It’s an old adage that you should never mix business with pleasure. Most people apply this advice when considering going into business with someone they have a romantic, familial or platonic relationship with. At some businesses, these types of relationships are discouraged or even prohibited.
But what about in networking?
Networking might be intimidating at first. But exchanging ideas — and contact information — with people you cross paths with, either formally or informally, can sometimes be just the thing your career needs.
However, it can get complicated when we invite our friends to network with us or choose to network on behalf of our friends.
We all want to see our friends succeed in their professional lives. Sharing career opportunities with your friends or connecting them to important people has obvious benefits.
“Supporting others in their careers, whether it is recommending them for a job or sharing connections, can come back in a positive way to you and can strengthen your own career network,” said Ralph Raphael, a licensed psychologist and founder and director of the Career Evaluation and Coaching Center and the Maryland Center for Health Psychology.
But there are a few important things to think about before sticking your neck out for a friend and their career.
If you’re a generous person, helping a friend with their career might seem like a no-brainer. But it’s important to make sure that your professional life is in good standing before you tend to someone else’s needs.
If there is tension at your job between you and your boss or your co-workers, or if you feel your performance hasn’t been up to par, you might want to hold off referring a friend, said psychologist Sunitha Chandy of the Chicago-based business consultancy Artesian Collaborative.
“The factors that are going to determine if you do use your social credit to promote your friend is, one, how you feel in your new position,” Chandy said. “Two, the environment you’re bring this friend into and, three, your friend’s assets and work ethic.”
When referring a friend to an employer or a notable person in their field, it’s important that you know how they operate in professional spaces.
If you know a friend is irresponsible, constantly tardy, unorganized or has problems with authority, it’s probably not the best idea to invite them into your workspace or refer them to someone else.
If you know about their work history, that’s a clear point of reference to help you discern whether or not to recommend them to a position.
I once made the mistake of referring an old friend to a retail job I had a few years ago. Despite the fact that she was constantly late to plans, had problems obeying authority and frequently had a bad attitude, I acted on good faith. I assumed she would respect me enough to perform well at the job and not embarrass me in front of my boss. Unfortunately, she failed to do that and was fired.
She contended her behavior looked bad for her, but not for me. But Raphael thinks otherwise.
“When you are deciding about helping a friend it is important to consider whether or not they are a good fit for the job and the organization,” he said.
“If you are seen as recommending or advocating for this person, their performance can reflect back on you; a bad fit between your friend and the organization can raise questions about your judgement.”
Sometimes our friends get so comfortable asking us for favors that they do it without thinking about the impact on us.
If you have a friend who is constantly asking for professional recommendations, referrals or connections, don’t feel bad about drawing the line, Chandy said. Especially if you’re relatively new in your own job.
“Validate yourself,” she said. “It’s normal to need some time to adjust before making asks at a new job. It’s normal being uncomfortable advocating for yourself, let alone a friend.”
The goal of making professional connections and networking is to reach a point where you feel established enough to act independently. If your friend is leaning on you to network for them, they’re failing at that goal to some extent.
We should certainly help our friends if they’re struggling to find work. But we can’t hold their hands the whole way. Encouraging them to get out there and hit up some networking events for themselves might be the best way to help.