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Advice / Job Search / Networking

5 Awkward Professional Situations Your Friends Will Put You In—and How to Handle Each One

You would do just about anything for your friends. But, when “putting in a good word” turns into a straight-up request for a job, or a quick favor becomes asking you to work for free, you’re in need of a way to politely decline.

Here’s a guide to the most common awkward situations, and what you can do to maintain your professional rep—without losing friends.

1. Your Friend Wants an lntroduction

So, your friend asks you to connect her with an important person in your network. Even if you think it’s a great idea, you should always start with a double-opt in email, which gives your contact the opportunity to decline. (Here’s a template.)

On the other hand, if you have a feeling there is no way these two people will get along, trust your instincts and know it’s OK to say no. Instead, tell your friend that you would be happy to introduce her to somebody else you know who may be a better fit. Or, pass along her resume, but leave it up to your colleague to pursue a meeting.

2. Your Friend Wants You to Do Things for Free

Whether you’ve working at a perk-filled job (free concert tickets, heavily discounted furniture, an influential social media account, you name it), or you’re just getting your own business off the ground, you’ve probably had a few friends ask you if they can just have stuff for free. And, while you may want to be kind, and subscribe to the philosophy that one or two giveaways here or there won’t matter in the long run, they can start to add up in a hurry. (And I don’t just mean financially.)

Once you offer free swag to one friend, you’ll feel inclined to offer it to another, and another—creating a snowball effect. So, set a precedent early on with friends. Either determine a system that you feel comfortable with (and that makes sense for you), or kindly explain that at this time you simply can’t. Blame it on your bottom line, or better yet, blame it on your company’s policy.

That said, another option is bartering. That way you’re staying true to your own rules, but swapping services in a way that works for you and your friends. Remember, you worked hard to get where you are and your friends should respect that.

3. Your Friend Wants to Work for You

Have you ever heard that you should only hire somebody you could fire? Telling your close buddy that he’s out of a job can put a damper on your friendship, to say the least.

Avoid that awful outcome entirely by telling your pal from the start that you value his friendship so highly that you don’t want anything to jeopardize it. Per discounting your work, it’s helpful if you make a blanket policy so that your contact doesn’t feel like it’s personal—and so you don’t have to have this awkward conversation all the time.

4. Your Friend Wants You to Spend Your Money on His Products

Your pal’s a little bit under quota in his tech company’s sales goals for the month—would you mind asking your manager if he wants to purchase a new database organizing system? Or, your buddy needs to prove that his newsletter initiative works to increase sales—are you cool clicking through the links and buying something? Anything? It can be small. Please?

On the opposite end of the spectrum, your best friend’s launching his own company and his idea’s pretty awesome. And he wants to know if you’d like to be an early investor. If you believe in the idea and want to provide financial support—great! Just make sure you go through all the proper steps to give him the money. This is no time to be casual and just Venmo it over. Also recognize that many new companies fail, and there’s a chance you’ll never see your investment again. Be realistic about the risks before you say yes to funding a new initiative: It could put a strain on your finances—and your friendship.

In both cases, if you can’t (or don’t want to) spend your money, offer to help out and show your support in a different way. Perhaps you can volunteer, offer promotion on your social media outlets, or spread the word to your contacts. Every little bit helps! And if the other person gives you any grief (a.k.a., suggesting that a true friend would just open up his or her wallet), you may want to distance yourself for the time being.

5. Your Friend Wants Professional Advice, All the Time

Friends are there to lend you an ear through just about anything. However, there is a point when you feel like you are offering more than friendly advice—like when your friend asks for “your read” on contracts (a.k.a., your legal services).

If a close friend seems to rely on your feedback for every professional move and decision, you can start to feel like you’re being taken advantage of. After all, you’re her friend, not her life coach, and you don’t want a friendship to ever feel one-sided. Next time she asks for expertise, respond with an offer to help her track down a reputable professional who can answer her questions. If that doesn’t get the message across, go with a half-joke along the lines of, “Sure, I’ll give you my discounted family and friends rate.” That usually drives the point home that you’re typically paid for this kind of advice.

And if he’s constantly coming to you with general career questions? Well, in that case I’ve found that a little confidence booster goes a long way. So, don’t forget to remind him that he’s intelligent, savvy, and capable of making great career decisions on his own!

Related: Smart People Don’t Let People “Pick Their Brain”—They Call It Consulting and Charge Accordingly

You love your friends. So, it’s only natural that you want to help them have wonderful and fulfilling lives and careers. But, you can’t compromise and neglect your own needs and goals in order to constantly help them with theirs. Keep these tips in mind to maintain friendships that are beneficial and constructive—without becoming full-time jobs!

Photo of friends talking courtesy of Shutterstock.