Making A Referral? Exercise Caution

Your agency has an opening for a senior graphic designer and is encouraging those in your department to refer candidates for the job. You immediately think of a talented colleague with whom you worked years ago. You know she’s seeking employment and has the right skills for the position. As an added incentive, your company will award you a gift certificate to a local restaurant if the individual you refer is hired. What can you lose? As it turns out, a lot. When you refer someone for a position, it’s your reputation that’s on the line. If the individual you recommend is hired and doesn’t work out, it can reflect badly on you and reduce your credibility.

Still, employee referrals are a popular practice at many companies, particularly as the job market becomes more competitive. Before you make a recommendation, however, there are a few things you should take into consideration.

Sometimes the incentive your company offers for providing a referral, such as a cash bonus or gift certificate, can temporarily blind you to a candidate’s faults. It’s tempting to increase the odds of receiving a reward by referring more people for a job, but don’t do it. Offering up five people’s names for a copywriter position when you have worked with only one of them may come back to haunt you. If a candidate with whom you aren’t well acquainted is brought in for an interview, the hiring manager is bound to ask why you referred the person for the position. You don’t want your answer to be, "I met him at a party last weekend, and he seems great!"

Optimally, you should be familiar with the quality of work and work style of each person you recommend for a position with your company. Imagine you refer an accomplished designer for a job at your agency. You’ve seen the individual’s ad campaigns and websites over the years, and feel she possesses a design sense that’s a perfect fit for the job. Beware, however, of what you don’t know: Specifically, what sort of work environment this individual thrives in and how well she works with others. If your agency is a chaotic place where the phrase "long-term planning" elicits alarmed looks from the creative team, someone who requires a quiet, highly organized workplace won’t be a good fit—no matter how talented the person is. That’s why it’s best to know the person you refer beyond a surface level. If you think someone might be a good fit but lack specific insight into their strengths and weaknesses, let your manager know that your knowledge is limited when you suggest the person.

Becoming familiar with the job description for an open position can also help you decide whether to refer someone. A management job on a creative team that calls for an "outgoing" individual "who excels in motivating a team of designers" won’t be a good match for a former boss who was an inspired designer but a poor supervisor, for example. Keep in mind that experience extends beyond being able to do a job—you want to refer those who will do it well.

A last word on referrals: When in doubt, hold your recommendation. While bringing in new employees can win praise and rewards from your boss, it’s best to pass on a candidate you’re unsure about. Instead, wait to recommend someone who’s an ideal match for your firm.

The Creative Group is a specialized staffing service placing creative, advertising, marketing and web professionals on a project basis with a variety of firms.