At my new company, I've done well for myself, but one of the engineers from my last company (a senior one that was buddy-buddy with the CEO of Miserable Company Inc.) is applying to my current company. I did not care for this engineer, since she seemed to play on being the only female engineer to get brownie points with the female CEO at Miserable Company Inc. She also was horrible to other colleagues if they didn't understand her technical discussions immediately (would yell at people and insult them, wave hands, scream, etc; when people disagreed with her).

I'm slated to interview her first in a week as part of a half-day long interview process with multiple team leads. She is half-decent in terms of technical skills, but her "senior" status was the result of cronyism and political manipulation, not technical ability (I was present at the meeting to discuss her promotion, and only the CEO was in favor of it, out of a panel of five).

Am I morally or legally obligated to note my concerns with her lack of professionalism in advance of the interview to my colleagues? I'm 95% sure I could get her to scream or wig out during the interview, so it wouldn't be hard to disqualify her from the beginning. Also, I don't want her around, telling my colleagues of my sudden departure from Miserable Company Inc, causing me to lose the respect of my new colleagues. I can always note it was due to not being paid (which is true), but I want to squash this bug efficiently and ethically.


Good day everyone,

Thank you for the effective advice. It really helped my remove my emotions from the equation, and address this more effectively.

Long story short, during a 2 hour 2-on-1 interview, I let my (ironically, female) colleague handle the technical questions, and I opted to handle the interpersonal skills and professionalism portion. I asked a number of questions, such as "have you ever had to handle unprofessional conduct", or "have you ever had to mediate disputes between individuals you mentored/supervised". It eventually led down the path of me asking:

  • "...why were these individuals angry in the first place?"
  • "...what policy change had them so frustrated?"
  • "...why would a company put in a policy to pay females 15% more than their male counterparts to offset perceived underrepresentation of female graduates in engineering?"

In the end, I was able to corner her into disclosing how she pined for discrimination in the workplace to make more. My colleague was not impressed either with her technical abilities, nor her interpersonal skills. I couldn't get her to "blow up", but she was red in the face by the end.

And no, I didn't invite her to the interview, and it was out of my power to outright drop her in advance.

  • 59
    @DavidFoerster I personally think it's relevant to the question as it shows that the colleague is manipulative (currying favour with the female CEO to get her way, since nobody else would, using her gender to get her way), and that's something that can influence any answers.
    – AStopher
    Commented May 25, 2017 at 19:36
  • 35
    I would question your 95% certainty about being able to get her to scream or wig out. She might do that in environments where she is comfortable, but in an interview, she may feel like she is in a particularly vulnerable/defensive position, and so she may behave different than before. In other words, what would provoke such a response before, might not provoke such a response in this scenario. (That's even ignoring the idea that people can change/learn/grow/adapt.) If you decide to provoke, limit your efforts; don't get ridiculous yourself or you'll prove very little. (Don't try too hard.)
    – TOOGAM
    Commented May 26, 2017 at 2:25
  • 15
    Given your previous association, should you even be interviewing her, given that you might be biased either way? And might your new company be slightly miffed if they discover that afterwards? I advise you to inform them, and let them decide whether you ought to interview her. A natural reaction on their part would probably be to ask your opinion of her.
    – Mawg
    Commented May 26, 2017 at 9:11
  • 13
    Reading the update, it seems you have read the answers but did not understood their advice. Your questions seem deliberate, provoking and related to the previous company and its policies. If my boss/managers read this post and knew it was me, I would be very worried. Commented May 28, 2017 at 9:14
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    The last comment from your update — aside from being inappropriate for an engineering interview — demonstrates pretty clearly that as someone with an existing working relationship with this candidate, you should've recused yourself from the interview loop. Passing your experience on to another interviewer and allowing them to evaluate the candidate fairly would've likely been the right choice here.
    – egid
    Commented May 29, 2017 at 2:20

9 Answers 9


As someone who has first hand experience working with her, I'd think your input would both be desired and, as an employee of the company with first-hand knowledge, I do think you have an obligation to share what you know.

(emphasis there for a reason) With caveats -

Your professional assessment of her technical capabilities is relevant and fair.

Your feedback on how she deals with other people, especially those who disagree with her is certainly relevant and fair.

Your personal dislike for her is absolutely out of bounds, so anything that seems to be rooted in that should also be avoided.

Your personal speculation about why she became a senior engineer, and how she may have manipulated her status as a female to curry favor with a CEO that you personally have had a bad experience with is just that - speculation, and airing that speculation will severely tarnish your own image as a fair-minded, professional, objective employee. Even if 100% justified, airing that particular take on her career trajectory, when compared to what people who are cave-man-sexist say about successful women, would at least put a question mark next to you when it comes to your own views and motivations. Stay away from that. Your reservations certainly seem legitimate without dragging that into it. If anything, those kinds of asides or comments could cause people to disregard your legitimate concerns as excuses for a less worthy agenda.

Do not attempt to sabotage her by trying to provoke a response, unless you are doing that for all other candidates. Perhaps share with the panel, beforehand, that you have first-hand experience with working with this person, but offer to share your impressions, after the interview, explicitly saying you don't want to skew their impressions and lead them to prejudge, one way or the other, ahead of forming their own impressions.

The fact that you've seen her work, first-hand, in a professional environment, and, as a trusted contributor who is well-thought of enough to be evaluating incoming candidates, your impressions will carry a ton of weight, probably moreso than the dog and pony show/kabuki theater that are work interviews. Your fair, objective assessment will probably be more than enough to give the panel pause. Why do companies seek out references? Because they want to try and find out, as much as possible, impressions of how the people really work that they can't get from the facade of the interview presentation. Your input will be considered to be valuable in assessing this candidate.

  • 16
    Something your answer doesn't quite cover directly: would it be appropriate to share that she was promoted against the panel's unanimous (except the CEO) advice? This seems like a more objective indication of her abilities and attitudes than just the OP's opinion. Is there any way to point that out without going into the mud?
    – jpmc26
    Commented May 25, 2017 at 20:54
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    @jpmc26 - I wouldn't. I can't see a group of people concurring that "what you say would be disqualifying, but they were a senior developer" (that's the only scenario where I might say "that designation was against the unanimous advice of the existing senior developers", but that's the only way I'd mention it, in response). A trusted colleague saying "technical skills were decent, but not outstanding, and would yell and berate co-workers, especially if they disagreed" will pretty much end a candidate's attempts to join a company. Unless the candidate had real Jedi-mind-trick powers. Thanks! Commented May 25, 2017 at 20:59
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    Wanted to add emphasis to the points of avoiding speculation and/or conjecture. Objectively reporting the facts with regards to this persons skills and behavior towards colleagues and subordinates, not a problem. Adding any personal interpretation as to their motivations, or objectives, potentially opens yourself up to liability when they don't get hired. In short, restrict your comments to verifiable/defendable facts.
    – Rozwel
    Commented May 25, 2017 at 21:09
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    @PoloHoleSet - "The candidate only got promoted to that position because The CEO overrode everyone else on the promotion committee" seems to be an objective fact, and relevant info in a hiring decision.
    – T.E.D.
    Commented May 26, 2017 at 14:52
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    +1 for the first big para. That was exactly my feeling reading OP's question - I don't know whether to trust the validity of any of his assessments, or whether he's just your typical misogynist douchebro throwing accusations at women. I would expect professional colleagues to have the same doubts. Commented May 26, 2017 at 17:52

I don't see how you could possibly be "legally" required to note your concerns. Those would be your opinion and I doubt any legal system would require you to give it.

Morally, if you feel there is an issue with her professionalism and ability, you should voice your concerns during the interview process. You shouldn't just ignore your first-hand experience with this person just because you are at a different company now. I would restrict this to professional experiences and not allow your personal feelings toward the previous CEO, or her, to influence this person's application

If you don't feel that she would be a good fit at your new company (which seems clear) then you should at least bring it up.

EDIT: What I mean by restricting to professional would be like the following:

"She was very unprofessional when dealing with colleagues during times of conflict" instead of "She was a huge suck-up and only got promoted because she was the only female engineer".

  • 20
    +1 especially with the edit. It should go without saying but avoid any references to gender when discussing her or you risk someone misunderstanding and assuming you have an issue with her because she is female.
    – motosubatsu
    Commented May 25, 2017 at 15:18

I've actually had somewhat similar experiences a couple times. (I worked with some really bad folks at a large company.) My go to response for these now is actually to inform HR (or whoever is organizing these interviews) that I know this person from previous employment and I would prefer to provide input from outside the interview process. I then write a nice email summarizing what I think of this person in the most professional way I can, including things like the type of tasks they were good or bad at, their skills I know about, or any contacts or experience I believe they can bring that would be useful. At the end I include one short sentence describing my opinion of the person with little to no detail. For example "This person was a pleasure to work with.", "This person was unpleasant to work with.", or "I would not like to work with this person again.".

This stems from a poor experience I had with one of these interviews where the candidate walked into the interview room, saw me, made a comment about me being a "jackass who didn't like me" and left. My current colleagues are good folks I fared just fine, but there was a couple awkward moments while everybody digested what happened.

  • 2
    This is useful advice. However, it sounds like your "bad experience" would perfectly achieve what the OP hopes to get out of the situation. :)
    – user45590
    Commented May 26, 2017 at 8:14
  • +1, this seems like the exact and only possible thing to do, much more sensible and concrete than the high-voted and accepted answer. Extremely professional, helpful to the company, fair towards the candidate, and removing any possible harm from OP. (Meta: what a shame that the first answer was accepted only 1 hour after the question was posted, and this answer came some 5 hours too late. Somehow I'd wish for a 24 hour lock on SE before an answer can be accepted.)
    – AnoE
    Commented May 26, 2017 at 11:18
  • I would not put anything in writing. Have a frank discussion with the HR person and your boss.
    – Tony Ennis
    Commented May 27, 2017 at 15:40

Before the interview, reveal what you know to your company in a very matter of fact way. No emotion, no "feelings", just facts

Be factual and clinical when you relay your information and then offer to recuse yourself if your employer thinks that you could not be fair (thus demonstrating that you are, BTW)

If they give you the green light to interview her, do so and then report your findings of the interview and include the previously mentioned points.

  • 6
    This seems like the better answer. In addition to this, if you feel you can't be fair, you should ask if you could recuse yourself either way, if it wouldn't cause too much inconvenience. Commented May 25, 2017 at 19:15
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    I think being factual and offering a recusal are the perfect tandem in this answer. Great suggestion.
    – Forklift
    Commented May 26, 2017 at 13:12
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    The super secret buzzphrase to use, after doing what RichardU said, is "I think this person would be a poor cultural fit." And if they want you to interview her, agree to, but let them know your decision is already made. You don't want this person stinking up the current company.
    – Tony Ennis
    Commented May 27, 2017 at 15:38

Your loyalty belongs to your employer. inform your boss confidentially about your knowledge, then remove yourself from the interview process.

advantages: there will be no traceable hint that she was put at a disadvantage, and the result will be the same.


You are a male in engineering becoming very emotional in your dislike of a female engineer, with complaints all commonly used by sexists against women: manipulative, playing the woman card, hysterical, etc.

Given the historical and current evidence of misogyny in engineering fields, might you have some preconceptions about women that color your assessment of this colleague?


Personally, I would just mention to the appropriate person (your boss, HR, whoever handles the process) that you've worked with her before, and for reasons you'd rather not disclose, you weren't impressed. In most American companies, that's generally enough to A) get you out of having to interview her, and B) make them think twice about hiring her regardless of how her interview goes.

If they press for details, you need to keep everything as professional as possible, and stress the point that you're expressing your personal opinion. The problem with anything that sounds like speculation - whether it's dead-on or completely wrong, either way - is that it can easily backfire and make YOU look bad instead of the other person.

I don't believe there's any legal reason you can't interview her, but you should definitely cover your bases and make sure that appropriate person knows of the previous association. Once they have that knowledge, it becomes THEIR job to make sure everything's on the up-and-up instead of yours.


(As a very unexperienced guy)

I think you should look as a company's robot. For example, if her abilities (even though with manipulation) will help to create a good high-end product, and it will really make a difference in the team, then I think you should contract her. Maybe, if you're just having little personal problems with her, then those can be easily overcome.

If not, I think you should contract her.

You can look at it this way too - if you conduct an interview with her, you could do it as if you have never meet her before and, as you already know what her personality is like, you can explore it a bit and try to understand her...

I hope I'm saying the right thing, sorry for any mistakes!

  • 3
    I won't downvote, but this is a bad answer. The person fouls the company she it at. You don't want her damaging the culture or making the work environment less enjoyable. Let someone else rehabilitate her.
    – Tony Ennis
    Commented May 27, 2017 at 15:42
  • I think there was a Dilbert cartoon there…
    – JDługosz
    Commented May 29, 2017 at 5:34
  • A manipulative jerk can help to create good high-end product. Once. Maybe twice. But they can definitely poison the whole team and people once capable to create almost perfect product will dissolve to many different companies and the manipulative jerk won't be able to keep the course themselves.
    – Crowley
    Commented May 29, 2017 at 9:07

I personally, would recuse myself from the interview team if an ex colleague applied to my company.

For one thing, you don't know if she has changed, become worse or stayed the same and your biases might punish her for her past if she has indeed changed.

Second and more importantly, imagine this person has become worse but is better at hiding it. Imagine how you will seem if this person got past the interview round with your blessing and then shows her true colours. Are you willing to take part of the blame then? It's not your fault, but you will probably be blamed regardless.

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