My question is related to Conflict of Interest at interview?, but from the other side of the interview process.

Here are situations I have been in:

  1. I was asked to interview a person I knew.
  2. I was asked to interview a friend of mine, whom I actually recommended.
  3. We had a head hunting going on with the incentive that if a person you refer gets hired you receive ~50% of the monthly salary as a bonus. I recommended a guy I knew, but HR messed up with scheduling interviews and I was the only available developer at the time he came for interview. I had to interview him and it was awkward. He failed the coding test later.

I think in all 3 cases it was unethical for me to interview the candidate. In cases 2 and 3 I was obviously personally interested in the candidate succeeding. How should I reply to HR politely to refuse interviewing such candidates?

  • @JoeStrazzere in case 3 there was basically nothing to do. Either they had to tell the guy to leave because there was nobody to interview him. They were so embarrassed that they were fine with me interviewing him. Luckily I didn't know him that well, so I managed to keep the distance and interview actually went fine. In other cases this was just a honest mistake, they probably forgot my reference. But yes, it was somewhere in their mail.
    – Andrey
    Apr 2, 2014 at 14:49
  • 6
    I would write HR and request to recuse myself on the ground of the obvious conflict of interest. Ditto with my boss. If the boss and HR still insist that I go through with the process, I'll treat it as an objection override, I'll do what they ask me and be as objective about it as I can. Apr 2, 2014 at 15:54
  • 1
    I would write them now (if you have not already done so) asking them to clean up their procedures because too many things go wrong - cite these 3 examples.
    – user8036
    Apr 11, 2014 at 11:07
  • (double) conflict of interest when interviewing, by far one of the best/important/relevant subjects that can be discussed on this SE site :) . Awesome question. Sep 5, 2014 at 13:01

6 Answers 6


OK, taking them in reverse order:

We had a head hunting going on and there was a bonus in a person you refer gets hired you receive ~50% of monthly salary as a bonus. I recommended a guy I knew, but HR messed up with scheduling interview and I was the only one available developer at the time he came for interview. I had to interview him and it was awkward. He failed coding test later.

Don't accept. I don't know how your office does interview scheduling, but everywhere I've worked, all Outlook powered offices, I get an electronic meeting invite from the scheduler. Do NOT accept the invite. Write back a response with why. That does require that you pay close attention to invites to make sure that you catch any conflict of interest. It also requires that HR has clear ownership of scheduling.

If they mess up scheduling, they need to be able to take responsibility for un-messing up scheduling. It is far more annoying to have to re-interview because it couldn't be scheduled correctly the first time than it is to have to reschedule the interview.

It's also within your right to insist on 24 hours notice before an interview happens.

If all that fails, and HR is literally grabbing you with the guy standing at the front door, because they have screwed up that badly, my recommendation would be to go to meet your friend (with your incompentent HR rep in tow) and say "Hey I'm really sorry that your interview has been so badly planned, we have no interviewer available due to a scheduling issue in the team. I'm not in a position to interview you, but can I get you a coffee (or lunch!) and would you mind rescheduling? The company will happily cover the cost of your lunch and your travel..." and then make sure the company pays out of HR's budget. Be classy, but don't interview him, and let your manager know so they can make it clear that this process is not acceptable.

If it's a good friend, take him to a nice lunch.

Yeah, you may end up paying for lunch out of your pocket, but this is your friend.

was asked to interview a friend of mine, whom I actually recommended.

Again, don't accept. By "friend", I'm assuming you mean a person that you know outside of the professional sphere (even if you started as colleagues) such that interviewing would be biased, and also not-accepting him might cause harm to your relationship.

I was asked to interview a person I know.

OK, so there's a slippery slope here. I would say that just because you know the person is not a reason to say "no". I have plenty of colleagues who are purely good former colleagues, and the fact that I know them may be a reason not to waste time interviewing (I'd just say "yes" to hiring them, because I know their work) but it's not a reason to abstain from the selection process. Similarly, there are people that I know from casual conversations, but I really haven't delved into their actual work experiences. In these cases I'd go for it and interview them.

When it's a case where you can be sure that your professional judgement won't be clouded by personal feelings, I think it's safe to be part of the process, and realize that in any decent process, your voice will be one of many. The fact that you only "know" someone isn't a real liability.

If you honestly worry that your professional judgement WILL be clouded for ANYONE you know - it may be time to question your professional judgement and how deeply attached you are to people.

  • The formal part got messed up. I don't remember what exactly happened, either the original interviewer just forgot about interview or something like that. I would never accept such interview in outlook, yes they grabbed me because it was pretty late and I was the only person left at the office from interviewing pool.
    – Andrey
    Apr 2, 2014 at 17:20
  • When I said friend I do mean friend, saying that I am personally interested in him being accepted even without the bonus deal.
    – Andrey
    Apr 2, 2014 at 17:21
  • I don't think that my professional judgement will be clouded if I met that person at the party last year. But the thing is that we are not computers and sometimes we are not 100% consciousness about how we make our decisions and what influences them. There are tons of studies addressing that. I don't feel unsafe interviewing that person, my position is that more neutrality is always better.
    – Andrey
    Apr 2, 2014 at 17:29

How should I reply to HR politely to refuse interviewing such candidates?

It may not be necessary for you to "refuse" just because it is awkward - better you should "disclose" your relationship and ask for guidance. Good communication and being transparent are the keys here.

Something like these should suffice:

"I know this applicant personally. Would you still like me to conduct the interview?"


"This applicant is a friend of mine. In fact, I recommended her. Would you still like me to conduct the interview?"

And if you really don't want to conduct interviews of acquaintances/friends, try something like:

"This applicant is a friend of mine. In fact, I recommended her. I would really rather not interview friends. Do you think you can find a replacement to conduct this interview rather than me? Thanks!"

Sometimes (perhaps because there are enough other interviewers that yours won't be the sole opinion, for example), HR will still want your insight and feedback anyway. Sometimes they won't. Additionally, HR might feel that you can help the candidate learn more about the company, department, manager, etc., by conducting an interview with your acquaintance.

But by disclosing early, you are avoiding any ethical worries, in my experience. I've interviewed many people I knew under these disclosed conditions.

  • 3
    I don't want to interview people I know. Maybe it is not necessary to refuse, but I would prefer not to do it. We have plenty of other interviewers, so it is not that big issue for HR.
    – Andrey
    Apr 2, 2014 at 14:52
  • This is the answer. If your duties involve being available for interviewing, and your employer wants you to interview someone even though it is a bad idea, it is still part of your job. The only thing you can do is make your concerns explicit (perhaps make sure they are documented). You can't force your employer to make good decisions.
    – MrFox
    Apr 2, 2014 at 19:52
  • This is what I do and it's always worked for me. A couple times the hiring manager has asked me for my assessment of the person outside the interview context ("tell me about this person"), but that feels different. Apr 3, 2014 at 2:18

Dear HR, I know person X from Y, and we meet once per month for poker. I am afraid this may create a conflict of interest if I am to interview him, especially in light of the headhunting bonus involved.

Of course, if you believe I am nevertheless the most appropriate person to do the interview, I will be happy to proceed. Please advise.

After all, you may be the one subject matter expert or person to work closely with the new hire, so your opinion may be indispensable during the interview process. Just make sure to be open about this up front.

  • In neither of case I was uniquely qualified to interview them. If it was the case then it would be completely different issue.
    – Andrey
    Apr 2, 2014 at 14:56

In case #1, it's important to disclose that you know the person and how. Make sure HR and any hiring manager is aware of the the relationship. They might find someone else for the interview, or there might not be a problem at all.

In situations #2 and #3, the key is what you say in #3:

...I was the only one available...

In a situation like this, you need to make it clear that you are not available for the interview, not because of a scheduling conflict, but because of a conflict of interest (or even appearance of conflict of interest).

It's the responsibility of whoever is scheduling/coordinating the interview to make sure it's scheduled at a time that works for everyone involved (and you shouldn't be involved).

If you referred this person with the intent of getting a bonus when they are hired, then not only should you absolutely not be on the interview, but HR should already be aware of this.

I just experienced this recently. I recommended a {friend/relative/acquaintance} for a position, and was placed on the interview schedule. A quick email response of "I can't be involved in this interview because {XYZ}" was sufficient to clear it up.

  • By "the only one" I mean this. Basically what happened is that HR scheduled somebody to interview the candidate but forgot to notify interviewer. Interview was scheduled rather late and when the candidate came for interview, the original interviewer already left the office and the rest of the developers who interview people. By pure chance I was still in the office.
    – Andrey
    Apr 2, 2014 at 15:03
  • 5
    @Andrey - Yes, but his point is that just because you were physically there doesn't mean you were available. Apr 2, 2014 at 18:07
  • 3
    @thursdaysgeek exactly. In the case described, nobody was available. Andrey was unavailable because of a conflict of interest, and everyone else was unavailable by simply not being present.
    – yoozer8
    Apr 2, 2014 at 18:10

Another tool to get out of interviewing friends/family/former colleagues/exs (anyone you know outside of work you shouldn't or would prefer not to interview)

Most employers have in your contract, handbook, ect strict policies about conflicts of interest. (and in some places there are laws that may protect you from being allowed to be put into a situation where you might have a conflict of interest) This is something you need to make clear to HR. "I should not interview person X, because it would create a conflict of interest because of Y. I think it would be better for the interview to be rescheduled with someone else." It's also fair to say your interviewing them would be unprofessional on behalf of you personally as well as the company itself.

It's very important to avoid conflicts of interest at work because they can ultimately come back to haunt you. (on a variety of levels both professionally and potentially legally)

2 and 3 you should NOT interview, period.

1... depends... the less you know them the less likely it's a conflict of interest and the less likely it's a problem. Use your best judgment here, but be cautious and still make your acquaintance known to HR.

Another option is if you MUST interview the person to request someone from HR to attend as well. Have the HR person make the final calls based on the interview. They can defer to you after the interview for advice or recommendations. This is still a conflict of interest and should be avoided if at all possible, but it's better then the being the only one involved.


If you recommend someone, you must be sure that the person, your friend, is suitable for the position.

And in some cases, once-in-a-month poker partner is not someone you'd know enough to know how well this person may work in your company.

If you decided to recommend that person, you will interview him yourself, in first order.

So, the short answer is this: You have to get enough knowledge about the person before you recommend that person.

In the interview, talk about that side of the person which you may not know, but which is important for work.

If you do that all before, then after this situation, when someone from HR delegates to you the right to decide, just have a cup of coffee, talk your future college about work here and what's expected.

  • 3
    other answers didn't mention this because the question asked was not about how to ensure getting enough knowledge for recommendation. Actually, reliable hiring process should ensure that mistakes that may happen this way are discovered and fixed independently of whether recommendation is deserved or not
    – gnat
    Apr 2, 2014 at 16:56
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    Hey MolbOrg, I edited this for grammar and formatting to make it more readable. You make some really good points here, but can you also answer the question. Assume the asker doesn't want to do the interview, as he/she asked, how do you reply to HR politely to refuse interviewing such candidates? If you can address that, then this is a solid Stack Exchange post. Hope this helps.
    – jmort253
    Apr 3, 2014 at 1:57
  • @jmort253 thanks for editing) actually this answer said the same - and did that better. About polite refuse: highly depends on culture of relations established in the company. Without more information about that matter, or without introspecting different scenarios - good answer can't be given.
    – MolbOrg
    Apr 3, 2014 at 9:00
  • @gnat : It may so happen, that I'm from country where topic-starter lives. I worked in tiny-, small- and medium-sized company's, where my duty was to interview people, teach them to work, make them work good. I can easily imagine, how topic-starter got into this situation, based on my work experience. I'm not HR manager, but had interviewed enough people and probably more important worked with results of interviews and recommendations. So my answer for situation is: be more responsible in recommendations. Someone have to cure cause, not consequences.
    – MolbOrg
    Apr 3, 2014 at 9:30

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