When Do You Recommend with Reservations?


The email from the prospective applicant family asked my thoughts regarding my son’s grade school.

It could have just as easily been about a place to work or somebody referencing an employee.

It brought to mind a simple question.

When do you shift from “highly recommend” to a more nuanced “recommend with reservations?

Just as the most qualified candidate may not be the best candidate for a job (“He had lots of great skills and experiences. Too bad he didn’t that extra dose of tolerance for the jerks with whom he worked.”), figuring out where to work, who to hire, or even where to send your kid to school can be fraught with challenges.

When I think of the perfect job for somebody it’s a sweet spot intersection between best company cultural fit, best place to deploy their technical skills, and best interpersonal fit with boss, direct reports, colleagues and what the person wants to do in work and life. Change one of those factors appreciably and that “best fit” candidate looks like someone who will change jobs soon – even if they don’t always know it.

Recommending a best place to work implies that you have a good bead on the talent, interests, and roll-of-the-dice outcomes when somebody joins a firm.  While I’m an unabashed Apple fan, I suspect it’s a bad place for some people to work: too much perseverance, stamina, and work passion for those who want the tidy 9-5 job with an absence of extra work and unanticipated urgency.

My son’s grade school does many, many, many things very well. Faculty and staff have been terrific, and most administrators have been great. It’s often that I think that my son, the only boy in the school with two dads, is thriving.

Is it perfect? No. Do I think it’s for everyone? No. Do I lack confidence that it will still be a good school for him when puberty kicks in within a couple of years – and when issues about masculinity pike up? Yes.

But like that job candidate who would be a great hire for many, but not all employers, I can strongly recommend the place. Just with reservations.


Life Back West is an occasional set of writings focused on ways people, teams and organizations can be both more effective (doing the right thing) and more efficient (doing the right thing well). More about executive, career and team / leadership coaching services can be found at the “About J. Mike Smith and Back West, Inc.” sidebar or the “Hire Me” tab above. You can also read an online interview with me at WhoHub, as well as participate in my learning community courtesy of KnowledgeCrush.

Chick-fil-A photo credit: Wikipedia

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