It will happen to every interviewer, eventually–whether by choice or by accident, but sooner or later, you will interview someone you know. It can put you in somewhat of a taxing situation, depending on how well you know the person, but what can you do–more overly, what should you do?
Navigating an interview process is already tough enough, but interviewing someone you know can add on new pressures. First, there’s your personal relationship at stake with the individual. Second, you have to uphold the integrity of the interview process and avoid letting your personal bias affect your hiring decision.
In addition to these, there can be some discomfort or even tension during the process that can become more complicated if the person is not hired.
You have several paths you can take. But the safest path is to ask another interviewer to step in. If you already know the person is coming in as a candidate, arrange for another person to be involved in the interview process.
If possible, also have them sit in on any other candidate interviews at this stage of the process to help you soundly evaluate the interviewers against one and other.
It is okay to sit in on the interview, but take a few minutes to explain to your friend or acquaintance that you want to ensure a professional process and also allow them a chance to learn more about the opportunity from another individual so you are not swaying their decision, either.
Make the situation comfortable for you both, so they don’t feel off-put or that something is wrong and can feel confident moving forward with the new interviewer.
There are often times, however, where the situation takes us by surprise, we sit down across from a candidate, and there is instant recognition from one or the other, or both of you, that you know each other.
And it can happen when you least expect it. (It has happened to this writer on several occasions while recruiting for client companies, on location hundreds of miles from home!) Don’t let it throw you off guard. You have a process to run. Acknowledge the bond, but remember to get the interview back on track in a professional manner.
If you are at all uncomfortable or feel the candidate might feel they have an advantage or might hold a grudge should they not be hired, again, feel free to step out to find someone else available to sit in on the interview or conduct it.
Sometimes a job seeker with a personal connection may continue to try and bring up that connection or old stories you share. When this happens, politely acknowledge it, and perhaps suggest that the two of you schedule a separate time to catch up outside of the interview for coffee.
Hopefully this will send them the signal that you mean business right now, but that you do respect your relationship. If they don’t get the signal, you could already have a potential red flag regarding their professionalism.
Always feel free to be honest with a candidate in a positive way, that you want them to have the best shot at the position, and if need be, state that you want their merits to resonate with others in the company rather than for your colleagues to assume your praise is biased because of your connection.
If another person is not available to conduct the interview, it is okay to have a substitute colleague sit in to observe which may make you feel more comfortable, and help protect you from any issues that could arise due to your personal knowledge of the candidate.
Remember too, that involving others isn’t just about providing a fair interview experience for the job seeker, it’s also about protecting your integrity as an interviewer or hiring manager.
Even if you know the person well and you may have recommended them for the position, another set of eyes and ears may spot potential red flags you don’t see through your friend goggles.
And when no one is available or you may be operating a one-man show, keep to your process. Stick to your same questions that you ask every candidate, regardless of how awkward it may feel. This is still a job interview and (hopefully) your acquaintance will understand this.
Interviewing someone you know will happen eventually, and when it does, you are in control of the situation (even if this person may have been a superior to you or a respected family friend.) Your goal is still to make the best hiring decision for your organization, so do whatever it takes to handle the situation with poise and professionalism.
How have you handled interviewing someone you know? Has this ever caused sticky situations or problems personally or professionally for you?