a job candidate’s sister emailed me, asking me to hire him

A reader writes:

What do you do if a job candidate’s sister writes you an email saying, “Please keep this as a secret” and says that she will help her very talented brother with the job and that this job would be perfect for him — on and on for a whole page.

Do I answer her? Do I tell the candidate? Do I ignore her?

How would you handle this? He is in the top three, but this makes me wonder.

Ignore it, on the assumption that even the best candidates can have crazy siblings. I’d  pay some extra attention to ensuring that he seems to understand normal business conventions, but aside from that, make your decision independent of this. And if you end up hiring him, tip him off that his sister is sending emails that aren’t doing him any favor with employers.

That said, there’s one part of this that I’d want more information about: Do you mean that the sister wrote that she would help him with the job, or just that she wants to help him get the job? Because if she’s saying she’ll help him with the job itself, that’s additionally weird and something that you probably do need to address with him before offering him a job. I’d say something like, “I received an email from your sister that I wasn’t quite sure how to interpret. She said that she’d help you with the job if you were to be in the role. I didn’t respond to her, but I’m wondering if you can shed any light.”

And meanwhile, siblings, spouses, parents, children, significant others, and friends of job candidates: This is a very, very bad thing to do. Do not do this.

{ 91 comments… read them below }

  1. The IT Manager*

    Wow! CRAZY! Whether you select this guy or not, I do think you should tell him what his sister is doing this because there’s no way this helps and will probably always hurt – like making you wonder about him because of the email.

    1. Lisa*

      Seriously, he has a right to know that psycho is doing this. It does sounds like she is offering to do a portion of his work for him, and in her twisted mind prob thinks this is a selling point that the OP gets a 2-for-1 deal. This isn’t a selling point at all, and OP will be doing this guy a favor by telling him that you found his sister’s email to be inappropriate and helicopter parent-ish to the extreme. If he doesn’t sound mortified in his response, then you may dodge a bullet cause this guy thinks he can do 1/2 his work and rely on a type A sister to do the rest.

      1. Pandora Amora*

        “Psycho”? “Twisted mind”? What extra information did you read that I missed? Your conclusions seem quite extreme given the facts presented.

        1. Denise*

          Well, it is incredibly strange behavior. Maybe not “twisted,” but I might be inclined to think the sister–assuming she’s an adult–is perhaps less than bright. It just shows a complete lack of awareness of social norms, both professionally and personally (even for close family members). Not being able to tell when behavior is completely inappropriate raises legitimate questions about a person.

    2. mas*

      I agree. Even if this is someone who is mentally ill, the compassionate thing to do is to inform the candidate so they can deal with it. My friend who is a teacher had a mentally ill former student send crazy letters to her principal – thankfully the administration let her know so she could take legal steps to protect herself.

      1. CoffeeLover*

        +1 to me his sister seems mentally unstable. Regardless of the inappropriateness of contacting OP, the one page of rambling is a big sign.

        1. Elizabeth West*

          We got a resume like that at OldJob once. The guy put a photocopy of his DL at the top and the rest of the page was just a wall of text. It was completely nuts. I felt kind of bad for him–obviously he was never going to get a job with a resume like that.

    3. Jessa*

      I agree, at some point, this guy needs to be told that his sister is doing this stuff. Even if not hired, everyone else is probably too nervous to tell him WHY or thinks he knows (which if he does, he’s an idiot.)

  2. Chaucer*

    I would be MORTIFIED if any of my family members did this “for” me. I get that she is probably only trying to help, but my goodness is that bad, especially if the candidate doesn’t know about it.

  3. Darcie*

    What I’d like to know is how this crazy sister got the e-mail of the hiring manager. Yikes.

  4. Rob Bird*

    I can understand it to a point. I have worked with the unemployed long enough to know the stress it can cause people. Especially their family, who seem to take the brunt of all the frustration. And even though she may be trying to help him, she really isn’t.

    I am not saying the job prospect is unemployed (because I just don’t know); but it is just one possible explanation for the sister’s actions. Not saying it’s right, just saying it’s a possibility.

    1. some1*

      My first thought was he’s unemployed, crashing on her couch, and driving her nuts. Sending the email still isn’t ok, but I can see what’s behind it.

  5. Ellie H.*

    If the email seemed egregiously strange, it’s also possible that she has psychological problems, in which case it really shouldn’t be held against the candidate. I really don’t want to jump to dramatic conclusions though – I can see it being equally or even more likely that she just has extremely poor judgment.

  6. KayDay*

    Hey! You’r sister just emailed me
    And it was crazy
    Even though she’s a psycho
    I’ll hire you, maybe?

    (I’m sorry, that was terrible and about 9 months too late, but I couldn’t resist.)

  7. Jazzy Red*

    It sounds like there might be an aspect of the job that the candidate either can’t do or is weak at, and Big Sis is going to step in and Save The Day (every day!) by covering it.

    Or not, but the poor guy really needs to know that she’s doing this and that it’s screwing up his chances.

  8. Anonymous*

    I would take comfort in the fact that she said “please keep this a secret.” Which leads me to assume that her brother is a reasonable human being, who would be mortified and probably very upset with her if he found out she was doing this.

      1. I wish I could say*

        Agreed. As someone with a sister is whom is highly delusional, I can relate. She’s caused more Trouble than I have the time/space/energy to share.

    1. Tricia*

      Agreed; the poor guy could just be stuck with a sister who is either a compulsive snoop who can’t stop mixing in things that don’t concern her (let me introduce you to my sister-in law) or who is somewhat mentally challenged. In either case, not his fault. Give him a fair interview and go with your gut.

    2. Kou*

      Absolutely. That’s the tip-off right there. I wonder if he already told her not to do this in the past, even.

  9. Zee*

    This reminds me of what Christopher Titus says in his special “Love is Evol.” It can equate as a few times on this blog, Alison and others have equated dating to job searching.

    I won’t write it all out here, but if you hop over to Youtube and search for this special, it’s around the 2:30 mark.

    And KayDay above has the gold star for the comments with a “Call Me Maybe” meme for this!

    1. EngineerGirl*

      Agree. As someone with a crazy sister I would beg, beg, beg you not to disqualify the candidate. Some sisters are manipulative and controlling.
      For example: when I was in university I applied for a job at a plastics factory. They explicitly told me that this most likely be a substitute position for when someone reported sick on the assembly line. I was fine with that, just hoping for a chance to prove myself . The called me about 1-1/2 months later. Unknown to me, my sister answered the phone and proceeded to chew them out for taking so long to call me. Obviously they never called again. It wasn’t until years later that I found out my sister sabotaged me. I couldn’t figure out why all my friends were called and I never was!

      1. Sara L*

        It’s not just sisters, believe me. I applied for a job I was in no way qualified for one time because my MIL kept pushing and I figured they’d just never call. Somehow I got an interview, but they told me (rightly) that I didn’t have enough experience. She actually called the company and asked for the hiring manager, then started to question her on how many years of experience someone would need for this position.

        She actually told me about this later. I had told her they wanted 3-5 years, and she brought it up the next time I saw her and said the director had told her “three years.” She said this like I’d lied to her or something. All I could say was “Well, I have no years of experience in this area, so…does it matter?”

        Believe me, I tell her as little about my life as possible, but in that particular case she’d been the one to order me to apply there, so she knew. And sometimes she harasses me and accuses me of sitting on my butt not looking for a job because I won’t tell her where I’ve applied, so sometimes I have to tell her something or go bonkers. I really feel for anyone else in this situation.

        1. Tina*

          Oh, that is so not right! It’s MIL stories like this that make me so grateful for my fiance’s supportive, gracious parents.

          And as a career counselor, I’m generally horrified about family members that contact employers. It makes you wonder if hiring that person is more drama than it’s worth, even when it’s not the candidate’s doing.

  10. Henning Makholm*

    Perhaps instead of “I received an email from your sister …” one ought to say “I received an email from someone who claimed to be your sister …”.

    Sure, writing letters under false identities is pretty far out, but so is trying to “help” your siblings in this way.

    1. JB*

      This is what I was thinking. There are some strange people out there. Who knows, maybe this is someone who is trying to hurt the candidate by pretending to be his sister, hoping it costs him a chance at this job. It’s far-fetched, but equally as strange as someone’s sister saying they would “help” the candidate in his role.

  11. Oxford Comma*

    I am reminded of the Everybody Loves Raymond episode where Marie goes into the FBI office where her son, Robert has applied and she tries to sabotage him.

    1. Seal*

      That’s the first thing I thought of, too. Didn’t his mother even bring cookies? As I recall, it ultimately came out that her motive was due to her constant fear something would happen to him as a cop and she didn’t want to have to keep worrying about him if he went to work for the FBI.

      But that’s a sitcom – certainly not appropriate for real life!

  12. EnnVeeEl*

    I am not convinced this is his “sister” – it really could be someone trying to sabotage the job applicant, or possibly someone trying to get the OP in trouble.

    Yeah, that scenario sounds crazy, just as crazy as someone doing this.

    I vote for telling the applicant (if it comes down to that), “Someone CLAIMING to be your sister sent a crazy email…”

    1. Chris80*

      If I were the job applicant, I’d be so tempted to respond that I’m an only child (true or not!).

  13. fposte*

    I want to know what was included in “on and on for a whole page.” Details about his childhood problems with shoe-tying? Her awesome accomplishments?

  14. Toni Stark ` Stark Enterprise*

    Or maybe he sent the “email” as a way to solidify his position b/c it was apparent that he had some weak areas related to his ability to do the job….not deal breakers but enough to knock him out of the running. Maybe he is delusional enough to think this email would give him a leg up or make him stand out.

    If he didn’t send it, he may have asked her to do it. I’d like to know what the letter says. If it has specific info (about the areas where he is weak) then he just may be in on this.

    1. AnotherAlison*

      I was thinking this could be a case where the 25 y.o. brother and teenage sister both still live with the parents, and she could have picked up a business card he brought home from an interview.

      I also thought the candidate could have sent the email himself. If not mental issues driving irrational behavior, maybe it was one of those 2 am “great idea” emails.

      1. Toni Stark ` Stark Enterprise*

        True but if he is still at home and his younger sister sent this, where in real life does she think she will be able to help him with his work (assuming she is in fact younger)?

        1. AnotherAlison*

          I have no idea, but my 8 yr old does think his 15 yr old brother is a complete moron. He thinks he could help him with science.

          I can’t see the sister actually being smart enough to help but not see that it is completely inappropro to email the hiring manager, but I could see it with someone who is a little slow. If the letter seemed like it was written by an adult, though, I doubt it was a mentally disabled adult. . .

          Maybe this was a fake letter to AAM. It’s too ridiculous.

          1. Anonymous*

            There are disabilities where people are completely functioning but lack the ability to recognize social conventions and norms. These people are often also very smart, so it wouldn’t be farfetched to assume that she believes she could do the job better than her brother… not an expert in this stuff, but it might be the case in this.

    2. Jane Doe*

      Good point. It’s possible she saw it on a business card if he was handed one at the interview or that she made a lucky guess that it was firstname.lastname@company.com (which would require her to know the name of the hiring manager), or that she reads his email and saw it there.

      All of these scenarios require either some work, some luck, or some sneakiness, which I suppose wouldn’t be uncharacteristic for someone who writes weird letters on behalf of their siblings.

      I’d probably do a little digging – if it doesn’t look like they live together based on moving history/college/social media accounts, the first and last scenarios are impossible or highly unlikely.

      Did the email come from an email address that looks “real” or one that looks like it belongs to a dummy account set up quickly?

      1. Toni Stark ` Stark Enterprise*

        Right. I wish there was a way that you could check how old an email account is. If you could see that it was made 30 min before the email was sent, that would raise some flags.

        Either one or both of them are sneaky.

    3. EngineerGirl*

      Well it is clear that you’ve never had to deal with a mentally ill sibling. You can’t conceive some of the things they do.

      1. Anonymous*

        Toni here. You’re right, I haven’t had to deal with one. I also don’t assume someone is mentally ill bc they do something like this.

  15. khilde*

    Not too many posts are unsatisfying….but this one is. We need more details!!!!! If nothing else, to entertain us, please. I have a crackpot sister in law that I could see doing something along the lines of “keep it secret” so this will be a great read no matter what. OP, please come back!

  16. Amanda*

    Maybe this isn’t a sister. I think it sounds more like the actions of a frustrated mother or S/O, who has a personal interest in the candidate being able to pay his own bills. (Or maybe the candidate is living with his sister.)

    The email-writer is still crazy though!

    1. Toni Stark ` Stark Enterprise*

      Yes, this person is def vested in this situation. It’s either his mom, sister or wife…or a roomate hoping he’ll be able to pay his share of the rent soon!

  17. Legal Eagle*

    Wow. Whoever wrote that email is crazy bananas. I would definitely tell the candidate after the decision is made, whether he’s hired or not. I also wouldn’t hold someone’s crazy relative against him.

  18. Wilton Businessman*

    or better yet:
    “I was going to hire him, but since he has such a crazy sister, I think I’m going to pass.”

  19. Kou*

    Gahhh that poor guy. Imagine all the bad advice-givers people always write in about here, and then imagine those people actually contacting employers on your behalf because they think you’re doing it wrong.

    The horror.

  20. MJ*

    As someone with a mentally ill sibling, please, please mention it to the candidate and don’t write him off until you get a response! It’s very likely he has no idea she’s done it, and she could well be sabotaging other job applications of his like this. Manipulative behaviour and deception is common in a lot of mental illnesses and I certainly wouldn’t put this past a mentally ill jealous sibling, or even one just trying to help, to access his email for your email address and write this.

      1. Anonymous*

        It might explain her motivation and reasoning, warped though it may seem in this context.

        1. fposte*

          Whether he has a disability or not, she has reasons that make this a sensible action to her. Whether he has a disability or not, she’s wrong, wrong, wrong.

        2. Rana*

          Yeah, I could see a sister who’s used to dealing with her brother’s disability all her life not being able to grasp that her brother is now an independent adult, and wanting to “help” him since he “needs” it.

          (I have a friend with a disability, and although she lives independently – and quite successfully – her sister still sometimes gets weirdly protective – like worrying what might happen to her if she moved more than a day’s drive from their parents, even though we’re talking about a woman who’s traveled the world and has several advanced degrees and has a large and solid social network.)

        3. Jean*

          I agree with most of the other comments in this sub-thread. There was also someone else who commented earlier (see above: Anonymous at 3:26 p.m.) about cognitively intelligent people with social-functioning disabilities (e.g. Asperger’s). Maybe the sister was trying to be a self-appointed job coach. It’s certainly _unusual_ to have a sibling contact the hiring manager but it might not be motivated by complete insanity, exasperation that someone is still couch-surfing, or any of the other out-of-this-world scenarios. I think the hiring person should
          a) inform the sibling (or “sibling”/impersonator) that HR decisions do not involve family input
          b) inform the applicant that FYI, the hiring person was contacted by the sibling
          c) strive to ignore all of this back story when deciding, Out of our current crop of applicants, which one best provides what we need to fill this particular opening? (Meaning who has both the skills and abilities to do the job and the potential to be–as far as we can tell–a positive addition to our workplace?

          I suppose the hiring manager could tie him/herself in knots if it came down to two equally qualified applicants, only one of whom also has this Sibling Who Does Unusual Things… I’m going to wimp out here because I hope that
          – the decision won’t be that close
          – Alison will comment again, because she knows more than I do about this!

      2. Jean*

        She might be thinking that having a disability entitles an applicant to on-the-job assistance. Vague ideas of ADA accessibility? I mean, at what point does job assistance become unreasonable? I’m asking in good faith here–no snark intended. I suspect that common sense will help in most cases: a job coach guides someone who can do the job, if given some support to stay focused or calm or whatever it is that causes them to become inattentive. For example I have rather sketchy abilities in higher mathematics, so even with a devoted job coach I couldn’t do the work of an actuary, economics researcher, or statistician.

    1. Sara L*

      This is a very original idea that’s only been mentioned by two or three other commenters, but how would any of the top three get the names of the other candidates? I’ve applied for jobs internally where I didn’t always know who else was interviewing or even how many others there were. Certainly I was never told the rankings. It’s pretty farfetched.

      1. saf*

        Once I applied for the job and was one of the finalists.

        I knew I had been rejected, and why, and for who, long before they told me. See, they discussed me by hitting reply-all on the email they sent to schedule my interview with the board. They forgot to take my name off it. I don’t think they ever realized what they did.

        I had no idea how to react!

        1. AA*

          Had something similar happen.

          HR emailed me to reschedule a 3rd interview & gave reason X. Then, they resent the meeting notice, which included me, and the notes said that they were rescheduling in order to give Jane Smith a first interview before going further with me.

  21. Sara L*

    This reminds me of that woman who was in the news recently for standing on a street corner with a sign saying she’d pay $500 to anyone who could find her daughter a job.

    The bulk of the commenters (which, on Yahoo, aren’t exactly…um, erudite) were aiming their ire at the daughter and asking where she was while her mother was holding that sign? My theory is that she was hiding under the bed pretending they’re not related and hoping no hiring manager ever connects the two.

    As someone with a very controlling mother-in-law who makes Marie Barone look meek, I feel so bad for people who have relatives like this. Honestly, if I got contacted like this, I would let the relative know that what they were doing was completely inappropriate and could hurt the candidate’s chances. I guarantee the candidate has begged them to stop doing things like this to no avail.

    1. fposte*

      Between this and the above, Sara, I hope your husband has your back on this. Everybody Loves Raymond is only funny on TV.

  22. Henning Makholm*

    Idea: When you check up with the candidate to verify that it’s not his idea of appropriate conduct, and assuming that he’s as horrified as he ought to be, offer to help him getting her to stop that kind of thing. Suggest that, even though you’re not actually going to count the email against him, in the eventuality that you go with someone else you could (if he wants you to) write an official rejection letter where you claim you were just about to make him an offer when the sister’s email caused you to doubt his maturity, and in the end you decided to go with someone you were more sure could fend for herself in the business world.


  23. Piggle*

    Let him know. Something like this could be easily cured by password protecting your computer and/or phone. Maybe she checked his emails when he wasn’t looking. How awful.

  24. Kate*

    SO many questions – how did she know where he’d applied? How did she get the email address? how is she so tone-deaf to modern business conventions that she thinks this is appropriate?

    This is the sort of thing that’s easily prevented: set appropriate boundaries with people. Just because someone asks you questions doesn’t mean you have to answer them. Strong passwords are another must.

  25. Zahra*

    Late to the party, but…

    Knowing the company and department someone applied at, it’s easy enough to find the hiring manager on LinkedIn.

  26. Andre*

    For instance my ex-girlfriend once sent my resume to one company without I even know that! I mean, I was looking for a new job at that stage and knew that she was helping me with that, but didn’t know anything about that company specifically. I was contacted by the hiring manager when we had already broke up and was caught by surprised with the call. I don’t know exactly what she wrote on the application, but the hiring manager said that I was referred by her. However, my ex-girlfriend was also my former boss in a previous job, so I believe that she made a “professional referral” (if that can be called like that) somewhere on the cover letter or on the e-mail itself. Eventually, I was hired and worked in that company for over 2 years, made great friends there, but since this episode I’ve been avoiding relationships with my superiors (and even co-workers) because, in the end, the work environment becomes too personal… :)

  27. Heatherbrarian*


    (Really just am commenting to get email notifications for this in case the OP ever comes back with an update, because… wow.)

  28. Lean*

    Just discovered this, and it made my blood run cold because my mum has done some similar unsolicited craziness and even being confronted with a “please do not do this, ever” she continues to do so. Please, do not think that this is a reflection of the person they are attempting to represent! Folks who think that this is OK barely need to be told anything – they’ll do some sleuthing so thorough it’s creepy. I mentioned in passing that a friend had referred me for a job at his company – straight off, my mum looked up his Facebook, found the company, and started looking through the list of staff and managers. I hope to God she has not attempted to contact any of the managers to “put in a good word”, like the time she rang up a former boss posing as my solicitor in an attempt to get a tax form I had politely requested but not yet received (and no, I never received said tax form). Again, information about said boss she’d gleaned from Googling. She’s also looked over my shoulder to get my iPhone PIN code, and sent aggressive text messages to my ex boyfriend.

    This is why emigrating was a good decision for me.

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