How to Promote Your Friends Professionally

how-to-promote-friendsHow can you promote your friends and colleagues in a positive way? Considering all the talk from Lean In about how women should be more supportive of each other in the office, I thought this was a great question from Reader E:

I am an intern (waiting on bar results) at a small law firm. A branch office of my firm is hiring a new attorney for that office, and my supervisor asked me If I knew anyone who was looking. I suggested my friend A., who submitted a resume. Today I found out that the attorney in the branch office wants to interview A. This attorney also wants to talk to me, “candidly,” about A. I am confident in my friend’s ability, but I know this office has had a friend of a current attorney not work out. What can I say to promote my friend and what topics or traits should I avoid?

I actually think there is some etiquette involved when it comes to promoting friends and colleagues, talking up their accomplishments, and even helping them network. Here are some pointers, but I’m curious to hear what else the readers say:

– When suggesting your friend for a specific job: Ask A (let’s say her name is Allison) for a copy of her resume, and what she thinks her top three selling points are. I would then either a) write a short email attaching the resume, or b) swing by the hiring partner’s office, hand-delivering a copy of the resume, to say basically, “My friend Allison just applied for Position Y, but I wanted to bring you her resume myself. Allison is a good friend from law school; we worked together on law review and she won the moot trial competition. I think she’d be a great addition to the firm.  Please let me know if I can answer any other questions.” Note a few things about this:

  • it’s whatever her professional name is — Allison, not Allie or some other nickname (ask her what she wants).
  • it’s very brief and direct (I would also put a clear subject line “Suggestion for Position Y — Allison Smith”
  • you’re telling your boss (or hiring partner or whoever) exactly how you know this person, which lets you realistically scale how much you can/have to recommend her. If you worked with her closely on a project and think she’s amazing, you can say that — if you just know her from around school but didn’t work closely with her, you can say that you know her socially but that her resume is impressive because __ (e.g., moot court competition was very tight that year; it was difficult to get on law review, etc, etc). When asked to speak “candidly” about her friend, as Reader E has been, E should focus on what she knows about Allison’s work skills, as well as helping the boss put Allison’s resume in perspective through E’s shared experience at law school.
  • obviously, what you are talking about is her work product and her professional skills — I’m sure it doesn’t need to be said, but don’t talk about how sweet she is, or how she can drink you under the table, or about some other skill that has nothing to do with work.
  • be cognizant of the fact that her performance will reflect on you, both in her interview and her work product. Reader E understands this already.  This is why you should be specific about how you know the candidate.

These are outside the scope of Reader E’s questions, but there are other ways we can help friends professionally, and I think worthy of discussion here as well…

– When talking up a coworker’s accomplishments — I think this is done best when it’s natural in the conversation. “I’ll check in with Allison Smith, because I know she just celebrated a big win in a similar matter.” Depending on the size of the company I think the last name can be important.

– When introducing someone for networking — this is one of my personal pet peeves, because there’s definitely an etiquette here…

  •  first, ask both parties if it’s OK to introduce them. As in, two separate emails or calls, not a general email simultaneously sent to both parties.
  • if you have multiple email addresses for them (e.g., a Gmail address and a work email), ask which one is preferable
  • be thoughtful in your introduction — when introducing the two, write a very brief introduction that covers everyone’s accomplishments: Allison, I’d like to introduce you to Janet, one of my coworkers and an expert in the field of X; you may recently have seen her in the news because she represents Media Person Y in matter Z. Janet, I’d like to introduce you to Allison — as we discussed she is fascinated by the field of X, and has been working closely with Professor B on a paper.”
  • if you know that the more important person has a very limited schedule, you may want to set expectations in your email: “Allison, perhaps Janet would be available for a brief phone call in the next week or two to give you advice on how to get more experience in X? You can call her secretary at 555-1234 to schedule it.”

Readers, how do you think Reader E can promote her friend for this particular job?  How, in general, do you think women can promote other women in the office and in their careers?  In general, what do you think the etiquette is when helping a friend professionally? 

Pictured: Shaking Hands, originally uploaded to Flickr by Nicola Corboy.


  1. lucy stone :

    Related question: I am an attorney in public practice. I occasionally will refer coworkers or friends to attorney friends in private practice. All but one of them makes a point of saying thanks to me the next time they see me, or sending an email or text to say thank you. I’ve referred several cases to the one friend who does not say thank you and it is driving me crazy she never says anything.This friend is a competent attorney but lacks social savvy. How do I approach her about this? I am worried other attorneys will not refer her work if she keeps this up.

    • If she is a friend you should be comfortable talking to her about it and saying exactly what you wrote above.
      If she is just someone you know, why do you continue sending people to her, and why do you care that she’d lose business because of her poor social skills?

      • Also Don't Get It :

        Agree. It sounds like a passive-aggresive wording of, “I’m getting p!ssed that she hasn’t thanked me, but want to present it to myself and others as my being worried that she’ll lose business.”

        It might be the way to approach the non-thanker, but even that’s really passive aggressive. OP, if it bugs you just stop referring people to her. There are plenty of competent lawyers that are more gracious and polite out there, that you could refer to.

        • lucy stone :

          To be honest, I am pissed she hasn’t thanked me. It is crappy manners. She is a good friend, but is sensitive about these things.

    • You have to be VERY carful if your in the PUBLIC Sector about accepteing any GIFT’s. The manageing partner wanted to send our WC Judge a gift basket of fruit and nut’s and he could NOT accept it b/c of conflict of INTEREST rule’s. So when the Judge sent it back, I got to keep it b/c alot of the FRUIT was goeing to get rotten. I do NOT like grape’s so I gave those to Madeline, but I DID bring home the orange’s and banannna’s b/c they had a skin on them and did NOT need to be scrubbed off like the grape’s would. I also took home a can of MACCCADEMIA nut’s which were SOOOOOOO Good, but VERY fatening, my dad says. FOOEY on that! Dad alway’s looks right at my tuchus when he talks about food, to SHAME me into eateing less. But my MANTRA is to enjoy your meal’s b/c you HAVE TO eat! YAY!!!!!

    • “Hey, I’ve given your name to a couple people recently looking for [whatever your friend does]. Did you end up hearing from any of them?”

      If she says yes, and then does NOT say “by the way, THANKS!” then you should consider asking her something like, “is it OK for me to continue to send folks your way?”

    • anon in tejas :

      I don’t refer anyone to friends who aren’t appreciative. It says a lot about their character and how they would handle their clients- in my opinion.

      • Also Don't Get It :

        Also, it’s likely to be indicative of what would happen if you should ever need a return favor — don’t hold your breath!

        If you ever need something from them, they’ll not be thinking of you, because they’re so busy of thinking of what’s convenient for themselves.

    • There’s an old saying about the “Three As” for a surgeon — affability, availability and Ability. The first 2 are more important to building a practice than the third. If you don’t think she’s being professional, stop referring clients to her.

  2. When one of my friends changed jobs, she received a request from an old colleague to refer her at her new company, and she did. One day, the head of her department called her into his office and asked her about the ex-colleague, and she said that he was adept at his work but had a few personality conflicts with his colleagues. Her superior chastised her for referring him, and she was so embarrassed.

    How could she have handled the situation better? When someone asks you to refer them, can you tell them to their face that you won’t, or will you lie to them that you referred them?

    I think she could have referred him, then when asked her opinion, mention his flaws, with the addendum that she wanted to leave the decision open to the person who hires him, since there might be some good qualities of his that might more than compensate for his flaws. Or he could have changed for the better after she last worked with him.

    I’d like to hear your thoughts on this.

    • great question :

      I have had the same issue and am wondering what the hive’s thoughts are. I don’t want to waste the partners’ time by even bringing up the candidate in some cases (total mismatch, not qualified, or questionable work ethic, etc.). What do you tell your friend/acquaintance when they’ve specifically asked you to submit their resume to the persons who make hiring decisions (and go past HR)?

      • Famouscait :

        How about a simple but firm,” I’m sorry, but I’m not able to do that for you. Our firm/HR/whomever doesn’t always take kindly to that, and I wouldn’t want to do anything to harm your chances at the position.”

        • hellskitchen :

          I use this approach as well – I tell them that our firm insists on having a centralized hiring process and all resumes must go through HR before going to any hiring managers. I tell the person to apply and let me know if they pass HR screen; if they do I offer to send a note to the hiring manager. But I realize that this excuse may be harder to pull off if you work in smaller organizations.

      • King Kong :

        King Kong think honesty best policy.

        King Kong not suggest Godzilla for hand model position. But King Kong suggest Godzilla for breathe fire job no problem.

        Why “refer” someone who you say has flaw? King Kong say no.

        • Anonymous :

          i dont think i know the difference between king kong and godzilla. one of you climbs buildings. does the other climb trees? or what?

          • King Kong :

            Let King Kong Google that for you dumb dumb.

            One misunderstood great ape kidnapped from home land.

            One misunderstood great warrior lizard from the sea breathe fire and battle Mothra.

          • My observation – Godzilla is a person who comes on here and makes relevant and intelligent comments and occasional jokes about green skin while King Kong is someone coming on here purely to make jokes and monkey puns.

          • I like the monkey puns.

          • I think King Kong’s comment was intelligent. It was about job fit and referring those who have strengths which complement the position.

      • I think it depends on who the person asking for the referral is. If it’s a good friend, I would probably say something like, “I really don’t have any pull whatsoever with respect to this opening, but I will pass along the resume.” Then, I would pass along the resume but make it clear that I was asked to do so and that I can’t speak to this person’s qualifications one way or another. Something like, “A friend of mine asked me to pass along his resume for X position. I can’t really speak to his work product because we’ve never worked together, but just wanted to add this to your applicant pool.”

        In the above situation, I would probably not have referred the former colleague in the first place. You can always say something like, “Oh, I’m so new here I don’t think I could do that” and leave it at that.

      • Is the candidate your friend? If yes, tell him/her “I’ll pass on your resume but that’s about all I can do for you…” And tell the hiring manager you were asked to do so but have no further input.

        If the candidate isn’t your friend and you still want to do it, just take the resume and pass it along with the same note above.

        • great question :

          Thanks for the suggestions! I’ve been asked by friends. I tend to be pretty judgy, so trying to vouch for someone whose work product I’ve never seen is something I avoid doing whenever I can.

    • I’ve been asked to do this before. I simply am careful in my referral for people I can’t 100% endorse. Recent example: “Former coworker X reached out to me about this position. I think he might be a good fit for the role because of L,M,Z traits [which are true]. Let me know if you have another other questions–here’s his resume.”

      Then if the person is hired, great. If they aren’t, I didn’t say “this is THE candidate for you!”

      For people I really like, and often even those I’m neutral on, I always offer to chat wtih them about the role first. It’s a good sign when they take me up on it, and a really bad one when they don’t.

      These strategies worked well recently because Former Coworker asked me to endorse him for a role he’s interviewing for at my current company. I simply connected him with the hiring manager in a positive way, and once I saw the resume, I thought “Jeez, glad I didn’t throw my weight behind THAT one”– this was for a senior/mid-level account manager role…dude had a 3 page resume and a 2 page cover letter with .5″ margins (with only about one paragraph of important information). I would have thrown that resume in the trash if it came my way. It was really awkward, too, because the guy is in his mid 40s, but the cover letter read like a desperate college grad.

  3. Question regarding Kat’s suggestion about introduction etiquette: do people really set up introductions between friends/acquaintances using a formal email like that? Kat’s example: “write a very brief introduction that covers everyone’s accomplishments: Allison, I’d like to introduce you to Janet, one of my coworkers and an expert in the field of X; you may recently have seen her in the news because she represents Media Person Y in matter Z. Janet, I’d like to introduce you to Allison — as we discussed she is fascinated by the field of X, and has been working closely with Professor B on a paper”‘ just seem super formal to me. Is this actually done often and I’m just inexperienced? (which is a total possibility as I only recently graduated law school).

    I may be completely wrong, but that type of email just seems awkward to me. Am I way off base?

    • great question :

      Yes. I do this all the time for my friends who haven’t met in person, or even if they have met, but only briefly and a long time ago. It’s especially useful when my friends move to new cities or when a friend is applying to a school another friend has graduated from.

      In our busy, selfish world, you have to give each person an incentive to reach out. I do this to help my friends better themselves, but I only do it for those who actually try.