If you’re currently hiring a new staff member at your organization, you probably have a few people in your network who are eagerly asking about the opportunity. So, in that situation, should you give an advantage to someone you know, or is it best to steer clear?
On one hand, hiring a friend may strengthen both the organization and your relationship with the individual. Unfortunately, this won’t always be the case, and you may not find out until it’s too late.
Here are some things to consider before bringing a friend in for an interview.
Reasons to consider a friend for a job
Expertise. If your friend has the exact skill set you’re searching for, they could genuinely be the best candidate, but since it may be hard for you to be an impartial judge, find a second opinion. Get a qualified person who doesn’t know the applicant to assess their materials and if they see a solid performance record and great potential, you’re on the right track.
Personality. You know the potential hire and you know your organizational culture. This means you have insider knowledge about whether they would be a fit. Do their interests, goals, and values sync up with the job’s mission? Could they provide a valuable perspective? Would they find opportunities for growth and career satisfaction? Does their work ethic and style match your organization’s expectations? A “yes” to all or most of these questions means you might have a match.
Reasons to avoid hiring a friend
Your relationship will change. Once you work with a friend, the dynamic between the two of you will shift in ways you may not expect. These changes may be positive; you and your friend could grow to admire and respect each other even more than you already do. But there’s always a chance that your organization’s needs may clash with the needs of your friendship. And of course, if you recommend someone you know to be under-qualified, you’ll eventually have to take responsibility for that decision.
The changes will be even greater if you directly supervise your friend. The new relationship can be a shock to both of you if you’re used to interacting on more equal terms. Are you comfortable giving instructions, making decisions, and offering feedback to your friend the way you would with any other employee? Will they be able to take critique and defer to your leadership when necessary? Only proceed if you’re confident that the answer to both questions is “yes.”
If you are worried about this dynamic, take those concerns seriously. Consider how you and the potential hire deal with conflict; maybe one of you avoids confrontation while the other is more upfront, or one of you is more likely to give in during an argument. The way you relate to each other and handle challenges in your personal life will impact your workplace behavior. If you two already have trouble resolving disagreements, working together might cause more problems.
You’re not willing to say no. Follow this rule of thumb: Don’t consider a friend for a job if you aren’t comfortable turning them down. A good working relationship involves setting boundaries and being willing to say—and hear—a "no." If you can say no to making plans with someone or doing them a favor, and they respect your choice, they’re more likely to respond diplomatically to work-related rejection. They’ll also be more willing to respect limits in a work setting.
It may be tempting to offer someone a chance just because you know they need a job. While there are ways you can help a friend who’s seeking work, don’t steer them into a situation that you’re fairly certain won’t work out.
Giving a friend a chance? How to proceed
If you’ve decided someone you know would be a great fit, it’s important that you keep the hiring process fair and unbiased. Your friend should go through the same application process as other candidates and their interview should involve the same questions you ask others.
You’ll also find it helpful to define exactly what skills the ideal candidate will bring to the table. So be sure that the job description lists the clear, quantifiable competencies you’re looking for, such as familiarity with a particular software program, experience working with a specific population, or strong educational background. The more measurable the skills are, the easier it will be for you to make an objective decision about who’s right for the job.
Make sure the candidate gets a chance to consider how they’ll react if the two of you disagree or if you have to monitor their performance. Ask about this directly in the interview; encourage them to answer honestly and not to simply give you the response they think you want to hear. They may genuinely have no problem with your transition from friend to supervisor, or they may have questions about how much of their work you’ll manage. This is a good time for both of you to consider any potential issues before they arise at work.
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Amy Bergen is a writer based in Portland, Maine. She has experience in the social impact space in Baltimore, Maryland, the educational museum sphere in Columbus, Ohio, and the literary world of New York City.