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Why you should interview your personal friends when they apply at your company

I am not going to interview my friend!

You just referred a friend of yours to apply for a job at your company

  • Friend comes in for an interview and your manager likes your referral
  • Hiring manager asks you to personally interview your friend
  • You respond with “I can’t interview them, I know them personally”

The job market is tough for employers here in Seattle and many other towns. Too many tech jobs and not enough technologists. At last count, Seattle as a city had over 60 cranes erecting office towers. This is the highest number of cranes per city in the United States. Consequently, employers are asking for employee referrals and increasing their referral bonuses. Over the last few months, I have heard or witnessed the above scenario several times both internally and externally.

An HRNasty vent sesh

Disclaimer: I am in a bit of a mood this evening so if you were looking for some Positive Mental Attitude, you may want to come back when you are ready for a dose of reality.

I totally understand that we want to work with our friends. I understand that the referral bonuses around the holiday season are not to be sneezed at. Who wouldn’t want a couple of extra hundies or a couple of $K’s to help with the holiday bills? Nicer holiday presents for my friends?  F*%# no! I am thinking about bottle service in Vegas behind the velvet rope! 

When we are asked to interview our friends, we need to step the frick up. Uhhhh, sorry. I mean, we should rethink how our actions are interpreted. 

Let me break this down HRNasty style

  • You want to help our friends by offering them an opportunity to work with us.
  • We want to help our company by referring a great candidate.
  • Who doesn’t want to work with friends?

But we don’t want to interview the person we referred? WTF people?

For those of you who are doubting that friends should interview friends, it happens and regardless of whether it is right or wrong, our reaction is what will be judged. Execs with extensive networks are asked to interview colleagues all the time. They don’t scream about it hysterically.

Career Limiting Move

Hmmm, I never understood this. I have witnessed near-violent reactions when employees are asked to interview a friend or casual acquaintance and it’s never pretty from this side of the fence. OK, maybe not violent, but definitely overly dramatic. Incredulous faces, jazz hands, and unbeknownst to the declining interviewer, a CLM. AKA, Career Limiting Move.


“I can’t interview this candidate, I referred them!”

HRNasty breaks it down

The above statement with the squeezed brow indicates:

This person isn’t mature enough to interview a friend or someone they know.

This translates to:

This person isn’t mature enough to be a manager because generally speaking when we are being promoted to manager, we are managing people we know. As managers, when we interview internal transfer candidates, we will probably know that fellow employee.

I realize that there is some, If A = B and B = C than A= C high school math going on here, but it is the logical conclusion.

My question is, why would interviewing a friend or a referred candidate be any different from interviewing someone we do not know?

What your manager hears

  • I AM going to have a bias = I can’t make a decision with less than perfectly neutral conditions
  • I wouldn’t know what to ask them = I have no imagination when it comes to solving problems
  • It will be uncomfortable for me, the candidate or both of us = I am not comfortable with myself enough to conduct an interview and don’t have the confidence to make the candidates comfortable.
  • It wouldn’t be fair to the candidate = because I am not able to give a FAIR interview.

Yes, it would be understandable that you would have a bias, but if we go into the interview with that understanding, we should be able to prove that despite the bias, we can make rational business decisions. 

The Excuses

“I wouldn’t know what to ask them.”

This is one of the dumbest answers that someone could come up with. It insinuates they just jumped to conclusions and haven’t thought this through.

If we were to think about interview questions for just 5 seconds, we would conclude that we should ask the same questions we ask the other candidates. EG:

  • “Why do you want to work at Acme Publishing?”
  • “When was the last time you demonstrated amazing customer service?” 
  • “What do you know about Acme Publishing?”

Pretty straightforward. Ask the question, write down the answer, compare other candidate answers and make an informed decision. 

The Spiel

Would you be uncomfortable? Hmmm, let’s think about this one. Maybe, but what if we were to say something like the following to our candidate:

“Hey Brother, I know we have known each other for 10 plus years, but this is an interview and we are asking these questions so that BOTH of us can make the best decision. We obviously want to ask you some specific business questions and we hope you have interview questions for us. We want to find the right fit. Just because I like it here, doesn’t mean that you are going to like it here and we want to give you the opportunity to be sure about your decision.

An extra 5 seconds and said with a straight face, your friend will realize you are lookin’ out. 

interview friends

Yeah, you might as well wave a flag and let everyone know where you stand

Executives refer friends and interview colleagues they know. They write-up notes, they are diplomatic and they understand that they should be neutral. They don’t say yes to every candidate and that is OK. It is their maturity that gives them this ability. The lack of maturity is a huge flag and declining an interview is the equivalent of us waving our teams colors at a soccer/football match. Remember that theorem I ran by you earlier? If A = B and B= C, then A = C. Connecting the dots now?

The baller example

I have a colleague I work with who just referred a friend of his. My colleague is a rock. Not just scrappy, he is determined with a serious work ethic. He immigrated here from a war-torn country and is the quiet leader type. My boy doesn’t say much, but when he does, you know you can believe it. He is not a manager (yet), he is an individual contributor.  

I set up the interview loop and without a second thought scheduled him to interview his friend. When folks saw the interview scheduled, I received a few questions of doubt. None of the questions came from him.

I just asked the haters, uhhh, I mean doubters a few questions:

  • Is he going to give away the answers?
  • Is he going to go easy on the candidates?
  • Do you think he will give a thumbs up if he doesn’t believe the candidate will succeed?

Interview Reality

No one could even see this guy cutting corners. They had the utmost confidence in him.

Turned out, he was the hardest and the most serious of the interviewers. I think it was part work ethic and part “I am putting my reputation on the line for this guy so I want to make sure he doesn’t fuck it up”.  

Who is going to back you up when you are out of the office. If this person doesn’t perform, you and your team members are going to have to pick up the slack. Why wouldn’t we want to be part of this decision process?

Let’s say your department has an opening. You have interviewed 3 candidates and then you realize you “know a guy” that is qualified. Your manager looks at your referral’s resume and asks to have him brought in for an interview.

If we respond with “I can’t interview my buddy”, interviewing only 3 of the 4 candidates makes it very difficult for you to be part of the final decision-making process. We just took ourselves out of the loop and potentially upset the feedback process.

Next time you are asked to interview someone you know, take it seriously and look out for your team by being part of the solution to find the best candidate.  


Vent sesh’ over,


nasty: an unreal maneuver of incredible technique, something that is ridiculously good, tricky and manipulative but with a result that can’t help but be admired, a phrase used to describe someone who is good at something. “He has a nasty forkball”.

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