The quick version of what happened is that I gave a colleague from school a reference at my company, and he ended up getting an internship. My boss only offered the internship because I asked, so I feel a bit of personal responsibility for the result of this being good.

When he asked me my thoughts on my friend before hiring him, I told him clearly that I had never worked with him in a technical or professional setting, so I couldn't attest to his technical ability, but I thought highly of his work ethic, which is still true.

The problem is, his technical skills have turned out to be a bit lacking, despite him being a senior in a decent Information Systems program. For instance, he was assigned a task with an estimate of 20 hours. Realistically, it should have taken only 3 or 4 hours, but obviously being new, he was given some extra time to adjust to the codebase, etc. It has now been a full week and a half, and the task is still not very close to completion.

I've tried to help him out with it here and there, but I'm pretty busy myself and don't want to hold his hand through every step, so that he relies too heavily on me. I don't believe it should be my responsibility to train him on basic things.

Then the other day I was surprised when he was making a few professionalism blunders such as loudly making a somewhat non-PC joke in a loud voice while I was at his desk trying to give him some pointers, and the neighboring cubicles were definitely in earshot.

I've spoken with him privately about not saying potentially offensive things at the office (well really anytime), but I'm afraid that this behavior and performance will reflect badly on me. Technical issues aside, the last thing I expected was to have to worry about his personal behavior.

He still has--presumably--a couple months left in this internship. What can I do to minimize any damage that his behavior and performance may have on my reputation? Is this something I should even be concerned about?

  • Not officially. My boss has said to help him out if he needs it, but as no time in my schedule has been designated to helping him, it's been difficult for me to find time to sit down and help him as I'm pretty loaded up with my own work this time of year. Our team is small (about 8 people in a company with several hundred employees), but as the internship was a bit impromptu, there isn't much organization for mentorship.
    – max
    Jun 19, 2017 at 19:15

3 Answers 3


If you were one of my junior staff, I wouldn't think that much about this. You have a few mitigating factors in your favour:

  • Most importantly, you said you didn't know if this guy was technically any good. Remember that it was the job of whoever hired him to check those skills.
  • (I'm guessing) you're relatively junior yourself. I don't expect my junior staff to be good at hiring.
  • It was only an intern. They don't cost very much (this is somewhat harsh but also realistic).

The only real effect your slightly off recommendation would have with me is that I'd be very careful interviewing the next person you recommend. Bottom line is that it's a bonus if I get good recommendations from my staff, but it's way, way down there compared with your actual personal skills at doing the job I've hired you to do. (Try not to make a habit of bad recommendations though).

  • I am pretty junior(just over a year into things), and I agree that it was ultimately on my manager to hire him. Thanks for the reassuring insight/answer.
    – max
    Jun 19, 2017 at 20:25

Internships are used to test out potential talent. Your recommendation got him in the door but what he does with it is up to him. If he does not work out for the company he will not be asked back for a 2nd season.

I would not worry to much about your standing in the company.

If you want your friend to succeed then you may need to have a good talk with him. Let him know they he needs to maintain a professional demeanor at work.

If you want to help him improve you may need to do a little hand holding or just lit him do work at his own pace. The company will decide if he is worth keeping after the internship.


The best thing to do is help when you can and to let him know that his actions reflect on you (whether or not they actually do is up to your manager).

In my experience the only thing I can see this possible affecting is how much weight your reference has in the future.

  • Thanks for the answer. I guess I'm a little hesitant to go tell him "Hey don't screw up cause it looks bad on me"(obviously paraphrased) because I think that kind of pressure will only make him perform worse...
    – max
    Jun 19, 2017 at 20:27
  • 2
    If he performs worse because you asked him to be an adult at work then that job was not meant for him. I know its hard when dealing with friends but work is work and should be separate from home life. Your friend should understand that his work is a reflection of you standing when it comes to being able to refer others down the road. Jun 19, 2017 at 20:30

Perhaps the best approach is to have him coached by a coworker who has no personal background with him. There is a natural tendency to slack a bit when you think you're in a friendly environment. Just human nature.

I think it will have a much heavier impact if the coaching comes from someone he knows is not going to stand up for him.

Regardless, he's an intern, his impact to your reputation is going to be minimal. Maybe this line of work isn't for him. Better he find out sooner than later, but don't worry about your own rep.

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