How Far Should You Go to Back a Job Candidate?

How Far Should You Go to Back a Job Candidate?

Dear HR Pro: My department has a strategic staff position opening, and a friend of mine, “Joe,” recommended his former colleague “Eleanor” for the position.

After meeting with her, I was pleased to recommend her, as her qualifications are just right and she’s kept her knowledge up to date while being out of the workforce with family. But … she interviewed very poorly.

Do I put my credibility on the line to help her get a second hearing, or just let it go, despite the pressure from Joe to help?

— Grace, 39,  senior communications manager

A: Sorting out your various commitments in this scenario will help you clarify the best way to proceed.

Think of it in terms of layers of importance. Your most important commitment is to the needs of your company.

If you believe Eleanor is the right person for the job based on that lens, that can drive some business-focused actions on your part. More on that shortly.

For Joe and Eleanor, you have the commitments of professionalism and respect. You are obligated to communicate promptly and honestly, but this doesn’t create a requirement of support at all costs. They have requirements, too, related to respecting your boundaries.

With this in mind, take a fresh look at your department’s needs.

What are the most important requirements and how hard is it to find qualified candidates? If you have five equally compelling candidates, it may be harder to make a case for a second look.

Then find out what “interviewing poorly” meant. If this was her first interview with anyone since returning to the workforce, it could have been lack of preparation and/or nerves.

This is on her, and I would strongly recommend that she work on that before her next interviews.

If it was related to the substance of her knowledge and skills, line up their feedback against your impressions to understand the disconnect.

Also reflect on the team’s needs, the dynamics with the leadership she will support, and so on. If you have a subjective sense that she would handle the pressures in an appropriate way, that’s worth sharing, too.

If you want to back her, what should you do?

This is where the requirements-based analysis comes in, setting aside any tinge of friendship-based advocacy.

Present your reasons that she should be in the second round of interviews; if you are directly affected by the hiring decision, it’s not that much to ask, and if they don’t agree with you, that is outside your control.

On the other side, give Eleanor some blunt feedback on how her first round fell short, within the bounds of company confidentiality, of course. Her ability to incorporate the feedback is also outside your control.

If you come to the conclusion that she is not a strong enough fit for you to risk your credibility, then be honest but kind with Eleanor. Include useful feedback, as a professional gift you would want someone to offer you.

And have a private conversation with Joe so that he understands your point of view.

In the end, you need to trust your own judgment and behave with integrity.

Liz Reyer is a credentialed coach with more than 20 years of business experience. Her company, Reyer Coaching & Consulting, offers services for organizations of all sizes. Submit questions or comments about this column or human resources issues at or email her at

Author: Liz Reyer

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