They say your network is your net worth, and that's a good rule, but with one notable exception: Don't hire a friend. Or, for that matter, a friend of a friend. The problem with this is twofold, and it is dangerous.

Here's how to mine your network for valuable connections without being swayed unduly into a bad hiring decision.

Take off the rose-colored glasses.

You presumably have a good relationship with the friend you have in common with your prospective hire. That positive association unconsciously primes you to like and trust this third party, before you even consider hard evidence as to whether he or she will be a good fit for your company. This can lead you to overlook potential red flags that would otherwise call into question this person's qualifications. I once made this mistake myself in hiring a friend of a friend. I took certain things for granted with my new hire because of the casual acquaintance relationship that was already in place. Had I been totally objective and dug deeper in terms of references, I would have uncovered some personality traits that were difficult to reconcile and failures where this person had claimed success.

Don't assume that friendly relationships can serve as proxies for vetted experience or professional references. It's a classic example of confirmation bias: We see what we expect to see. Getting a professional recommendation from a colleague or someone in your network is one thing, but when there is an added layer of friendliness to the connection, you inevitably look upon that person more favorably.

No entrepreneur is immune to this, so you must always ask yourself a few key questions, simply as a reality check. Am I viewing this person in a truly objective light? Have I looked at her background clearly and thoroughly? What would I think of this resume if I didn't know the person who passed it to me?

Create a standardized system.

If you do hire a friend or a friend of a friend, the personal dimension of the relationship can lead to unique issues. Personal relationships can be unpredictable. Business relationships have an entirely different set of boundaries, so when you merge the two it does not always work well. Not everyone can navigate that with an accurate understanding of what is appropriate. For instance, the person I hired suggested coming to my home to pick up work materials. We may have been peers outside of work, but the professional setting is different. I took for granted that was mutually understood. Another potential snag is that an employee can be disruptive, or even act out because they think they are in with the boss.

Especially for an entrepreneur who is just starting a major hiring push or in the early stages of growing their core team, you must standardize your system. Every candidate must be vetted through the same steps. Don't shortcut the process for a friend. This must remain true throughout the hiring process as well as when a friendly acquaintance does come on board.

Hiring is always a blend of art and science. To some degree, the hiring process early on may be somewhat organic. Be sure you have the proper guardrails in place to stay on track for growth and success.

Published on: Jan 9, 2015