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The Middles: Why You Ought To Be A Little More Careful When Writing Recommendations For People

Backing someone with your words is a big deal. Liking the person isn't enough. Here's why being selective is important when writing recommendations and vouching for someone professionally.

The Middles: Why You Ought To Be A Little More Careful When Writing Recommendations For People - Lioness MagazineTo give a recommendation for a potential hire, which is essentially backing someone with your words, is a big deal.

It’s me saying, “I promise that giving you this name means that I believe this person fits this role and will succeed at it.”

Too often, when we recommend someone it’s because “I like this person.” It’s got to be more than that. I like a lot of people. I don’t want to work with all of them.

I first learned this lesson when I recommended a friend to a job interview, with some people who had tried to recruit me, and when I said no, asked for other candidates. My friend, who is a lovely human being, almost forgot about the interview and winged it. I never heard from that contact ever again. I learned it again when I asked for a recommendation and took a valued colleague at her word that her friend was great, without checking references deeply.

It’s not just the candidate who is on the line here, it’s the reputation of the person who gave the recommendation. For that reason, recommendations should be rare — how many people would you back if your job was on the line, too?

Recommendations, whether you’re the one asking, or the one giving, are treacherous because of assumptions. I assume the name you’ve given me means you have worked with them and their temperament matches mine. I assume that you’re going to thoroughly interview and check references when I give you the name of that friend. Sometimes, if our desperation for the “right” person, we skip the steps we’d complete for a candidate who walked in off the street. That’s unfair to everyone involved.

The fix is more transparency. Be transparent about how you know the person you’re recommending, your relationship to them, and how you know they’ll be a good fit for thejob. Be transparent about why you’re asking for a recommendation and the kind of person who would be a good fit.

Use your words, and the weight others lend them, carefully.

About the author

P. Kim Bui

P. Kim Bui is the editor-at-large for NowThis News, focusing on original, social reporting and breaking news. Prior to NowThis, she was deputy managing editor for, a digital media startup specializing in social journalism. Her career has focused on leading breaking news initiatives and new storytelling forms for local, national and global audiences.

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