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Business networking can be a tricky subject. With that in mind, I received a great question from a reader I want to share with you. The reader writes, “A recruiter recently reached out to me about a particular job they are hiring for. I’m not a good fit for it, but I know someone who is. Should I say anything, or should I keep my mouth closed?”

At first glance, it may feel strange to turn down an opportunity, only to refer someone else. It may feel like you shouldn’t get involved. It could seem inappropriate to speak for a friend. Or, it might even feel as though you’re saying, “I’m not really qualified, but I know someone who is smarter than me. Here’s their phone number.”

Fortunately, recruiters don’t take referrals this way. They understand that you aren’t always looking for a job, or that a job isn’t quite a fit with your skills or goals. Or maybe it’s not located where you want to live. Or possibly, your current job is going great.

By referring a potential candidate, you are both helping your friend – and you’re helping the recruiter. When the recruiter has another position, they very well may think of you again. They’ll know that if you aren’t interested, you’ll help to find someone who is.

I remember one of the first times this happened to me. I was completing graduate school when I interviewed with a large gaming company that was interested to relocate me to Las Vegas. It was a great job, and the interviews were going very well. Midway through one interview however, I realized it wasn’t for me. I looked at the hiring manager and said, “I’m sorry; I don’t think I’m the person for you. But, I know who is!” I had a friend who was a perfect fit. The company was so interested that they interviewed him for multiple rounds and flew him to Las Vegas. I’m not sure how it all turned out, but given the chance, I would definitely do it again.

Now, I’m not necessarily advocating for this specific approach, but for the general idea. It’s best to refer a friend before you have started to interview for the job. But, the thing to remember is that networking is a two way street. It’s not all about getting something for yourself out of every professional interaction. It’s also about giving. In a way, this process is like referring someone to your favorite hair stylist or dentist. You’re sending the recruiter a trusted person you know could do the job well.

Depending on the recruiter, another advantage could be a referral bonus. External placement agencies and headhunters often provide a small financial incentive to encourage referrals. It is typically only paid out if the person you refer is hired.

Providing a hiring referral can be helpful to you, your friend, and the recruiter. It strengthens both your internal and external networks, and can help your own search in the future.

Angela Copeland is CEO and founder of Copeland Coaching and can be reached at or on Twitter at @CopelandCoach.

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