Being asked to be a workplace reference is an honour. After all, that job seeker is putting her future career prospects in your hands. This means what you say could make the difference between your co-worker getting the job— or not.

Before you say ‘yes’ to a colleague’s request, there are some things to consider. Even when you like your colleague, know she work hard, that she’s easy to get along with and punctual, you still may not be the best person to describe how she works.

Angela Payne, SVP and General Manager at the job search website, says being a workplace reference is a huge responsibility and you should know how to handle specific questions such as, what particular tasks the person did and, how well she handled challenging work projects.

If you can’t be specific, you should decline because vague answers from a reference may send the signal the job seeker is not very good at her job.

“If asks you to be a reference and you know you cannot give the best answers, you should probably tell the person you are probably not the best reference person for them,” says Payne.

Cissy Pau is with Clear HR consulting based out of Vancouver. Part of her job is a checking a potential employee’s references for her corporate clients. When she calls a work reference, she knows what she wants to hear.

“I would normally interview the reference almost the same way I would interview the candidate,” Pau says.

Pau says she is looking for detailed answers.

“I want to get some real examples of a candidate’s work experience. Getting some insight into their strengths and weaknesses,” Pau says.

She agrees that if a reference gives vague answers, or even worse comes off as being dishonest, it can hurt the potential hire’s prospects.

Pau’s advice to anyone asked to be a workplace reference is to make sure you’re someone who worked directly with the person such as a current or former manager.

She also recommends a job seeker prepare the reference by letting him or her know the job she is applying for, the company, and the particular skills she’s like highlighted.

“Organisations may outsource the referencing job to a third-party provider and, the outside consultant often asks very detailed questions. Sometimes they may send a questionnaire and next thing you know you’ll get two or three pages to fill out,” says Payne.

It’s within your right to decline doing this and, instead, offer a 10-minute call, she says. And, if you don’t have the answers to some of the questions, simply say so.

If you decide you can’t be a reference, let your friend or colleague down gently. Just explain you wouldn’t know the answers to all the questions, and you would not want to hurt their job prospects.

Rubina is a freelance journalist and personal finance expert. She works for several media outlets including CBC Radio and Television, Global News Radio and Global News Toronto. She also has a long-running finance column with Homes Publishing Group. You can follow her on Twitter @alwayssavemoney