Tuesday, August 18, 2009

When Your Friend Becomes Your Co-Worker

True tales of the good, the bad and the ugly

By Rachel Zupek, CareerBuilder.com writer

There's a time in most people's lives when working with their friends seems like a dream come true. Seeing each other all day, every day; exchanging horror stories about the boss you share; multiple lunches, happy hours and company events -- what could be better?

For some people, nothing. But for many, nothing could be worse.

What happens when your friend becomes your co-worker? Perhaps a better starting place is asking the question ofhow your friend became your co-worker. What happens when you recommend a friend for a job?

Recommending a friend or family member for a position at your company is tricky. On one hand, if your friend does a great job, it reflects positively on you. On the other hand, if his or her performance is less than exemplary, that reflects on you, too. Not to mention the effect recommending (or not recommending) an acquaintance could have on your friendship and your reputation at work.

"If your friend does a good job, it can help your reputation at work. You will be seen as having excellent judgment, because this is your friend and you suggested [her] for the job," says Jan Yager, author of "Who's That Sitting at My Desk? Workship, Friendship, or Foe?" "If you recommend someone and your analysis is a mismatch with that individual's abilities or with how he or she fits in with the company, it can negatively impact on the one doing the recommending."

We asked our readers about a time when they recommended a friend for a job. Here, they share their stories -- the good, bad and the ugly.

The good
When I first crossed over into PR, friends from my TV days marveled at how lifestyle-friendly my job is. I decided to share the wealth, getting my good friend Krista hired as a publicist. I knew I was taking a big risk -- if it didn't work, how could our friendship handle her being let go? Would she blame me? I took the risk. It's been almost two years now and Krista is one of our leading publicists. It's also been great for our friendship because now that we don't have TV news in common, we have PR. It's felt so good to help her get a mom-friendly job and in return, she has wowed our CEO.

--Valery Hodes, vice president, Orca Communications Unlimited

I have an Internet marketing company, Market Conversion. I hired my best friend about a year ago as a consultant. It has been such an amazing experience, that she is now my business partner. I know she is special. She cared about our business as much as I did from the beginning. Because of our close relationship, we are able to talk openly and honestly, even when it's not pretty. I appreciate that when either of us say or do something, the other is able to offer constructive criticism without emotional backlash. It is truly a great relationship.

-- Denalee Bell, Market Conversion

I have a friend who I babysat for several years when I was in high school. After she graduated from college, she decided she wanted to move to the Washington D.C. area, which happens to be my residence. Her father reached out to me and asked that I take care of her if possible, keeping my eye out for any jobs. I reached out to my top client and called in a favor with one of the managers. He looked at her résumé and said "Greg, she really doesn't fit our position, however if you're 100 percent confident in her abilities, I'll sneak her in." She's now been with that company for five years, and she's in a position that takes most people at least 10 years to reach. Recently I had dinner with that manager, and within 20 minutes, he mentioned how thankful he was that he took a chance on her, and said if ever I need another favor, he'd be more than happy to oblige.

-- Greg Gary, managing director for Technisource

The bad
One day, at the end of class, a student asked to speak to me privately. As she spoke of her divorce, her children and her low-paying job, tears streamed down her face. Sympathy overtook me and I tried to comfort her by saying that a good friend of mine, in the movieindustry, was looking to hire a secretary. Salaries tend to be higher in the industry and my student was thrilled. Unfortunately, she did not perform well during the interview. The experience led my friend to forestall all future referrals.

-- Marlene Caroselli, Ed.D., keynoter, corporate trainer, author

I had a friend I'd known for 25 years -- someone who'd lived with me for free after she relocated, whose wedding invitations I addressed for her, who I'd traveled with -- who I got a job for at the small company where I worked. I was the director of conference managementand she ended up as the director of operations, at a company of about 20 employees. After being there for a year, she engineered a "reorganization" that resulted in the elimination of my position. She never said a word leading up to it, and I was given only 24 hours notice that I was being laid off. She never bothered to follow up with me to see how I felt about it. I'll definitely think twice before I recommend another friend for a job at the same company where I work.

-- Michelle J. Taunton, CMP

The ugly
A friend asked me to get her a job in the [modeling] business. Although she had no experience, she was very beautiful and spoke Spanish as well as English, so I thought that with training, she would work well with our Latin accounts. What I did not count on was that she needed no training in sleeping her way to the top. Within months, she had been "promoted" past me and a company vice president was getting a divorce.

-- Beverly Solomon, creative director, musee-solomon

I did get a friend a job once and will NEVER do it again. I was a program manager for a defense contracting agency and we needed a new administrative assistant in my department. I was told by a congregation member that our mutual friend was in need of a new job and she was very qualified on paper, so we brought her in for an interview. I agreed that I could be a personal reference for her and based on my reputation, it was enough to get her the job. They never checked her other references.

It was a nightmare from the first day when she showed up two hours late without calling and then left to go to lunch an hour early. Over the next few weeks she got progressively worse. Her supervisor spoke with her to no avail, so I stepped in. I told her that she had two weeks to make noticeable improvements or she would not be kept after her probationary period was up.

She called my Father (yes, she told my daddy on me) and several congregational elders to tell them that I was threatening her because I was jealous, and that she didn't feel safe. When the time came to let her go, I made sure that I sat in on her exit interview, in which they enumerated the many times that she was late to work, her poor job performance and her general attitude. When asked if she had any questions or wanted to say anything, she looked at me and said, "I thought you were my friend and had my back on this."

To this day, I will not hire people that I know. The only people who have a personal relationship with me that are in the company are my children -- and they know that I will fire them quicker than any other employee.

-- Andrea Frayser, founder/CEO, ANDE Cosmetics & Natural Products

I got my sister a job and now we work more closely together (I'm her boss's boss). I've been very careful at work. I never hired her or protected her job. In fact, twice I had to tell her manager I thought they were giving her too generous a raise and lowered it. But it has impacted our personal relationship. Work is always there. And right now is the worst ... she isghost-writing a book that will come out in my name -- and she's the big sister. It also affects family time. At Thanksgiving, she was telling our dad she was worried about job security and hoped "they" didn't fire her. I, of course, am part of "they." She also doesn't take feedback from me like she does from her direct boss or other editors. People do tell me I'm tougher on her than others. I guess I worry too much about favoring her and the pendulum swings the other way. It is tough but we're both committed to it and we talk about the issues as they come up -- and try not to involve anyone else.

-- Jenny Thompson, chief operating officer, Health Subsidiaries, Agora Inc

Rachel Zupek is a writer and blogger for CareerBuilder.com and its job blog, The Work Buzz. She researches and writes about job search strategy, career management, hiring trends and workplace issues. Follow her on Twitter: https://twitter.com/CBwriterRZ.

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