The Work Problem We're All Scared To Face

Illustrated by Mallory Heyer.
Dear Kelsey,

What do you do when an unreliable and irresponsible friend asks you for help getting a job at your company — and you know they'd do a bad job?


Dear Awk,

I don't know who came up with the adage, "business and friendship don't mix," but I find myself hating that person once or twice a year when it proves to be completely untrue. Perhaps business and friendship shouldn't mix, but they do, inevitably. Sometimes it works out great, but when it goes bad it's atomically bad.

There are obviously a number of factors at play here, including the size and type of company you work for, the value you place on this friendship, and how much your own job means to you. But in any scenario, it comes down to two choices: the brutal truth or the big, white lie.

In the best-case scenario, you'd be able to go to your friend and say, "Listen, I wish I could help you but I just don't feel comfortable referring you for this position because, well, I think you'd do a lousy job and also you're flaky. LYLAS!" And your friend would be like, "You know what? You're right, girl. Thanks for being so real with me." And then, you'd just get pizza.

Unfortunately, I don't think that would fly even on the sitcom-iest of sitcoms. Truth is never a bad decision, but it's not without consequences — not in real life. In this case, the consequence might be the end of your friendship, or at least a very painful fight. No one is perfect, and we all overlook certain imperfections in our friends because, on the whole, that person means more to us than their flaws. But a situation like this puts the flaw center-stage, standing right in the glaring, awkward spotlight, and forces you to acknowledge it. My advice? Fake some applause and go home. You just don't boo at your friend's play.

Your friend has (unwittingly, I'm sure) put you in a lose-lose situation. You don't want to hurt your friend or your friendship, but you don't want to hurt yourself, either. When you refer someone for a job, your own reputation is on the line. If your assessment of her inadequacies is accurate, then either she'd tank the interview or, worse, she'd get hired and tank the actual job. Either way, you'd deservedly take some of the heat because you vouched for her. Furthermore, you'd be setting your friend up for failure — and not unwittingly. Everyone loses. From where I'm sitting, the truth is outweighed by its consequences.

Lying is a kind of losing, too, of course. But in this case, I think it's the lesser loss.
Illustrated by Mallory Heyer.
The actual lie is probably not that complicated. You can tell your friend the referral system at your company is tricky (it often is). You can say you'll pass along her name, but you don't know where they are in the hiring process (you probably don't). If you're close with your supervisor or hiring manager, you could even have a frank conversation with him or her, saying your friend asked for a referral but you're honestly not sure this position is ideal for her. In practice, you're actually doing a lot of truth-telling, but you're still misleading someone you care about. And that sucks. I'm sorry — for both of you, really.

Most white lies are actually closer to gray, if only because they make liars out of us. But every path we take in life — including relationships and careers — wanders through gray areas. This is an awkward situation indeed, but the fact that you're struggling with it shows that you care enough about your career and your friendship to worry about preserving them. That's not a bad silver lining.

Here's one more: Both of these paths are long. Your friend may learn her lesson and become more reliable down the road. It often takes a few nasty falls before we really get our shit together (ideally, she'll take them at another company). In all likelihood, you'll have another opportunity to help her out, whether it's referring her for a different position someday, or just being there when she comes to you and says she needs help getting more organized.

When and if that happens, I think you'll be glad you didn't blow up the relationship. Because now you can be of real help — and be honest, too. Now you can have the friendship you both deserve. So, go get some pizza and help her work it out.
Welcome to Unprofessional Advice: a column to help you handle problems of all kinds. With zero professional experience and a complete lack of credentials, I will take on your issues with compassion and humor (and I'll keep it anonymous, obvs). Got a question? Email me:

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