As someone who has worked in Recruiting and HR for 20 years now (damn that made me feel old just typing that) I have seen a ton of equally crazy and awesome stuff. When your “product” is people, you can bet there is always something that will happen that will either a) surprise you b) scare you c) wow you or d) make you question why you chose this gig in the first place. One of the more common scenarios where I have seen all 4 of said options play out in my career has been the very tricky subject of “Should you hire your friends”. In advising, working with and being a hiring manager myself over the years, this situation will undoubtedly present itself at one point or another. I am going to speak from my experiences – yours may be different and certainly there are wildly varying opinions on this subject out there.
The scenario is usually very similar. A need arises at your company, and a friend of the hiring manager becomes aware of it. The hiring manager starts to think “well, I know and like this person a lot – and it would be great to work with a friend too”. Now – for definition of “friend” so we are all clear – this is NOT a past colleague you worked with prior. For this post we are talking about a personal friend whom you have not worked with and know solely from your personal life. As an adviser to leaders and hiring managers in my career, I have often counseled against this. My rationale has always been that while this person may be your friend and you “trust” and like them, the reality is that at one point or another, as this person’s manager, there will need to be some difficult conversations. No one, no matter how good they are, is perfect and everyone could benefit from some coaching now and then. I always ask the hiring managers if they are ready to have those types of conversations with a personal friend and if they are willing to potentially jeopardize a friendship over it. Sometimes they say yes and take the plunge, while sometimes they have thought the better of it. In my experiences, I have rarely seen this play out positively. Yes – there are always exceptions, but for my money the overwhelming majority of these situations have turned out in broken friendships and hurt feelings. Sometimes the outcome is an under-performing friend who needs to be terminated, other times the friend/boss dynamic creates tension that changes the friendship forever and even other times the friendship suffers from perceived slights, lack of promotion or team dynamics with perceived favoritism among peers. Any way you slice this, the outcome is more likely going to be negative and outweigh the potential benefits. Now – as I said earlier, there are occasions I have seen where this has worked out well. What I am saying is that those positive outcomes have been very rare from my experiences and the odds don’t support that outcome.
With all of this experience in tow, you would think when it came to me personally hiring for my team that I would learn from this. Yeah…. not so much. A number of years ago I needed a top notch recruiter for my team in the worst way. The team was drowning in open positions, and there was a clear need to bring in someone who could be a senior leader on the team and also carry a significant requisition load. It just so happens I had a friend since childhood who was a recruiter whom I had never worked with professionally, but was one of my very close buddies since I can remember. We were talking one day and the role came up. He was unhappy in his current position and I had a glaring need. We both discussed extensively ahead of time our friendship and how we would need to separate the work and friendship dynamic for this to be successful – after all, I would be his manager in this role. We both swore up and down and had many drinks and discussions over this and agreed to move forward. Much like the movie “Animal House” I had the devil on one shoulder saying “do it”, and I had the angel on the other shoulder telling me “I know better” than to potentially jeopardize a friendship over work. Well – the devil won that argument because I hired him. For about two years – he was AWESOME. Friend or not, he was one of the best recruiters I have ever worked with. His peers loved him and he was making me look very good to my managers. We still were buds and would even hang outside of the office too. Eventually, there was a burnout. The demands on him (and me) from the business became excessive and it started to strain our friendship. The stress became too much and the team was looking to me and how I would respond. When I didn’t respond the way they expected me to then started some whispers of favoritism. The pressure of the friendship, the business, his and my own lack of job satisfaction and the team dynamics were becoming too much for the both of us. I was recruited around this time for a great new role and I leaped at the chance to move on. My friend left shortly after me too.
There were some very hard feelings on both sides in the wake of this mess. Flash forward several years now. My friend, so burned out by this experience, left the recruiting industry forever and changed careers. We have only talked once in 5 plus years now, despite my outreach several times over. No matter what happened, I will always consider him my friend despite what he may think of me. While I had seen this exact scenario play out several times, I did not heed my own advice and experience. It cost me a friendship. I blame myself and looking back I could have handled things differently for sure. I cannot help but think if I had followed my own experiences and advice that he and I would still be buds today. This was my own very personal experience that I thought would help give you one man’s professional AND personal experiences with this topic. Yes – it is cool to work with a friend. Before you pull the trigger on that offer though, just remember that, at least to this writer’s personal and professional experience, the odds of you being friends after working together remain slim. Proceed with caution – maybe you could be different. I thought so too.