A proper place for partiality?
January 28, 2009 9:10 AM   Subscribe

Prof-filter A friend of mine has got an interview for a job with the company I work for. I may be leading the interviews; what should I do and who do I tell?

I have told my superiors that I know him and I consider him an ideal applicant; they have no problem with my involvement in the application process. My recommendation, they have said, makes a strong case for him.

However, I am not sure whether I should be one of the interviewers (I am the obvious choice from my department) but I am, undeniably 'biased'. I hope this is because I know his skills and what he is capable of, but there are also more personal judgements; I feel that he will fit into the team and could, long term, be a big asset to the company. Fundamentally; he's skilled and I like him.

I'm not sure what I would bring to the interview, but then having him interviewed by anyone else would certainly result in bias, probably to his detriment.

If I do interview then should I tell my two fellow interviewers that I know him? Would this just introduce more bias?

Help me please Mefi's! I want to ensure a balanced appraisal process were my own opinions can be expressed but do not dominate. Also, this has to be impecable; I do not want to leave myself open to alegations of (improper) partiality!
posted by BadMiker to Work & Money (12 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
I would recuse myself from the interview panel. You have a conflict of interest in this situation; in addition, recusal removes any room for allegations of impropriety or favouritism on your part. The other interviewers shouldn't be biased against your friend--they'll be much more objective than you might be. Reiterate to your boss why you think your friend would do well at your company, and trust your boss and the other interviewers to make the best final decision.
Also, if your friend were hired with you on the panel, he may be received with resentment and/or suspicion by your co-workers, and could feel that he continually has to prove that he was hired on his own merits rather than because of who he knows.
posted by catwoman429 at 9:18 AM on January 28, 2009 [1 favorite]

I don't know how your interview process works, but if it were me, I'd come up with a list of interview questions that I would ask anyone. I would make notes about the answers and give my notes to someone unbiased for consideration. Your superiors have trusted you with this, but you have valid reasons for being concerned. The happy medium here is to do what you've been entrusted to do but have someone else validate. Additionally - you are not a tool for referring to them as your superiors. That's a pretty common term in the workforce, and nobody really thinks it means they're your "betters." Except tools.
posted by katillathehun at 9:26 AM on January 28, 2009 [1 favorite]

When I've been in this position in the past, I told the other folks on the interview panel the situation and had them lead most of the questions/topics in the panel. If there wasn't someone from my group other than me, I brought someone in and had them be my proxy. I usually stayed in the room (kicking things off and wrapping it up - company/position description, introductions, etc) and used it as an opportunity to see how my report(s) were handling the interviewing, and so that when they discussed him as a candidate I could clarify anything. It's tricky because you can't answer for your friend ("Hey, Joe, you should talk about how you handled X for Company B" or worse, "Of course, Joe did X at Company B, too."), but if the panel flags, you can introduce general topics to get things started ("Joe, could you talk about you responsibilities at Company C?") again.

Then, when you are doing your debrief after the interview, let the members of the panel talk first before you say anything other than "So what did you think?". They may have some concerns or questions ("He seems like a good fit, but I wonder about his experience with X") that you may be able to answer. You may not. You can't make them like them. You can resolve some questions, but some issues and concerns can't be resolved. It really sucks when the panel rejects one of your friends or acquaintances. Document all reactions, and pass your group recommendation onto the hiring authority. (Remember: you have to work with these people in the future). Adding your own recommendation at this point ("As you know, I worked with Bill at a previous employer, and he was a dedicated, talented X with a strong product focus.") can help, but not if you have to say "The team thinks he's a bad fit for the team, and is not well suited for the work."
posted by julen at 10:04 AM on January 28, 2009

Have you spoken to your HR department (if you have one) about this? If not, that would be my first stop- it's their job to help you sort out situations like this.

PS. Remember that NOBODY is superior to you...but they can supervise you. BIG DIFFERENCE.

"Superior" is a perfectly correct word to use there. Your supervisors are superior to you on the org chart.
posted by mkultra at 10:10 AM on January 28, 2009

You probably want someone else there, either by completely "recusing" yourself, or by requesting a peer to lead the interview to give you a second opinion and some outside perspective. I would let your coworker know that it's okay to ask tough questions and that you sincerely want to make sure you're not seeing your friend through rosy glasses.

Your role in the interview can then be less of "the decider" and more like the host trying to start a conversation at a party ("bob, jane's looking to learn surfing. You surf, right?"). You can get him to talk about the reasons you think his skills match the job's needs, helping him make the best sales pitch possible. ("This job really needs someone with a lot of technical background. Do you want to talk about your research at Stanford?" or "One thing I know about you from our conversations over the years, Bob, is that you've essentially rescued several projects from hopeless chaos. Do you want to talk about what happened?")

Otherwise, what hal_c_on said. Just hire him and take responsibility for whether it goes well or poorly.
posted by salvia at 10:11 AM on January 28, 2009

Yeah, just to back up salvia, I think what you need to do is:

1. Take total responsibility for hiring or not hiring this friend. This is more of an internal issue where you need to get comfortable with the decision you choose.

2. Take yourself out of this picture by telling HR that you don't feel comfortable being in this position although your supervisor thinks its ok. Thats more of an external issue.

Like mkultra says, HR should ALWAYS be your first stop whenever you have questions like this.

Not to be a total bastard, but if there is a SUPERIOR at work, there is also an INFERIOR. If you have a superior, guess who the inferior is?
posted by hal_c_on at 11:41 AM on January 28, 2009

Dude, the fact that you know this person and know him to be well qualified and a good fit for the position is exactly the reason that you should be interviewing him. You want to be biased as hell in favor of getting this person on board so that you can work with the people you want to work with. "He's skilled and I like him" is all the reason you need to bring the person on board. You do not have to apologize for this; you are doing the company a solid in urging them to bring this cat onboard. Do it do it do it!
posted by Mister_A at 11:49 AM on January 28, 2009

Oh, and of course you should let everyone know that you know this person. Duh. And then you should work hard to get him hired. If he's got the chops, the fact that you have a relationship is not a negative, it's a big plus–unless your überlords think you're a dick.
posted by Mister_A at 11:55 AM on January 28, 2009

One of the methods I've seen employed is that the person who knows the interviewee steps out for that interview but remains part of the process for all the others. However, if your organisational structure permits it, and you think you can be impartial, why not be part of it? If another candidate presents that appears to be better skilled than your friend, hire them. Also, I've recommended friends that I've worked with, and for some reason, they have melt-downs, despite being totally professional previously. I suspect that reflects on my judgement.
posted by b33j at 12:56 PM on January 28, 2009

You are the only one in the process who really knows the guy, and your company knows that. They will depend on you to offer the deepest insight. Also, you probably are the only one in the company that your friend feels he can trust to tell the whole truth about the position. Everyone will praise you if he's great for the position and the position is great for him, but maybe everyone will blame you he turns out to be a bad fit, so be entirely honest to everyone involved and tell the same story (the truth as you see it) to both sides.
posted by pracowity at 1:50 PM on January 28, 2009

Thank you all for your advice. It has been very thought provoking, there's a wide range of opinions; it's helped focus my thoughts. In this case I think I need to conduct things impeccably, trust in my friends abilty and in my colleagues judgement. By standing back I can be more effective.

Hal_c _on, thanks, but you must recognise that there are people who are superior to you, even if you dislike being inferior.
posted by BadMiker at 2:38 PM on January 28, 2009

hal_c_on: Not to be a total bastard, but if there is a SUPERIOR at work, there is also an INFERIOR. If you have a superior, guess who the inferior is?

Actually, the correct term in this case is "subordinate".

posted by mkultra at 12:10 PM on January 29, 2009

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