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My company has a referral program where they will give a bonus to any employee who refers a candidate that gets hired. I am often part of the interview team, so I am familiar with how the company decides on candidates.

If I had a friend interviewing for a position at the company I work at, is it unethical to offer interview advice to that person - I.E. what they do/don't like to see or hear during the interview? For example, would it be wrong to tell my friend "make sure you talk about/emphasize X during the interview, they love hearing that in candidates." I obviously would never tell them answers to technical questions or what the questions would cover, but for the typical interview questions is it wrong to give a friend hints on "what the company loves to hear"? Or is this giving an unfair/unethical advantage to a friend over another potential candidate?

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    Seems clearly immoral to me for the other candidates. – sh5164 Jun 15 '17 at 14:34
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    If you aren't the one doing the interview, I don't see a problem. People who apply should know what they are applying for so should know what to discuss. – Snowlockk Jun 15 '17 at 14:35
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    If you are asked to do his interview, recuse yourself. Otherwise give him as much info as someone who works there already would give to one of their friends. As long as you are not using your status to influence the process there should be no problem. – Snowlockk Jun 15 '17 at 14:41
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    100% what @Snowlockk said. If you referred this person you cannot allow yourself to be part of the decision process on whether or not to hire. Most companies explicitly state that, but if yours doesn't you need to make sure your manager knows and don't join the interview or the hiring discussion. – Paul Jun 15 '17 at 15:18
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    Ah thank goodness "moral" was edited out. To be hones, even "ethical" seems to strong. I'd go with "appropriate" ! – Fattie Jun 15 '17 at 16:10
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No, not at all. It's part of networking and done by recruiters all the time.

With few exceptions, recruiters have given me pointers as to the interviewer's personalities, quirks and preferences. Is this an unfair advantage? Perhaps, but so is being more attractive, taller, or any other number of arbitrary things that get you in the door.

As you noted in your question, giving pointers is not giving answers. You are NOT stacking the deck unfairly so there is nothing immoral or even unethical about offering interview advice. Not in the slightest.

This does not come close to a moral or ethical line. I would give the same advice whether I was going to benefit or not, because while there is a financial incentive, there is also a hit to professional reputation if the person gets hired and does a poor job which I think more than balances things out.

  • Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat. – Jane S Jun 16 '17 at 11:44
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I really like @RichardU's answer, but I have a bit more that I'd like to add so I decided to open another that may provide another lens.

First, full disclosure, I've been on all sides of this issue. I've been a referred candidate, I've referred others when I wasn't part of the interview team, I've referred others when I was part of the interview team, I've been hiring manager when folks in my department (and on the hiring team) referred people, and I've even referred others when I was the hiring manager (to my own department even). I've successfully referred something on the order of 10-12 folks over the years, and unsuccessfully referred a number of others. I'll go through my approach to each and perhaps it will be useful, perhaps not.

As a referred candidate my friend spoke on my behalf to the hiring manager, got me the interview. His only advice was to tell me some of the company values at the place I was interviewing. He didn't give me much insight into the hiring manager or other interviewers (though to be fair, I don't think he knew them well and wasn't part of the interview team). The only specific thing he said in that regard was that my phone screener had a soft spot for folks that had a particular job experience that I had.

when referring others In cases where I wasn't on the team, I did exactly what my friend did. I talked about the corporate values, I sent the candidate the job requisition (in case they didn't have it) and I let them know what I knew about the department they were interviewing for at a general level. I gave them anecdotes of my own hiring experience as well.

When referring others as a member of the hiring team In this case, I recused myself of participating, I made it clear to my manager that the candidate was my friend. I did give my friend a general framework for how the interview would proceed (i.e. what steps were involved) and I did tell him what the department culture was like. It was a software department, and so I made general advice like, "You'll have a technical interview, they will probably want to test your understanding of computer science algorithms" and "You have a technical presentation you have to give. A lot of folks attend, you'll want to strike a balance between story telling and skills demonstration." I did not specifically tell him questions and I did not tell him specifically what attributes the team was looking for. I constrained myself to the advice I would have given had my friend been interviewing for a software position in any company. Important to note here that despite recusing myself, my boss did ask me to join the decision meeting, where he asked me to explain to everyone what things my friend had done and what skills he had that had caused me to want to refer him. This was actually really hard for me because it turns out my friend had not performed well on some parts, and so I had to listen to the feedback that wasn't so favorable. They ended up not hiring him.

When hiring referred candidates Frankly, regardless of prep there are two things that happen here. 1) I assume the referrer does tell them all they can about the department and the interview process. Frankly, I don't think it matters that much. Our process isn't designed to favor folks who studied the test, it's designed to give us a good sense of how they think. We have a specific block where we give them a question and a half hour to do research and design and we don't require them to finish, just to explain their thought process. 2) I (like my boss in the previous block) ask them to talk about the candidate to us, explain things that we might've missed in the interview, etc. It's like free info, and while it doesn't add weight by itself it's good context.

When referring as a hiring manager This one was the trickiest, but I feel like I did the right thing. In this case, I made the referral, formally recused myself of the bonus, and then handed all decision-making power to my assistant manager. He's supposed to be able to step in when I'm gone anyway, and I have worked with him long enough to trust him. I handled the candidate exactly how I did above (as even as the hiring manager, I consider myself part of the hiring team, and generally defer to the group's vote on hiring decisions). I explicitly told my assistant manager that the decision was his and that I didn't want my friendship of the candidate to have any bearing. I am aware that it would anyway, but I wanted him to know that I really did want him to decide in either direction. As it turned out, my friend did very badly. It's a long story, but he upshot is that he was having one of the worst months of his life (multiple medical, personal, and family issues all at once) and tanked the interview. I knew it just talking to him afterward, and when my assistant manager called me later, he was expressing uncertainty about the candidate. I stopped him immediately and said, "Listen, I told you it's your decision, and as with all candidates you can only evaluate what you see. If he tanked, he tanked. If you wouldn't hire him under other circumstances, then don't hire him just b/c I know him; I told you that." He ended up not hiring and later expressed his thanks to me that I made it easy on him to do what he knew was right, but that he was worried I'd be mad about.

Also, here's a nutty idea I thought of in the debate in the other answer's comments: Why not just ask the hiring manager in advance what kind of advice he's comfortable with giving the friend? He or she will likely be willing to set boundaries and respect the OP even more for thinking of it.

This is super long, sorry about that. Hope it's helpful.

  • I agree fully with your "nutty idea." Generally, though, you're talking about culture and things like that which everyone knows they should do at least a reasonable review of the company's public materials (website, usually) and what have you. So essentially, you probably just gave them these kind of details they could reasonably find on their own. Now, if your friend is a die hard Red Sox fan and you tell them that the hiring manager is a big Yankees fan and the friend were to say that he named his golden retrievers Jeter and Girardi, yeah, that'd feel wrong to me. – Robert Jun 16 '17 at 20:25
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From a professional standpoint putting favor towards any candidate in particular based upon non-professional factors is an immoral action.

Overall, however, is it more immoral than withholding help from a friend? Well, depends upon how much you like your friend and just how much 'help' you're willing to give.

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    As long as he's not doing the actual interview I don't see a problem. – Snowlockk Jun 15 '17 at 15:14
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Giving good advice if fine, indeed it seems reasonable to assume that as the company is offering this incentive part of the point is that by recruiting people known to current employees they will get people who will fit well with the company culture and make the whole recruitment process easier.

Equally the interview process isn't supposed to be a trap or a competitive sport, it's way for candidates and employers to find out about each other and decide if a candidate is a good fit for a job.

Plainly if you know what the company is looking for and encourage candidates to provide evidence of these qualities then it is a win-win for both sides. Part of the skill of interviewing is to tease out the right information so if interviewer and candidate both understand what is required the whole process will be easier and more effective.

Obviously it goes without saying that you shouldn't do anything which is, in f itself, unethical like advising them to lie about qualifications or experience or giving them access to privileged information eg if there is some sort of 'blind' test of their skills you should keep details of that to yourself but I think that should be fairly obvious in any case.

Equally you are not doing yourself any favours if you refer someone who you know is unsuitable for the position and as such it may be wise to put any recommendation in writing so it is clear that yo are referring an acquaintance who you think seems like a likely candidate not staking your life that they are a paragon of virtue.

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The goal of an employer isn't to find the best candidate. It's to find the best candidate that fits the company.

Most likely anyone who makes it to an interview is capable of doing the job. The interview is to test specific knowledge and skills to make sure. But more importantly, it's to get an idea of the candidate's personality and how well they would fit in the company environment. If you are a genius who could do the job in your sleep, but you don't work well with the rest of the employees, you are a liability that is causing a disruption, rather than an asset to the team.

The reason I point this out is because your company hired you. You fit well with them. Presumably your friends would fit well with you, and by extension, are more likely to be a good fit for your company as well.

I'll also point out that your company has a policy that encourages this practice, in paying bonuses to employees who refer people who get hired. Finally, if you are involved in the hiring process, they must trust your judgement, and presumably you would use the same good judgement in picking your personal friends as you would picking an employee for your company. I would of course let everyone else know that they are interviewing a friend of yours, but I don't see any reason to recuse yourself from the process.

However, if you are concerned, you could always ask your employer.

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Morality is a broad spectrum and most questions fall somewhere in the middle. The fact that you stand to personally gain financially shifts this on that spectrum. You will have what appears to be a conflict of interest where you have chosen the side that favors yourself. While that may not be your intent, that is how some will view it.

Your employer expects you to drive your actions by doing what is best for them. You may not be delivering on that expectation and to gain financially because of this puts you on shakier ground.

Let's suppose that your friend is a good candidate, but not the best. If your advice and inside information gets your friend the job, then you have not done the best you can for your company.

Some have mentioned in comments that recruiters do the same thing. I think the difference is that companies are aware of that and expect it, while they expect employees to work in the best interest of the company.

In the end, morality is not a measurable science, so you need to decide for yourself.

1

I can give you my point of view, as someone who was hired thanks to a friend who was already working for the company.

When I declared my intention to work for this company, my friend and I completely cut off our relationship. We used to meet almost every day and we didn't even talked for the 3 months necessary to get to end of the interview process.

At the time it felt a bit exaggerated.

After the years so many people in some way suggested that maybe I was hired because of my friendship with him or that I had it easy during the interview, but who knows me or him have no doubt that this is not possible at all. My reputation has never been corrupted by someone talking about this.

This is just to say, don't think only about the interview process but also about the future of your friend at the company. Do you want to see him labeled as the guy who's there because reasons?

Do him a favor and keep everything as professional as possible.

  • Your example seems to run contrary to your point. He (and you) did everything possible to make it look as professional as possible, but if people still had those thoughts it seems like it didn't have the intended effect. – Paul Jun 15 '17 at 18:07
  • Maybe it was not very well explained in my answer. I know these sneaky remarks has been made by people that I know only tangentially. The people who know me better have always answered (even if I was not present) that their suspects are wrong. In a different case, where these people would have not been so sure, these situations could have taken a completely different direction. – heapOverflow Jun 16 '17 at 8:53
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I think it can be unethical.

Consider the case where your company gives a programming test during the interview. Telling the candidate the details of the test will completely short-circuit your company's desire to see the candidate work this out live. In this case, you'd be helping to deceive your company by exaggerating the candidates's apparent capabilities. Unethical.

Another case is where you tell your candidate to skill up on agile programming because your company uses it. If your friend doesn't like agile then she may decide to work elsewhere. The "interview process" was successful in that case. Or she may decide to skill up so during the interview she can say, "Bob told me you were an agile shop. I haven't used it so I read up on it. Can we talk about your implementation?" Now the candidate is showing a little initiative and should be able to demonstrate some book knowledge. Not bad. And also the tacit agreement on the part of the candidate to embrace the agile methodology. Not unethical and actually helpful.

Those are very different cases.

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    See my question. I stated "I obviously would never tell them answers to technical questions or what the questions would cover" – Lil' Bits Jun 16 '17 at 12:11
  • Your second example is accurate (ie: emphasize agile or an interest in sports, for example). The first example is a bit off, since OP stated the details of the test wouldn't be shared. – Cloud Jun 16 '17 at 16:00
  • I felt it important to include the first case to contrast the 2nd case. Downvote away, if you think this is so egregious. – Tony Ennis Jun 16 '17 at 22:28
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I don't think it's a bad thing to give a friend some interview tips, but I don't think you are considering the bigger picture. If you personally recommend a friend for a position at your company, you've already provided that friend an advantage over other candidates. Plenty of other people won't even get in the door, but your friend will, because your company would rather deal with "known" people than "unknown" people. This is tied directly to your reputation, and you should be careful not to mess up your reputation by submitting candidates who can't get through an interview without help.

That said, if the friend is just a casual acquaintance or friend of a friend, and I didn't actually know how good they were, I might recommend them with reservations, but I would not likely offer them any interview tips. If, however, I knew the person and knew they would be a great fit for the job, I would give them whatever help I could. This has nothing to do with ethics. Part of your job is to advance the interests of the company or organization, and therefore you should only be submitting strong candidates for any role.

  • Not the downvoter, but most of this seems like an extended comment on only recommending strong candidates while only skimming over answering whether or not giving hints is unethical. – Dukeling Jun 15 '17 at 19:07

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