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A close friend of mine whom I have known through graduate school is asking me to recommend her for a position for which I feel she is ill-suited for. One of the requirements of the position is strong communication and customer service ability. Through my work with her in school on projects, I feel she does not qualify. Clear communication of ideas is not her strongest suit.

I do not want to sour the relationship nor for my friend to think that I am personally against her as a person. How should I let her know that I do not feel comfortable recommending her?

Thanks and I appreciate it!

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I usually just say "sorry, I'm really bad at writing recommendations, so I don't think you want me to do one for you." Most folks won't push past that.

If she insists, then you may need to tell her "OK, I'm willing to write a recommendation, but I don't think you want me writing one for this position. I just don't think this job's a great fit for your strengths as I see them, and that would be reflected in the recommendation. I like you, I think you've got a lot to offer a company, but this wouldn't be the position I'd hire you for."

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You have a few options and I'd say something like the following:

I'm sorry but I don't feel comfortable recommending you because... [pick one of:]

  • we never worked closely together in workplace setting so I can't credibly vouch for your work
  • I've only been with my current employer for X months
  • I don't know enough about the position/team you're applying for
  • I feel uncomfortable injecting myself into the hiring process as I don't want personal bias to affect the selection process

but I wish you all the best in your search.

If the nature of your relationship allows it, you would be doing your friend a real kindness if you were honest with her though. Some people go years without the kind of feedback they'd need to establish a professional attitude and workplace ethic. Some people can't be helped but many that were poor students or unreliable team players in college become great employees with a bit of guidance.

Some of these were adapted from this article by Alison Green which I highly recommend reading. You should also keep her advice here in mind:

First, be sure that you really think she wouldn’t be good at the job — and that it’s not just that you don’t want to work with her. Because if it’s the latter, I can’t condone standing in the way of someone finding employment based just on a personal dislike.

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