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We have a vacancy open up in our development team. One of the members of the team is an extremely high performer and he wants his friend to join.

Reasons for hiring his friend

  • The company has a high turn over, development team comprises of interns where one of the challenges I have is to build a strong full time dev team. I feel that by hiring his friend I may help further convince the high performer to go full time.

  • Motivate the high performer to work even harder.

Reasons for not hiring

  • Unlike the current developer - the friend's technical skills are not brilliant, I gave him a programming test as part of the interview process and could see that even though he did the task the code was not well written. So there is a part of me thinks that I am not hiring him on merit.

  • I am concerned that this can lead to office politics, if I am hard on one member of the dev team, the other member of the dev team is more easily influenced and likely to take sides with the member of the team I am being hard on. I have previously worked in environments like this.

Is having an all friends team good for business? What do you think?

UPDATE

Turned out not hiring him did not impact the company negatively. His friend in the company is still committed.

closed as off-topic by IDrinkandIKnowThings, Richard U, keshlam, Masked Man, Michael Grubey Jan 14 '17 at 8:18

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    usually don't take those tests too serious, most of those are just useless. you only test new programmers at real life tasks. – lambdapool May 10 '16 at 9:21
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    I sincerely doubt that hiring a friend will influence the other guy to work harder. Seriously. When I put my name on something I'm already trying my best. Just because you hired my friend doesn't mean that you're somehow buying my loyalty. Furthermore, as others have pointed out, this "friend" may not be as close as you think. I have buddies I might recommend with the intent of getting them an interview, but not feel responsible for their performance in any way - that's you job as the manager to ascertain and make the right hiring decision. If he is a weak performer don't hire him. – AndreiROM May 10 '16 at 13:21
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    Consider that hiring interns as your development team is a bad idea. Interns need to have experienced devs to learn from. I would ditch the friend and look for someone actually qualified at higher than entry level - a team of all trainees is just bad. – HLGEM May 10 '16 at 14:17
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    @bobo2000 - Of course if you find 1 good experienced developer then you won't need at least 3 or 4 interns any more. That should more than offset the pay differential. – Dunk May 10 '16 at 14:30
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    You're aware of a possible bias, so you can check whether or not your actions are bias. If you'd never met this person, would you hire them? If you're not sure, talk through it with a disinterested party (preferably someone who hires people, but doesn't know your friend). Even explaining the specifics of the issue might help you to find an answer. – AJFaraday May 10 '16 at 15:18

10 Answers 10

125

Should I hire the friend?

No, you shouldn't hire him with the idea that it will influence the other. Hire him because he's going to be an asset or other reason, but not that.

Recommending a friend should only go as far as helping the friend get an interview, after that it's up to him to make his own way. Most people understand that, and quite a few people are pressured in to recommending people that they don't really know well.

Having friends in a team is usually a good thing, many teams become friends through proximity anyway. It's good for morale, the thing to watch out for is favouritism or covering up for each other which is unavoidable sometimes, you need to limit this as it is a discipline issue.

The other main factor to watch for is friendships can be fleeting and turn bitter. But these are all things you watch for anyway, so on the whole it's a positive thing.

35

Treat the friend like any other candidate (almost).

If you take on a subpar candidate for the reason you describe, it is bound to hurt you in the future. You will be stuck with a poor performer on the team, or you will have to let them go later. Not only will this be bad for you, but it is also likely to lead to hard feelings with your "star developer", undermining the reason for doing this in the first place.

If you are really on the fence about this person, the fact that they are a friend of the star developer may be enough to push you over the top and offer them a job. There are benefits to hiring them, if they are otherwise qualified. But I would only consider this at the margin.

Don't weigh programming tests too much.

In my experience, they have limited value. They will help you identify the truly terrible candidates, who won't be able to write anything that makes sense. But they aren't a good way to separate decent candidates from excellent candidates. Too much depends on factors like how nervous they get in interviews.

If someone completed the task, but in a somewhat less than optimal way, in my view they have "passed", and everyone who passed should be considered roughly equally based on the rest of their resume. I wouldn't use a better solution as much more than a tiebreaker here.

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    +1 "Don't weigh programming tests too much". Whenever I do programming tests, I find it difficult to intuit the metric of "goodness" the interviewer is looking for. Often I would optimize for "Write-Time", especially if I am not given my refactoring tools. You should bring him back in to discuss the decisions that he made during the test. – Aron May 11 '16 at 8:50
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    @Aron, agreed. My preferred test of programming skills is for candidates to submit an example piece of code they have written. Then we discuss the code at interview. – user45590 May 11 '16 at 9:58
  • I spend 10% of my project coding; the rest is spent archtiecting, designing & testing. Why does the coding test get a disproportionate share of the interview time? </rant> – Mawg May 12 '16 at 7:35
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    @Mawg, someone who can't code probably can't do any of those other tasks either. The ability to write code is the basic foundation of software dev skills, so in my opinion the emphasis on coding ability is appropriate for judging candidates--I just think the test is a fairly limited tool for assessment. – user45590 May 12 '16 at 9:52
  • I agree, so +1. However, I passed "code monkey" level a few decades ago now, but find that I still get coding tests for architect & tech team leadinterviews. No biggie; I just think the time could be spent more productively if the interview more closely matched the position. But we are getting off topic here. And I would definitely code test this guy's friend. – Mawg May 12 '16 at 12:29
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If the friend is good enough to hire them if he wasn't a friend of the current developer, then hire him or her.

If not, have a talk with the current developer. I have different kinds of friends. There are friends who I would be willing to put forward for an interview (and it's up to them to pass or fail, and I feel no responsibility for what they do when/if they are hired). And there are much fewer friends where I would be willing to help them progressing in my spare time to help them with their career. So if your developer says "if my friend cannot manage some task, then I'm willing to help them myself in my spare time to overcome problems", then you might accept a candidate that is close but not quite there. As long as you are sure that they are good enough to learn.

And obviously the ability of the friend would be reflected in the pay.

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    +1 for the second half. Talking to the high performer whether he is willing to mentor his friend and build him up if he is slightly under-qualified seems sensible to me. However, I don't think specifically asking for off-hours coaching is appropriate. – Søren D. Ptæus May 10 '16 at 16:13
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My take on these sort of scenarios (as I have hired various friends and even a sibling once) is that you ensure they take exactly the same tests as an unknown applicant would take, and is scored exactly the same way.

This removes any accusation of bias, and allows you to be objective.

It sounds like you are already not confident about the candidate's ability, so hiring them just to hope that your top performer stays is a real gamble. Is it one you are willing to take?

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    I dont think you got the question right, he is not asking how he can be objective, but how he can prevent problems within the team when he starts hiring friends. Also both of them are interns and are often compared to the best programmers. – Raoul Mensink May 10 '16 at 10:00
  • this is exactly my point Raoul. The two are entirely linked. If the friend passes the same tests, then he is qualified to be hired. – Rory Alsop May 10 '16 at 10:00
  • Well even if he is qualified the cons might still outweight the pros because you get a team that you cant controle. – Raoul Mensink May 10 '16 at 10:04
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    Why? That seems an entirely unrelated issue. – Rory Alsop May 10 '16 at 10:12
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    Its one of the reasons why he didnt want to hire the friend in the first place. – Raoul Mensink May 10 '16 at 12:38
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The question is:

Did you top-performer name an quality of his friend which is interesting to you? Can you give him an example of the qualities of his friend? Do you trust his estimation there?

If the answers to this is yes, then you should consider this to be a very valuable input to you decision. Otherwise not.

  • 1
    I think we're targeting the wrong thing here. The hiring manager's judgment would be more valuable as an unbiased entity than would the employee's. Especially if a reference is involved. – cst1992 May 10 '16 at 20:56
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I'll answer the original question first, but also want to expand on some of the rationale provided because I think it surfaces an underlying problem that has the potential to aggravate the situation provided.

Is having an all friends team good for business? What do you think?

If I had an employee with a friend who might fit a role I was filling, I'd certainly put their resume on the top of the stack for consideration. After that, I'd go through my normal process and hire the best candidate, regardless of their relationship to any current employee. Hiring someone ill-suited for the role is a great way to create hard feelings when you have to let the friend go after 45 days. Friends who are competent in their respective roles and back each other up can be a great asset in the workplace. There are also some risks involved, so be prepared for them. I wouldn't let those risks deter me unless there were other environmental factors (see below).

Reasons for Hiring

The company has a high turn over, development team comprises of interns where one of the challenges I have is to build a strong full time dev team. I feel that by hiring his friend I may help further convince the high performer to go full time.

If the company has high turnover and your "star developer" doesn't want to go full-time, I'd suggest taking a look at the conditions that are causing turnover and making good employees waffle on committing to the team. That is the ONLY way you are going to build a strong development team. The cost of finding qualified people in a challenging field usually FAR exceeds the cost of retaining good people that you can build on.

Might it convince the high-performer to go full time if you hired their friend? It is a long 'maybe'... and if it did happen, it would be until his friend isn't there, or they both decide they don't like the environment and move on together, feeding off of each other's negativity. That friend you hired could just as easily convince your star to leave. Figure out what you need to do to land good employees. Hiring a friend is a not a reliable way to go about it.

Motivate the high performer to work even harder.

If you have a great performer, why are you trying to wring even more productivity out of him/her? That is a great way to burn out your best player. No developer is infinitely productive. Try to give them opportunities that would help the organization be more productive as a whole, not try to squeeze out extra lines of code. If you have an enthusiastic employee, keep them challenged, help them build their skills, and compensate them appropriately so they stay onboard. Then focus on finding more good developers and getting rid of the low-performing aspects. Offer special bonuses for successful delivery of big projects requiring extra effort, and then give ample recovery-time. If your best people are going at 120% all the time, and it is expected, you won't keep them long.

A great way to lose good employees is to surround them with idiots low-skilled co-workers. Eventually the good ones are going to get sick of putting out fires caused by everyone else, friends or not. Your top performers will quickly tire of carrying 80% of the weight while only being paid marginally more than the bottom rung.

Reasons for Not Hiring

Unlike the current developer - the friend's technical skills are not brilliant, I gave him a programming test as part of the interview process and could see that even though he did the task the code was not well written. So there is a part of me thinks that I am not hiring him on merit.

I've seen great developers produce mediocre results on a development test, and very poor developers do exceedingly well. Used the test to weed out the folks who don't know how to write a line of code. Otherwise, if they pass, then gear your next interview questions towards determining if your concerns are valid If you are concerned that the code had no comments, then ask the interviewee to explain to you what their perception of "good code" is, and why it is important. I wouldn't base a hiring decision on a development test unless it was completely obvious that the candidate was completely lost.

I am concerned that this can lead to office politics, if I am hard on one member of the dev team, the other member of the dev team is more easily influenced and likely to take sides with the member of the team I am being hard on. I have previously worked in environments like this.

If you are worried about employees ganging up, you already have a problem. You can't stop employees from talking to one another, but you can hold folks accountable fairly, and if someone is being a "negative nelly," address that issue specifically.

That being said, if you hire Suzy's 'bestie' from grade school and then have to let her go, expect Suzy to at least form an opinion. Again, if employees are treated fairly, this usually isn't an issue, but based on some of the other things I've seen, you already have a tenuous workforce. If Suzy feels her friend was treated unfairly, she will expect the same treatment towards herself. To weather situations like this your staff needs to trust you and/or the company, which is something that is built through consistency, communication, fairness, and accountability.

And one last statement that I wanted to address directly...

I feel that by hiring his friend I may help further convince the high performer to go full time

Why not forget about hiring the friend (in regards to incenting an existing employee - not altogether) and look into what motivates the individual in question. Are they motivated by challenges? Aspire to leadership? Feel like your compensation or benefits aren't competitive? Don't like the office space? Question the company's stability? Addressing their concerns would be a more productive and permanent solution than hiring their buddy.

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I think it can't hurt, honestly I don't think I could do something like fizz buzz in a interview. People seem to missunderstand that programming in an interview is the same as regular programming.

Fizz buzz has been used as an interview screening device for computer programmers. Creating a list of the first 100 Fizz buzz numbers is a trivial problem for any would-be computer programmer, so interviewers can easily sort out those with insufficient programming ability.

Source

But if you are really concerned, give him a short temporary contract like 3 months and go from there. Getting a great programmer with a lot of baggage is just not worth it. Tell him that if his friend cant hold his own there is no place for him. If he can prove himself he can stay, but if not I don't want to hear from you.

Make it clear that you are responsible for the team and will act as such. Don't forget that the high Performer is an intern and those are likely to leave annyways if not now then in the future.

  • The star developer (intern) skillset is surprisingly quite developed. This isn't his first internship, he has had other technical internships where he has learn't a lot. I am keen for him to go full time and build a team around him. Interview process is technical phone interview, programming test, and a face to face interview which is working well for us. – bobo2000 May 10 '16 at 10:21
  • @bobo2000 then build a Team around him, if he is willing. Just remind him that every recommodation Comes with risks that he might not see. He is pulling someone Forward that might cost him. – Raoul Mensink May 10 '16 at 12:37
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    Not trying to be rude, but if you can't implement fizzbuzz, I don't hire you. Fizzbuzz is exceptionally simple. There is no way you can succeed at our real world tasks if you can't even lob out a fizzbuzz on demand. It would be like hiring a concert pianist ... who can't even play you an arpeggio in the key of C. – Lightness Races in Orbit May 10 '16 at 13:22
  • @LightnessRacesinOrbit None taken, but I tend to let my work when applicable show my skills. I mean its not bad for the enterviewer, but I would ask you: are ok with trying work out for a week and then go from there. – Raoul Mensink May 11 '16 at 8:21
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    @LightnessRacesinOrbit your loss :) and not trying to start a Chat here, but you are really missing my Point and that might be the language barrier. Interviews can be really tough and depending on that alot of People may fail or succeed even if they are a "good" programmer. – Raoul Mensink May 11 '16 at 11:17
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Relevant to the concern at hand, I'd like to add something:

My father is the highest-paid employee who's still an employee at his company(others are either the owner's relatives or the owner himself). The owner regularly listens to his input, and even shares his experiences with my father. Let us assume your employee to be the equivalent of my father.

There's this man that my father knows well, and I do too(but I'd rather not reveal more here), let's call him John. John wants to use the reference to land a job as a manager into the company.
However, the man is a bit too ambitious, and has been fired from multiple jobs in the past due to excessive ambition and a feeling of entitlement to whatever's availed to him. Needless to say, John is a dangerous employee at best.

The owner asked my father if or not he'll have any issues if John were to be fired in the future. He said:

The fact that I know John well hasn't and will not have any bearing on this decision. You're free to treat him as any other employee.

So that's the advice I'd like to share with you. Either ensure complete transparency, or don't hire at all. If it concerns your performer then that could be dealt with separately. Also the politics that would arise from not doing so will damage both the employees' performance and good will with the company in the long run.

0

There are good reasons for employing people you know or peopel you trust know in fact this can be a distinct advantage for a small business ie personal contacts can help in recruiting good people especially in specialist fields.

The downside is that is can be seen as a personal favour and can lead to feelings of obligation which become difficult to manage.

I think that the way to resolve this is to maintain an ethos of professionalism at work and this means a bit of personal detachment as well.

Similarly if you are used to working with close friends you need to think about your roll as a boss. This relates to thinking rationally about what you expect from you employees and being clear about where responsibility is placed for example is is one thing for a close group of friends to go all out to make a business work but is it reasonable to expect that same level of commitment from an employee, especially if they don't have the same risks/benefits invested in the business.

Giving the friend of an employee a chance may be a good way to show your trust in them but offering them a guaranteed job as a favour may end up being bad for all parties if it doesn't work.

Ultimately this question is about personal relationships so showing some trust and generosity is no bad thing but at the same time be open and honest about what your expectations and boundaries are.

0

There have been a lot of good responses here, but one thing I think needs to be emphasized is that if they actually are friends they'll inevitably end up talking about work outside of work. Any strong feelings - positive or negative - will be amplified in a two-person echo chamber. If you hire this guy, you'll need to make sure that both employees have a good experience.

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