What to do when the candidate in the interview room is your friend

You know their favourite café and how they take their coffee. In fact, last week you did your bit in supporting the local hospitality scene by catching up with your friend over a couple of caffeinated beverages. Now your friend (or someone you know) is sat across the table being interviewed for the job of their dreams, and things are about to get awkward. Or are they?

Kirsty McLaren and Nikki Walshaw, joint directors and owners of McLaren Associates – the winner of the 2015 SEEK Annual Recruitment Award (SARAs) for Small Recruitment Agency of the Year – share their tips for keeping things professional and getting the best candidate for every job, every time – without losing friends.

1. Make sure your panel includes independent voices

Including panelists from outside your direct sphere of influence shows you’re serious about getting an impartial assessment of each candidate. It will also help to ensure that any biases or preconceived ideas about the suitability of your friend don’t lead you down a path of asking questions (consciously or subconsciously) that are designed to confirm the bias.

Independent panel members can add a new perspective to your assessment of the candidate.  They may bring new ways of thinking and can add an objective opinion on the candidate’s fit with the organisation. An advisory board member, business partner, trusted supplier or highly recommended recruitment consultant can all make for excellent fellow panelists.


2. Inform everyone involved and assure them of your impartiality

Inform the rest of panel of the relationship as soon as you can. Ask them if they have any concerns, or if there is anything you can do to reassure them of your impartiality. Assure them that you will be consistent in your approach to all candidates.

You can demonstrate this by using an interview technique like the STAR approach, which McLaren Associates uses. STAR stands for situation, task, action and results, and creates a level playing field for candidates by keeping the conversation focused on achievements they can actually demonstrate. Asking everyone on the panel to use the STAR technique should mean the panel has consistent notes that can be compared afterwards to show you’re all on the same ‘page’. Those notes should point to the strongest candidate – and if it’s your friend, having them on file is valuable proof that you weren’t biased.

It’s also only fair to tell the interviewee so they aren’t put at a disadvantage by being surprised. Be clear that it’s a professional encounter and it’s your job to treat everyone equally.



3. Don’t excuse yourself from the interview

Trust in your own professionalism, the experience and thorough preparation of your panel and the impartial nature of your interview technique. Your opinion is valid for every candidate, and it is critical to a fair and transparent interview process that each candidate faces the same panel. If you’re not at one of the interviews, you bias the process even more by guaranteeing that your friend has a different experience.



4. Be guided by the other panelists’ views

If you’re still worried about creating a bias when debriefing following the interview, let the other panelist/s have their say first, and listen carefully. Even with the best preparation and notes in the world you might include an assumption or knowledge about your friend at the debrief that was not in their CV or brought up at interview.

Sitting back and observing the conversation between the other panelists can help you focus on the facts at hand, not the information at the back of your mind. Your friend should not get extra credit for something they haven’t demonstrated to the panel. If in any doubt, bow to the judgment of the other panelists.



Submissions for the 2016 SEEK Annual Recruitment Awards (SARAs) will open 9 June 2016.


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Nikki Walshaw

McLaren Associates


Nikki Walshaw has been with McLaren Associates since 2011. Together with Kirsty McLaren, she manages day to day operations, and provides a wide range of HR consulting services to her clients and recruits across all industry sectors for roles up to...

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