About an year-year and a half ago I was pretty close with a friend of mine, but about 7-8 months later we started drifting apart and seeing each other very rarely (once a month or so, on occasions where our mutual friends are present, I'm generally avoiding him).

He has been unemployed for a while (on his own wish - he left his job without finding a new one in order to take sabbatical) and 6-7 months ago, he asked me if I can refer him for a position in my company. Since we were getting along pretty well back then I told him that it is ok, and that he should mention that I referred him when applying. However, he did not apply then, but applied a few days ago and did mention that I am referring him (without asking me again if he could).

Now my boss wants to talk with me in order to share my impressions of the guy and I don't know what to do. I don't really want to work with him (and I'm working in a small-to-medium-sized company so we will probably see each other pretty often), but I'm not sure what my best course of action will be. The way I see it I have the following options:

  • tell my boss that I have good impressions of the guy (which is partially true, I did have good impressions at some point, but that's no longer the case). Help him get hired, earn a referral bonus and (possibly) some gratitude from him.
  • tell my boss that I have not enough personal impressions and can't really refer the guy and that I only told him that I will refer him because I didn't want to be rude (the first part is not true - I have mostly negative impressions, the second part is 100% truth, though). In this case it is pretty probable that they still hire him (he is an average fit for the job and they need new people right now), but I won't get a referral bonus and he may get to know that I didn't refer him once he gets hired and start sabotaging me on my job (I have told him in the past that I don't really like my job and some work-related details)
  • tell my boss that I have negative impressions and blackball him - I think this will make me feel really bad and I don't feel like doing it.

I think I'm about to go with option 2, but I'm not really sure that this will be best. Maybe if I help him get hired, we can start getting along to some extent and earn some new support at my workplace which can be for the better. It is also probable that he returns favor when I'm in need. What would you suggest?

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    I suppose simply telling the truth is over-rated. – Lightness Races in Orbit Jun 17 '16 at 12:40
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    Your question is all over the place and not much of it makes any sense. Drifting apart does not make someone an "ex-friend" so what aren't you telling us here? Is there bad blood between you two? Can you even speak to his work ethic at all? Are you asking about a referral or a recommendation? For this amount of text you're leaving out a lot of pertinent information. – Lilienthal Jun 17 '16 at 13:43
  • Your employee referral program requires you to positively endorse the candidate personally? That's a recipe for over-enthusiastic endorsements, a.k.a. disaster. – stannius Jun 17 '16 at 15:33
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    -1 This question could use an edit and some clarification to address the questions in the comments. – Lumberjack Jun 17 '16 at 19:32
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    The art of receiving references (whether written or verbal) is separating out the facts from the personal opinions - and then ignoring the opinions. So your simplest course of action is just to stick to facts and not volunteer any opinions at all. If you start with the fact that "I haven't had much interaction with this guy since he left his last job 6 months ago", that should be enough to head off any more questions about your current personal relationship with the guy. – alephzero Jun 17 '16 at 21:14

Separate the work from the personal: give an honest assessment that focuses on his potential as an employee. You mention that you have a mostly negative impression of him now, but it is not clear whether this is merely personal (you don't get along with him that well) or it is something that would have an impact on his fitness for hire (e.g. he is dishonest, lazy, etc.).

Also, it's not clear whether your main concern is that he would make a poor employee, or just that you would have to see him at work.

In my opinion, you need to separate the two. If you think he would make a fine employee, give a positive reference, despite the situation not being ideal for you personally. And then, if he gets hired, learn to deal with his presence in the workplace in a professional manner.

However, if you don't think he would be a good employee, don't refer him. Doing so would be bad for the company and even worse for your reputation at the company.

Your commitment to your employer in this situation is much larger than the commitment you made to your former friend. The offer to refer him was a long time ago, and it should be obvious to him that a change in your relationship would affect that. So, do what is right for the employer.

If you don't feel you can refer him, I would honestly share the situation:

I did offer to refer him quite awhile ago, but a lot has happened since then, and I no longer feel comfortable doing so. I have concerns X, Y, and Z about how he would perform as an employee here.

And of course: in the future, don't offer to serve as a reference just out of politeness.

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  • If OP is in the same team as his ex-friend, that could end up badly :/ – Gautier C Jun 17 '16 at 7:49
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    If the OP is seriously concerned about working with the guy, but thinks he would be a good employee elsewhere, OP can say that rather than ignoring the personality issues. – Karen Jun 17 '16 at 13:32
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    I'd say that one should always be completely honest in such a case. In my experience, such a referral is more informal than formal, you're being asked your opinion. This means you're perfectly justified to say "I used to be good friends with him, but we don't really get along anymore. I do think he's a good employee but I'm not sure I'd be able to work well with him". This gives the asker all the relevant information they need in order to make an informed decision. – Cronax Jun 17 '16 at 14:12
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    "If you think he would make a fine employee, give a positive reference, despite the situation not being ideal for you personally." Just a note for OP that depending on how the company culture there is, if OP doesn't like the guy it may be possible that he won't mesh with the other employees and this would definitely be relevant to bring up when asked by the boss. Something like "I think his work ethic is good, but for X reason I don't think he'd mesh well with our company" – Mitch Jun 17 '16 at 15:07

"However, he did not apply then, but applied a few days ago and did mention that I am referring him (without asking me again if he could)."

How incredibly rude. You owe him nothing, even if he was your best friend for awhile. I'd go with Option 3 - but I'd do so tactfully. Essentially, just lay out the dilemma as honestly as you can, directly to your boss. They'll appreciate you keeping them in the loop. Don't exaggerate his flaws, and don't make it seem like you hate him in a personal way. Don't be mean-spirited. Focus on the fact that your now in an uncomfortable position etc. This way, even if they do end up hiring him, your free of any guilt - you did the right thing. And, if the ex-friend ever starts trying to sabotage your career - I mean, if things get truly nasty - your boss will be more likely to side with you, because you warned her in advance that this other fellow isn't the nicest person in the world.

In short: a bit of courage now will pay dividends later.

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    I would probably explain the situation, but would also give a in depth professional assessment, kept perfectly neutral, which is more in line with what Dan1111 had suggested. You don't owe him keeping back the bind he put you in, but if you give your boss good information as to his suitability your boss will come to trust your judgement and tact. – kleineg Jun 17 '16 at 19:08
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    Anecdotal evidence, I gave a reference for a friend of a friend. When my boss asked me about them I told him that I had been asked by my friend to provide a reference and the very little I knew about her work ethic, which was pretty strong, and told him I knew she had not worked with the technology stack we used. But also said her personality would mesh well there. My boss thanked me for the personality neutral assessment and decided to hire her on her merits, saying she would be able to learn on the job. He gave me the hiring bonus, and started taking me on interviews with other candidates. – kleineg Jun 17 '16 at 19:14

In your position either of the below options would be perfectly valid.

Let your boss know that you did know him a while ago and lost touch with him. You thought at one point in time that he would be a good fit for the job however you haven't had enough personal experience with him to gauge how he'd be in the workplace.

If however you believe that he'd be a bad fit for the workplace, I would tell them just that. Say that you'd recommended that he apply to the job prior to learning that he may not be a great fit for the workplace and say that if he were to ask you now that you wouldn't recommend the job to him. I don't think it's weird for people's opinions on people to change and I don't believe others would think that's weird either.

Either option would be valid in this case; I would tend to lean towards the latter option if he really isn't a good fit for the workplace. Why make your job worse and ruin your reputation in the workplace? At the end of the day, you need to look out for yourself. If no benefit will come of referring this 'friend', why do it?

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First, Why are you telling someone he can use your name if you don't trust him at 100% ? That was your mistake here.

I think, the best thing would be to tell the truth. Yes, it is risky but at the same time, recommanding him while you don't know how he works (your manager don't really care about personal issues, except if he is really a bad guy) is really dangerous, way more than telling the truth.

Badmouthing him (even if it's the truth) would be strange and dangerous. Your boss will ask why did he refer to you, then you will have to tell the truth, which will end up with you being seen as an hypocrit.

So what I would do in your position would be to say that Yes, you did said him yes, but you have some reserves since you lost each other a long time ago. A tiny warning if needed, but not much more.

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  • Thanks! So you suggest, that I go with a variation of my option 2 - withdraw the recommendation and tell my employer that I don't have enough impressions (be it personal or professional) from him? – user171717 Jun 17 '16 at 7:02
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    @user171717 Just explain what you told us here. It's an ex-friend, you wanted to help, you think he might fit the job but don't have much new feelings about how he will do at work. Something like that. Don't badmouth anyway, no need for that. I have edited your question to be more easier to read (and changed the title). – Gautier C Jun 17 '16 at 7:03
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    @user171717 don't forget that he didn't mention you when you told him it was fine, but way later, which is not cool. – Gautier C Jun 17 '16 at 7:07

Edit: I'd still suggest you recuse yourself from the decision making process.

After all, even if you had met the guy at some conference some place and referred him for a job, you would still get that referral bonus even if you didn't really know him that well.

That's what referrals are, they're referrals, not necessarily recommendations. Why should it be any different in this case? You referred him. You did your job. If pressed on the issue, just say that you don't know him well enough to make a good judgement about him.

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  • Didn't think about that :0 great analysis ! It might be that in fact :0 – Gautier C Jun 17 '16 at 7:08
  • That is not the case (we are both male). The downvote wasn't from me - sorry about that. – user171717 Jun 17 '16 at 7:41

I think that you nip this in the bud as soon as possible. It is evident that this guy doesn't have a deep amount of respect for you and seems to be using you for a reference. You already have issues with him. How do you think this is going to play out when he gets the job?

So either you two are friends or you aren't friends. That is a decision you need to make - and from the tone of your question you are not friends and from the tone I would understand that there is something specific about this person that you really don't like.

The last thing you want is a "friend" at a company that you have been working at that potentially causes problems or talks bad about you. I would not assume that this person would act professional once they got the job - I would basically assume worst case scenario.

Basically you getting this guy a job is a no win situation. If he is bad then it reflects poorly on you to your managers. If he does good, the guy and you continue to not get along... well now you have a really good employee who is negative about you. Your number one concern is not revenue for your company, it is revenue for you. Cast this guy out.

Embrace the dark side of life.

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