Most CPAs have referred a friend for a job and, in some cases, have helped hire a buddy or acquaintance. Referrals are common and public accounting firms welcome them—sometimes even providing bonuses to those providing the names and résumés of job candidates.
“Firms really strive to hire employee referrals because it’s been shown that the retention rate on employees who come through referrals is longer,” said Nancy Geery, director of recruiting at Habif, Arogeti, & Wynne LLP, a public accounting firm in Georgia.
Referring, hiring, and then working with friends can be great—you feel good to help, and you already have a relationship with built-in camaraderie. But referring, hiring, or even managing friends can also come with potential risks and pitfalls. If your friend doesn’t show up for the interview, doesn’t perform well on the job, or simply isn’t a good fit culturally, all eyes could point to you for making a lousy recommendation.
“Your credibility within your firm could be bruised a little bit,” noted Terry Bush, director at Kruggel Lawton CPAs, an Indiana-based public accounting firm that hires 75% of its experienced employees thanks to referrals. And if something goes awry, your friendship can also collapse.
Sources offer the following tips for referring or hiring a friend:
Be objective. Know your friend’s weaknesses and areas of proficiency. If they haven’t done work in corporate taxes, mention it. “Spend as much time as it takes to gauge the fit technically and culturally, and encourage them to do the same,” Bush said. “Be honest and don’t sugarcoat anything.”
Geery also noted that one should pay attention to a friend’s current work habits. “If your friend is always calling in sick to go to the golf course or take off to Hilton Head, they probably will do that at your firm, too,” she said. “Is that something you want to put your seal of approval on?”
Be tough with yourself and your friend. Ask hard questions and don’t just wing it. Will the job fit her? Will your friend add value to the firm and increase client satisfaction? Will he fit in culturally? Would you be proud to introduce her to your managing partner? And finally, would you want him on your team? “If you don’t want to work with them on an audit late at night, your co-workers probably won’t want to either,” Geery said.
Determine sincerity. Make sure your friend takes this process seriously since you are the promoter. “You don’t want to be putting your neck out for somebody if you are not even sure if they want the job,” said Ryan Kahn, a career coach and founder of The Hired Group. “Get a gauge as to how serious they are.”
Involve others. If you have input into the hiring decision, make sure you involve others at your firm so the assessment is not solely yours, Bush said. Distance yourself if possible so that the hiring decision is collective.
Don’t make false promises. You may want your friend to get the job, but be honest to your employer. This is a business decision, not a personal one. Don’t feel obligated to provide a referral if the fit is wrong. “Pay attention to the requirements,” Bush said. “And avoid being unduly motivated to make a match.”
Cheryl Meyer is a freelance writer based in California.
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