Staying Professional With People You Know
Alina is sorting through applications for a job on her team when she realizes that Gary, a good friend from another department, has applied. Just as she’s wondering how to respond, Gary calls and asks her to “put in a good word” for him.
Alina feels conflicted. She doesn’t want to give her friend false hope, or disadvantage the other candidates. She’s also keen to avoid any potential accusations of favoritism from other team members.
In this article, we explore the benefits and pitfalls of interviewing a friend, and look at seven tips for doing so that protect your relationship and your integrity.
The Pros and Cons of Interviewing a Friend
Interviewing someone who you know well – a friend, an old colleague or a family member, for instance – brings with it a unique set of challenges. For example, his or her behavior and comments during the interview could reflect well or badly on you.
Also, you need to interview objectively, but the pressure of “doing the right thing” could lead you to overcompensate for his weaknesses or to downplay his strengths, unfairly disadvantaging or boosting his chances of success.
If you do hire a friend this could lead to other potential problems. For example, your team members may feel she was hired simply because she knows you well. Also, there may be speculation or rumor that you offered her a higher salary, as research shows can happen when friends hire friends.
Interview your friend in the right way, however, and it could be a fantastic win–win situation. For example, the interview itself will likely be a more relaxed experience, allowing you and your friend to both perform at their best.
If you then hire your friend after a process that was transparent and fair, you’ll have a supportive, competent new team member who fits the role and your organization.
7 Tips for Interviewing a Friend
Let’s look at seven tips for interviewing a friend fairly and successfully.
Remember, your focus must be on giving every candidate a fair and equal chance. Always act ethically and legally in your recruitment process.
1. Declare the Nature of Your Relationship
When you discover that you’ll be interviewing someone who you know, speak up. Tell your human resources department, and seek legal advice if appropriate.
In some situations, interviewing a friend could be seen as a significant conflict of interest, or may not even be permitted by your organization.
Be honest about how you know him, how long you’ve been friends, and how close your relationship is.
2. Decide Whether to Participate
The demands of work and friendship can be contradictory (consider the possible awkwardness of having to manage – and perhaps discipline – your friend). So, it may be wise to step aside if you have any doubt about your ability to remain balanced and impartial during the interviewing process.
If you do choose to be involved in the interview, don’t conduct it alone. Ask a colleague to attend, as well as a HR representative (if one is available), to ensure an impartial viewpoint.
If you walk into the interview room and realize that you know the interviewee, take a moment to think about the situation, and decide how you want to proceed. If possible, remove yourself from the interview for a few minutes and discuss the situation with a member of HR or a colleague.
3. Establish Boundaries
At the start of the interview, explain what will happen during the recruitment process, what your role will be, how interviewees will be scored and assessed, and who will make the final decision.
Stating this information upfront makes everyone aware of the work-placed boundaries and their respective responsibilities. This will help keep the process objective and fair.
4. Examine Your Biases
It’s crucial to avoid bias in interviews, so evaluate your own beliefs, and keep a critical watch on your comments and decisions during the interview. If in doubt, always seek a second opinion.
For example, you might “just know” that your friend would be perfect for the role, even though she has never worked in your industry before. Hence, you overlook her weaknesses and hire her.
Or, your friend may have great potential but you focus on her poor timekeeping outside of work and dismiss her chances before the interview even begins.
Openly acknowledge the unusual circumstances at the start of the interview, as it’s likely to be unfamiliar (and perhaps uncomfortable) for everyone involved. Doing so will likely reduce tension and avoid a possible unfair evaluation of your friend.
5. Consider the Ethical Dilemmas
Interviewing someone you already have a relationship with can present some ethical dilemmas. For instance, your friend could say something that you know is untrue – do you speak up? Or, if he fails to mention something positive about his work history, should you say something on his behalf?
So, consider in advance how you would act if an ethical dilemma were to arise. Our article, How to Be Ethical at Work can help.
6. Remember the Long-Term Objectives
Just as you would for any other interview, remember what tasks the interviewee will need to fulfill, and why you’re hiring for the role in the first place. What do you want that person to achieve?
Yes, working with a friend could be great (for example, you’ll have things in common and an established rapport), but can that person really help you to meet your team’s and organization’s longer-term objectives?
Writing a robust job description – with clear competency and objectives criteria for the role – will help you to focus on what matters most in the interview.
Familiarizing yourself with your organization’s mission and goals, too, will also help you to interview objectively, and fully focus on what any potential employee needs to offer.
7. Plan for the Outcome
If your friend is successful, you need to ensure that she is treated fairly by you and other team members upon appointment. It may help to create a positive narrative about your incoming friend, to counter any suspicions of favoritism.
Explain that you will assess your friend by the same measures and reviews as everyone else. Team dynamics can be affected by sensitive situations like this, so watch out for danger signs of disengagement, or even bullying or harassment.
You also need to be prepared to tell your friend that they didn’t get the job. Our article on Delivering Bad News can help you to approach this difficult conversation with tact.
Passing on this news can be hard on both of you, so be sure to offer kind but constructive feedback on their performance, and to remind them that it’s nothing personal.
Interviewing a friend for a job comes with particular risks. For example, the “weirdness” of the situation could cause tension and even derail the interview. However, the potential “wins” of interviewing a friend make it a challenge worth tackling.
When interviewing a friend, declare the nature of your relationship immediately.
Decide whether to even participate in the process. It may be wise to step aside if you have any doubt about your ability to remain impartial.
Establish boundaries, and explain what will happen during the recruitment process and who will make the final decision.
Examine your biases and if in doubt, always seek a second opinion.
Consider in advance how you would act if an ethical dilemma were to arise.
Remember your long-term objectives and keep in mind what tasks the interviewee will need to fulfill.
If your friend is successful, create a positive narrative about her, to counter any suspicions of favoritism.
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