I was in this exact situation I would probably say the following.

The company I am working for asserts very high values on missed deadlines, lack of enthusiasm, and acknowledgment of bad decisions. I think you need to improve on these areas for this specific company.

This probably explains why I don't have many friends.

  • 1
    Hello, welcome to The Workplace. Due to the high volume of answers this post may get, we ask that answerers apply the back it up rule to their posts. Folks in The Workplace Chat can help if you need some suggestions. Hope this helps.
    – jmort253
    Commented Jan 23, 2014 at 2:03
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    @jmort253 and how would you like one to back up an opinion-based answer to an opinion-based question! with another opinion! Is he "not qualified" to have his own opinion!
    – Sam
    Commented Jan 23, 2014 at 2:45
  • Hi @Sam, opinions aren't bad, we just want opinions based on facts, references, and experiences. Otherwise, we're just random people on the Internet making statements that may or may not be true. Stack Exchange exists to become a definitive expert resource of knowledge. See the 5th point in the Guidelines for Great Subjective Questions. Hope this helps.
    – jmort253
    Commented Jan 24, 2014 at 19:42

You are never obligated to write a recommendation. You are never obligated to explain why you'd rather not do so. If you do choose to explain, it's up to you to decide which and how many of your reasons you want to give.

If he's really a friend, I'd lead with "look, that job calls for experience that I know you don't have, so I really can't recommend you for it." If he asks for details, you can ennumerate the specifics (required experience/exposure being the big items) and point out that while those are sometimes flexible they'll flex only for candidates who are otherwise exceptional... and you can't honestly describe him as exceptional in those areas

If he continues to push for a general recommendation, or a recommendation for other positions, then you have to decide whether to fall back to just "I'm not comfortable writing recommendation letters, but good luck" or whether he actually wants detailed feedback. He may have addressed the work-habits issues since you knew him... in which case he'd be better off asking his more recent cow-orkers [sic] for recommendations, and if he's actually someone whose success you care about AND who recognizes that he wasn't at his best during that period, it would be worth telling him so.

In the end, unfortunately, this really comes down to a judgement call, how well you understand the individual, how well they understand you, and your own comfort level. Which is why I started with the observation that you can simply say "I'm flattered to be asked, but I'm really not comfortable writing recommendations and I'd rather not" and decline to discuss it further.


There are two ways to go about this. The first is direct: "Dude, they aren't going to hire you." Then follow it up with "here's why...".

The second, means swallowing your pride. Maybe you're wrong. Maybe, he's exactly what they are looking for; maybe he can step up to the responsibilities the job entails.

I would much rather my friends tell me the truth, as they see it, than for them to tip-toe around a subject because they are too Chicken Little to broach it. A few questions for you: would you take away your friends car keys if you felt he had too much to drink? Would you tell him his girlfriend is bad for him? Would you tell him his zipper was undone?

If you can answer "Yes" to all of those then you should have a good enough relationship to just be direct. If you can't, then this person probably isn't an actual friend and, instead, is just more of an acquaintance. If that's the case then you don't really have a conundrum. A friend is someone that is comfortable telling you that you suck. An acquaintance is someone you maybe have a beer with every so often or simply see at work, in which case stay out of their way.

Going further, what does it matter if your friend does apply and doesn't get the job? Or, applies and is hired? It's not the end of the world either way. After all you aren't the hiring manager, so it's not exactly your responsibility.

  • // , That's how I'd want someone to tell me. A "No" would also suffice. Commented Jan 30, 2019 at 6:05

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