It’s the real reason we join. We might end up swapping a few emails with someone we haven’t seen since high school (before remembering why we lost touch with them in the first place.) We might sneak peeks at how exes are doing, then beat ourselves up when we discover that they’re now billionaires married to supermodels. And we might spend far too long looking at silly videos on Fun Walls then wonder why we bothered, but when we enter a password on a site like LinkedIn, Facebook or even MySpace, we like to tell ourselves that we’re really networking to advance our careers.
Of course, it might happen. With everyone only six degrees away from everyone else, anyone should be able to follow the dots to find someone who can give them access to their dream job.
But what happens when you’re that someone? What do you do when a friend asks if you know of any jobs going in your company? And should you really offer help when a pal gets a pink slip and starts looking for a bolthole?
It’s always nice to lend a hand but before making the connection, it’s a good idea to know what you’re getting into. Here are the most important rules to follow when helping a friend find a job:
1. Make sure it really is a good place to work.
Being able to open doors for people can make us feel influential and gratitude is always pleasant. But as much as we’d like to believe that we can land anyone any job anywhere, most of us have pretty limited networking powers. That means there’s a temptation to use any influence we have… even when the job sucks and the workplace is even worse. We only think of the fact that we can change someone’s life and land them a job, and forget – for a while at least – that the friend only lands the job once. After that, they have to actually work there.
Before you make the recommendation, ask yourself whether you’d like to do the job, and be realistic when you describe it to them.
2. Take a realistic view of your powers.
Just as there’s a temptation to look only at the good side of a job opportunity, so there can be a tendency to overrate our powers of influence. You might have a good friend who’s running the marketing division of a major company but it doesn’t matter how many beers you sank during college, he’ll only give the hire if the candidate really is suitable.
Unless the job is yours to hand out – and you’re prepared to risk hiring a no-hoper – understand that the best you can do is recommend one side to the other. You don’t get to make the decision… so you can’t get to enjoy all the credit when your friend aces the interview either.
3. Only unique connections count.
The statistics for the number of jobs never advertised range all over the place. But one thing you can be sure of is that there’s an awful lot of them. While jobs in the public sector have to be open to all, private employers will always prefer a word-of-mouth recommendation to wading through a pile of resumes after posting an ad on a job site.
It’s those kind of recommendations that count when you’re trying to help a friend. Tell someone that you saw an ad in a newspaper and you won’t be giving them anything they wouldn’t have found eventually for themselves. Tell them that a company you know is looking for a programmer, call the employer to find out where to send the resume, what to put in the cover letter and set up a meeting… and you count that as a favor that can be returned one day – one reason you might want to lend a hand.
4. It has to work both ways!
Starting a new job is a bit like starting a new relationship. You can expect good times and bad times. You can expect each side to feel the pull of temptation from better-looking partners. And you can expect at least one side to wonder at some point whether they’ve made the right decision. But ultimately, for the relationship to work, both sides have to benefit.
For people playing matchmaker, that’s particularly important: if it all goes belly-up, both sides will blame you.
After all, it was you who made the introduction. It was you who provided the recommendations. And it will be you neither side will want anything to do with ever again if it all goes wrong. That’s why the most important rule is the fifth…
5. Understand your responsibilities… and the risks.
Even though you won’t be the one making the hiring decision, whenever you make an introduction, it’s going to feel like a recommendation. That’s true even if all you do is tell a friend that you know that a certain company is hiring.
No job information you provide to a friend will ever be completely neutral because your friend will assume that you wouldn’t tell them about a job you don’t think they should do.
Similarly, passing a resume on to your boss will make him feel that he’s getting someone like you. It comes with your trust, whether you intended it to or not.
If the job doesn’t work out, the result could be a lost friendship, a damaged career — or both.
Of course, none of these things means that you should never help a friend in need or lend a hand to company looking to grow. But they do mean that you should know what you’re doing – and play by the rules.