Should you hire your friends?

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By Jas Singh

It sounds like a no-brainer.

You’ve known each other for years. You hang out at weekends. You know him inside out and all his strengths and weaknesses. You may have even passed the ultimate test – managed to go on holiday together and not fallen out.

He’s one of your best friends. May be you’re even officially besties.

And as a hiring manager you’re soooo careful to hire the right people. This is a key position for you – so you really need someone who is not just talented but also someone you can trust, confide in and rely on.

Off course you would hire him. It’s bound to work right?

You’d be surprised.

One of the most common disagreements I come across is when two good friends fall out after taking the step to work together. At any level – from executives to graduates it happens more often then you think. A job that was misrepresented. A promise that was never kept. Awkward moments outside of work. Not only has the business relationship suffered but now you’re not besties any more.

However, in my career so far there have been times where I have seen it work. And although it is rare, when it has worked in my experience results have been spectacular. Our most successful client last year was an entrepreneur that has hired a bunch of his ex-university friends (five of them in total). Even Bill Gates hired an ex-Harvard room mate in Steve Ballmer.

So it can work. But there like all big decisions there are both pro’s and con’s.

Advantages

The obvious and major advantage of hiring a good friend is that you are more sure of their character. You know more about them than any number of interviews, assessments and personality tests can tell you.

Most likely they’ll be someone you can trust. Someone you can rely on. In the cut-throat world of business this can often be invaluable. You will know if they are good team players, are easy to get along with and what their true personality is like. Interviews reveal very little on how hard working someone is or their level of punctuality. A decade or more of friendship and you will know.

Another advantage of hiring friends is that they will also understand you better. They’ll know what you’re trying to say – even if sometimes the words come out wrong. They’ll appreciate your style, habits and weird sense of humour. They might even see you in a different light to everyone else – not just a manager but also a husband, wife or parent. Sometimes just seeing you as a human being rather than a corporate manager will inspire them to be more productive.

Managed in the right way, years of relationships with a person that you have chosen over thousands of others can no doubt be powerful.

Disadvantages

Oh, if only life was that simple.

Unfortunately the business environment can create situations and circumstances that break down even the strongest of friendships.

Top of the list is usually that people underestimate the unpreventable stress that work will put on all friendships. Meeting a strict deadline for a high profile client is not the same as taking the kids swimming once a week (although depending on the personality of your children that may not be the best example). Often friends are consistently comparing how things turn out at work to how things were “beforehand”. Friends need to know that their friendship will definitely put through the test in advance. Your friendship is definitely on the line.

Another problem with hiring friends is that it often becomes difficult to separate work from pleasure. We all need a break from work – but it’s difficult to do if you’re surrounded by the same people. On the other hand, if you decide to hang out less does that mean you’re friendship will suffer? Tough call.

Friendships can even be resented by others in the workplace. One high profile CEO I work for recently hired a friend he has known since school who has been a world class CMO at three previous companies. His arrival was greeted with much expectation – there were big plans, numerous meetings and lots of investment. He lasted only six months. Although due to several factors, one of the most important was that he became alienated by the existing team. They resented his relationship with the CEO which the felt was an unfair advantage. They didn’t want him to succeed. The place became secretive. It was unsustainable.

But perhaps the most overlooked thing about hiring a friend is that it’s often terribly short sighted. Sure, you know you can probably trust this person but what about all the other important factors necessary to assess before making a hiring decision? Just because he’s a great mate, how do you know how good a project manager he is? Can he work under time pressure? Has he worked with similar type clients?

Seeing how someone is at home, school and in the pub – for however long – doesn’t tell you how they will perform at work.

Conclusion

Work life can be stressful at the best of times. Targets, office politics and competition.

Add in the pressure of maintaining a life long and precious friendship, and things can get messy.

Hiring managers need to be highly careful when deciding to offer roles to personal friends. Sometimes it can work splendidly, but often things end in a bust-up.

Your best friend is not necessarily your best hire.

How good a hire would your best friend be?

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