Should I disclose the association and excuse myself from participation? I feel that my input may not be as objective as it should be as it may be affected by my possibly inaccurate impression of the person.

I would prefer not to offer my judgement of the person, without going into specifics.

For more background (my comment to one of the answers):

It has been some time since we worked together, my opinion is actually just "generally unimpressionable" (which doesn't sound very impressive by itself). Could I just say that I don't remember? (even if it is stretching the truth a little). I don't want to vouch or reject the person simply due to our past association.

  • 14
    @prusswan The title is currently a sentence fragment, not a sentence. Lilienthal corrected this. The other change she made was to split "disclose" and "excuse" into two separate questions. The way you have it phrased now, you're asking "should I disclose and excuse" which is unclear whether you are willing to accept a middle ground: you may want to disclose and not excuse, or you may want to excuse and not disclose. Both are options (whether good or not is beyond the scope of this comment.) There are then four options when split into two questions, while as currently phrased you only get two.
    – corsiKa
    Aug 4 '16 at 15:10
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    If you don't want to offer your judgment, that should be made clear in the question. Aug 4 '16 at 16:57
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    Interesting, most places would want your opinion if you previously worked with a candidate.
    – Andy
    Aug 4 '16 at 22:41
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    "Could I just say that I don't remember?" Right then the first thing the candidate says when he walks in the room is "oh wow hi I haven't seen you in years how are you doing?! remember when we were best buddies?" Awkward... Aug 4 '16 at 23:51
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    If it is unclear, you can assume it is exactly as intended. And stop deleting my comments to clarify my point just to twist the argument in somebody's favor.
    – user7230
    Aug 5 '16 at 9:22

I have been in this situation more than once. I disclose that I know the person. Leave it to management to decide whether to include me or not.

If I'm part of the interview (which I always have been) I just assess them the same as everyone else. This is the fastest moving industry in history, someone you knew 2 years ago may have a whole new skillset. And any personal quirks they may have had may have changed. But I don't really care about those anyway, I'm only involved with the technical suitability. That is HR's assessment to make.

Your situation may be different.

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    Short and sweet and none of the pompousness. I like.
    – user7230
    Aug 4 '16 at 16:53
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    Agreed in the main; doesn't account for the potential awkwardness though. Even if you end up saying "ignore the potential awkwardness" I think it should be addressed. Aug 4 '16 at 23:50
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    @LightnessRacesinOrbit I don't do 'awkwardness' I deal with professional adults, not hormonal teenagers.
    – Kilisi
    Aug 5 '16 at 6:52

You should absolutely disclose the fact that you've worked with this candidate before. While ideally you'd have spoken up about that the moment you realised, it's not an issue as long as you still let the hiring manager or HR know as soon as possible. If some time has passed you can excuse the delay by claiming you wanted to confirm it was him or that you didn't make the connection immediately. Of course those excuses need to be plausible so it won't work if the candidate has a rare name or you worked with him recently.

As for whether you can still interview him, that depends on the relationship you had or have with the candidate. If you were close friends or otherwise feel that you'd be unfairly biased I'd argue that you should explain that to the hiring manager and indeed recuse yourself. But in most cases your feedback would be invaluable to a hiring manager and he'd almost certainly want to hear your opinion of the candidate as someone who actually worked with him. You'd of course preface your assessment if you felt the need to but in most cases you can still describe your experience in working with him by focusing on objective facts. But it's indeed good to be aware of potential bias you have that would drown out facts. If you despise the candidate for his personal choices but he's excellent at his job and collegial then it's unethical and unprofessional to sabotage his chances. But if this candidate rubbed everyone the wrong way and was a Grade A Jerk at work then that is something you can and should mention. Working Well With Others is part of being a good employee.

I get the impression that you're not a fan of this candidate and I'd encourage you to speak up if the reasons are important to his chance of success. If he's just someone you don't care for then I'd keep that to yourself, but if you legitimately dread working with him because he's lazy, incompetent or inconsiderate then that's something a hiring manager would definitely want to know.

If you feel uncomfortable discussing the candidate then you can simply say something like "I'd prefer not to comment on his performance / my experience working with him." Any hiring manager worth his salt will recognise the hidden message there, but of course bad hiring managers exist and you may not want to risk having that message go unnoticed.

In a comment you mentioned how you want to be as fair as possible and that you see a conflict of interest but that's really not an issue here. Your interests presumably align with those of your employer as the goal is to hire the right person for your team. The fact that you've worked with this person before is an advantage in that you can attest to his work ethic and interpersonal skills in a real environment rather than the more clinical circumstances of job interviews. There is nothing unfair about this: suppose this guy was a slob and never got any work done. Why would it be unfair to mention that objective fact to the hiring manager? He wouldn't get the job but that's entirely the product of his own behaviour at work. Keep in mind that a workplace is a professional environment and not a playground. There's not really such a thing as "telling" on people. If this guy was awesome at his job, friendly and had an amazing track record, wouldn't you say as much to the hiring manager? If the opposite were true, shouldn't you do the same and warn your company? In both cases the outcome is simply the result of the candidate's reputation preceding him. It's a good example of why this site and workplace mentors in general advocate remaining professional in all situations.

As Joe Strazzere rightly points out, in the end it's up to the hiring manager to decide your level of involvement in the rest of the process: "it also depends on the hiring managers. Some would want you to interview the candidate, using your insights from your prior relationship. Others would want to talk to you privately about the candidate. Still others would want you to bow out." So tell the hiring manager about the fact that you know the candidate and how well you knew his work and let the manager decide how to proceed from there.

  • Yes I don't know the person that well, but I wish to be as fair as possible. Then again if he turns out to be a bad hire after all and our association is discovered later on (as much as I tried to distance myself from the process), my employer may feel that I had not done as much as I should to help them, so I am somewhat disturbed by this conflict of interest.
    – user7230
    Aug 4 '16 at 7:59
  • It has been some time since we worked together, my opinion is actually just "generally unimpressionable" (which doesn't sound very impressive by itself). Could I just say that I don't remember? (even if it is stretching the truth a little). I don't want to vouch or reject the person simply due to our past association.
    – user7230
    Aug 4 '16 at 8:27
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    @prusswan In fact, because you know him, you could just oriented your interview to see if that person is still as you remember. If you really don't want to conduct the interview, you could tell to a colleague to do the same. It has nothing unfair to know someone. That's why people create networks. The only thing you can do to be fair is to check or make check if that person is still the same as you remember or if he improved. If he wasn't really worth and made his way and progressed it's a really positive sign, if he didn't change since that time, then you know he won't ever fit.
    – Walfrat
    Aug 4 '16 at 8:34
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    @prusswan It's fine to say something like "It's been a while and he didn't stand out." or "He didn't leave much of a lasting impression." If you didn't really work together often then that's something you should add as well since that explains why you don't remember much of his work. If you worked together closely you'd be expected to remember more of his work ethic even if it was a decade ago.
    – Lilienthal
    Aug 4 '16 at 9:50
  • All that text and I managed to forget the conclusion. Thanks @JoeStrazzere, I've included part of your comment verbatim. If you want to expand that into an answer of your own just let me know and I'll remove it.
    – Lilienthal
    Aug 4 '16 at 10:44

I would disclose the association so that if it comes up in the future, you will have nothing to worry about and therefore avoid any possibility of being accused of a conflict of interest, or being unfair to the other candidates.

As to performing the interview, I would seek guidance from your managers.

  • I would probably disclose the association..but I guess the issue is that I am not sure how well I can satisfy the expectation that "I should know something" as a result of the association.
    – user7230
    Aug 4 '16 at 8:06

I suggest sharing the information that you knew the person (or that you recognize the person).

Furthermore, don't be fair about it. If you know the person's strengths, play on them. If you know some of the person's weaknesses, capitalize on them.

From the company's perspective, the role of the job interview is to be able to get information about the candidate; basically, for the interviewers to get to know the candidate better. If you have inside knowledge, then there's no reason to start from a blank slate. Share what you know, and learn more. In the end, you will have a better idea about the candidate than average candidates. The end result might be worse for that candidate, or better. Don't worry about pretending like this person is equal, in all ways, as every other candidate. That's not how life works. Go ahead and do what is in the best interests of your company.

Sometimes, the choice to hire is basically a fore=gone conclusion, and the interview is just a formality, because the interviewers already knew the interviewee. That can be a perfectly good thing; it can help an organization choose someone that is certain to be a great match. This may not happen for every position, but there certainly are times when this may happen. If this system works to people's benefit sometimes, the course of action that would actually be the most fair would be recognizing that this same system may occasionally also work to one side's detriment.

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