how to hire when you know an applicant personally

A reader writes:

I have an opening on my team, and a person I know is asking questions about it and seems like she might apply. If she applies, she will likely be deemed qualified and will be in the interview pool. I saw a post that warned against hiring a friend, but this woman isn’t someone who is a close friend or who I see very regularly socially.

On side and related notes, I’m quietly looking for a new job and hope to move to something different in the next six months, if not sooner. (I plan get us through this current transition and then let my bosses know that I’m starting to look — staff changes are a big deal because we’re a tiny company.) Also, we’re a small company so we’re actually hoping to hire someone who is a known quantity — we’re a very informal place, so knowing we like someone personally is a bonus.

So, my questions:

How do you deal with interviewing someone you know and letting them know they didn’t get a job? Is it better to discourage them from applying in the first place?

If my friend is the best candidate, and since I’m hoping to leave soon, does the “don’t hire a friend” rule maybe not apply?

Anything else I’m not thinking of but should?

It’s certainly easier to manage a not-very-close friend than a close friend … although it still can be pretty damn difficult. But if your friend is the best candidate and you’re willing to take on the (often dreadful) burden of managing a friend, you could consider it. Before you consider hiring her, though, you should ask yourself:  Will you be able to give her objective feedback? What if that feedback is tough or awkward? If she doesn’t like your management style, are you willing to deal with her complaining about you to mutual friends? Could you fire her if you needed to? Could you lay her off? Could you lay her off if you knew that her husband had recently lost his job too? Are you willing to sacrifice the friendship if doing your job well ends up resulting in that? If you answer “no” to any of these, you owe it to your organization to pass — and to your friend to let her know that you feel obligated to pass because you couldn’t manage her objectively.

And yes, I know you plan to leave soon, but plans change — jobs take longer to find than people anticipate and other factors can get in the way. It’s possible that you could end up managing her for a year or even years.

On your other question:  If she applies and doesn’t get the job, I’d just be straightforward:  ”Jane, thanks so much for throwing your hat in the ring for this. Everyone here was impressed by your background and your accomplishments, but ultimately we decided it wasn’t quite the fit we’re looking for / ultimately we decided to go with a candidate with more experience in ___ / ultimately we ended up going with another candidate.”

Good luck!

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