Dear Hobie & Monk,
My friend recently was fired from her job. Though she says it’s out of the blue and doesn’t know why, I suspect she’s embarrassed about how things went down. She’s on the job hunt and is asking me to help with contacts. However, without knowing the circumstances of her being let go, I’m hesitant to recommend her and thus associate myself with her actions. Am I being paranoid?
– Stuck between a rock and a pal
Monk: You are not being paranoid. You only know two relevant things about your friend: She was fired and doesn’t want to discuss why.
Although you don’t mention all the other things you know about this friend, I am assuming that the “fired” and “not forthcoming” descriptors are enough to override your inclination to wholeheartedly share your contacts and/or recommend her. (I am also assuming that “share contacts” is not the same as “recommend,” though I think we agree that, under these circumstances, you’re being asked to do both.)
Next time Fired Friend asks for your help, let her know that you feel conflicted about referring her to your colleagues and associates because you will be doing so without knowing why she was abruptly terminated from her last job. This may be awkward, but your friend is placing you in a difficult situation.
You might be wise to add that any potential employer will undoubtedly ask about Fired Friend’s work history, especially the reasons for her leaving her most recent job. Your personal contacts might even expect you (the referrer) to provide a little background information, which you can’t do if she keeps you in the dark. Then wait for her response, which surely will be enlightening.
Your friend may continue to stonewall, react angrily, or sing like a canary. Regardless of the reaction, you will have more information about the potential employee you will or will not be referring to your colleagues.
Hobie: I think that while we’re all probably guessing correctly about there being more to the firing than the friend is admitting, it actually is just a guess and she is still a friend. You may have more luck getting to the same end result (a candid conversation about her last job situation) if it’s clear that you support her and want to be helpful.
Strategize with your friend about her job search in more general ways first: Offer to look over her resume and talk about what she’s looking for in the short and long term. When she then asks again for your contacts and/or recommendation, you’re in a better position to quietly say that for you to risk your professional reputation she needs to tell you a lot more about hers.
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Hobie and Monk are two Alexandria women with husbands, children, dogs, jobs, mortgages, unmet New Year’s resolutions, obsessions with impractical shoes, English novels … and Ph.D.s in clinical psychology. Their advice, while fabulous, should not be construed as therapeutic within a doctor-patient context or substituted for the advice of readers’ personal advisors.