courtesy interviews: when colleagues pressure you to interview candidates they’ve referred

A reader writes:

What is your opinion on “courtesy interviews”? Specifically, interviews for the sake of appeasing higher-ups when you have no interest in the candidate?

I am not a hiring manager and do not work in HR, but rather my boss has tasked myself and a few colleagues to filter through resumes for a new position and conduct initial phone interviews before we pass a few candidates on to him. For the record, I work in a decentralized academic environment that leavings hiring to the specific research center directors since positions are very project and grant specific.

After looking through applications, we determined a list of applicants to offer initial interviews to. However, several of our more senior colleagues have been emailing us about applicants they are referring and are encouraging us to interview them. After looking at their applications (and compared to the larger pool of applicants), we did not feel they were a fit for the position but are feeling pressured to talk to interview them anyway. I feel guilty as this is a waste of our time and theirs. We have tried to push back, saying that we didn’t feel they were qualified for the position but they are saying they still want us to “talk to them.” We are crunched on time as we all have vacations coming up that limit our availability and we’re needing to get someone in the position as soon as possible. Just wanting to know your opinion on professional standards for the practice of courtesy interviews.

Courtesy interviews are an interesting thing.

Usually the term is used to mean a courtesy to the candidate, rather than to pushy colleagues. The idea is that you know the candidate isn’t going to be right for the job, but they’re a friend of the organization in some way (like a client or a colleague at an another organization who you work closely with), or a personal referral from someone in that category, or enough of a bigwig in your field that it would come across as a slight not to talk to them at all. The idea is that the context around the relationship means that rejecting them without an interview would leave them feeling like they didn’t get real consideration, despite the relationship.

I used to feel pretty strongly opposed to this, since if you know the person isn’t right for the job, it’s rude and unkind to waste their time on an interview. But I’ve come to appreciate that it can actually hurt an employer not to do it — because you end up with people feeling stung and (sometimes) feeling bitter toward the organization, in ways that truly can be problems. I still think it’s not especially courteous, but that can be trumped by the organization’s interest in preserving its relationships with people.

Now, what’s happening in your case is a bit different. It’s possible that some of the referrals your colleagues are pushing are courtesy interviews by the definition above, but it sounds like at least some of it is just your coworkers being pushy.

The thing to do here is to get more information (about why they want you to interview a given candidate), and to share more information yourself (about why you don’t want to). Say something like this to those colleagues: “Jane isn’t the right match for what we’re looking for because of XYZ. We have a limited period of time to get interviews done and we’ve filled all our available interview slots. Is she someone we need to talk to for courtesy reasons, even knowing she won’t be a competitive candidate? And if so, how urgent is it that we do that, given that we’re in triage mode with our interview time?”

If you get the sense that this isn’t really about preserving relationships for the organization but rather is just about people being sure their candidate could do the job, then you can say something like this instead: “We had a lot of great candidates for this position and so we decided not to schedule an interview with Jane because she wasn’t competitive with other candidates in areas X and Y. But thank you for referring her!” Or, depending on the details, “We’re determined to hire someone with strong experience in X, which Jane doesn’t have, so we’re not advancing her to an interview. But thank you for sending her our way!”

{ 154 comments… read them below }

  1. Anon16*

    I’m in a position now where I’m waiting for an employer to get back to me about an interview (I submitted my resume a little over last week). I was referred by my former manager who had worked there in the past. I’m not even sure if they’ll interview me. I feel a little stung by it, but whatever.

    If anything else, please send a rejection email. I suppose I would feel pretty peeved if I didn’t even get an email notifying me that they didn’t choose to move on with my application. I’m not even sure if it’s a lot to ask but I would feel pretty bummed if they moved on and didn’t even send an email notifying me, (it’s not a big company).

      1. CAA*

        A little over a week is too soon. It can easily take 3+ weeks just to decide which candidates to interview, especially during times when a lot of people are out of the office.

        1. Anonymoose*


          Sorry Anon16. Still too early to be peeved about a possible interview invite slight.

      2. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

        It’s a lot to ask if it’s only been a week! I think it’s nice for employers to send rejection/status emails to folks, even if those are mass or form emails.

        But I think it’s way too early to feel stung, annoyed, peeved, frustrated, bummed, etc. Can you redirect your focus for a few weeks so that you’re not obsessing about your application? I know when I’m anticipating news, the days in between feel sooooooo much longer than when my mind is occupied with other things.

        1. Anon16*

          That’s nice of you! I spoke briefly with the HR person and he said he’d let me know next steps this week, so still waiting. It is silly to get anxious, and I’m grappling with not being checking my email too often or being impatient. And also that, really, it isn’t an edge even though I hoped it would help out.

          Thanks for the message!

          1. Jadelyn*

            Just FYI, as an HR person who works with recruiting for my org, when we say we’ll let you know next steps “this week” or “next week”, that’s just an estimate, please cut us some slack. “I’ll let you know next steps later this week” means, in an ideal world where my hiring manager gets back to me in a timely fashion and I’m able to pin down three or four peoples’ schedules enough to arrange interview times without days of back-and-forth about the scheduling, I’ll let you know next steps this week.

            But if the hiring manager is on vacation for a couple days, or just super busy and doesn’t respond to me, and I have to chase them down for answers on who they want to interview, that’s a delay. If I start trying to arrange interview schedules and find out that a critical member of the hiring team is going to be out that week, meaning we have to reshuffle the whole schedule, that’s a delay. If a member of the hiring team just doesn’t get back to me about their interviewing availability and I have to chase them down for that information, that’s a delay. If one of the up-chain managers over that department suddenly wants to revisit the necessity of hiring someone right now and I have to wait for those conversations to take place before even knowing *if* we’re going to proceed at all, that’s a delay. And there are many more possible scenarios that would throw a wrench in the hiring timeline, and these happen on an extremely regular basis!

            And it only takes one or two delays to push “this week” into “next week”, or the week after. So please, I know it’s hard, but be patient and understand that shit happens on the company’s end sometimes, and take those “next steps” timelines with a grain of salt.

            1. Anon16*

              That totally makes sense. My pessimism is due to the fact I heard back from the HR person almost immediately upon submitting my application, (I submitted it Friday evening and received a response Monday morning). I guess I expected that same immediacy throughout the process, but I understand that was likely naive.

              Anyway, I appreciate being re-calibrated. My mind always goes to the negative (assuming I didn’t get the position), but it’s helpful to get a grander sense of the hiring process.

              1. Emma*

                For what it’s worth, I’d also keep applying to jobs while you wait. Jobs in my department often have many candidates, so when we don’t interview someone or they don’t get the job, it’s really nothing personal.

      3. Biff*

        I just had an interview for a middlin’ kind of job and the manager told me they’d recieved 300+ applications and more were still trickling in. They were interviewing 12 people. I thought that was insane. Can you imagine just the tedium that is data entry to send even a form letter to each candidate? I think getting a rejection letter is nice, but I only expect a rejection letter if I’m selected to interview.

        1. TootsNYC*

          I will say that if I got a résumé from anyone that I knew, that candidate would absolutely get a personal email of some sort, even if it was just to say, “your qualifications aren’t a good enough fit to call you in.” To me, that’s the courtesy: a direct, clear look at the résumé and direct yes or no.

          If I had *time*, I’d meet with them–even if I only offered an informational interview if they weren’t qualified.

        2. Toph*

          The last time my team was hiring we got 400 applications, and only maybe 12 of them were even remotely qualified. We didn’t even want to interview all 12, more like 3, but only 12 were not completely ridiculously for applying. It was mind-boggling.

      1. Jadelyn*

        …can I just say I love the concept of “hiring time”? It’s like dog years, but in reverse.

    1. Simone R*

      One week is not a long time! Some places it can take a month or more. And yes, its not too much to ask for them to respond, but many don’t so it’s easier if you just expect them not to.

    2. AMPG*

      It sounds like the referral is a former employee of theirs AND a former boss of yours? So not current in either role? IMO that’s too tenuous of a connection to expect a personal reply if you’re not chosen for an interview.

      1. LS*

        I don’t think Anon16 is expecting a *personal* reply, just a reply. Which is basic courtesy IMO considering how easy it is.

    3. Allison*

      It depends on a few things. If it’s a high priority role and the organization has a dedicated and well-staffed talent acquisition team within HR, good candidates are usually contacted quickly. Low priority role, understaffed HR department, and/or small organization where the hiring manager is doing this with little to no help from HR while balancing all their usual duties? It might take a couple weeks, maybe even a month.

  2. AnotherAlison*

    Ah, reminds me of the time I had to interview one of our higher-ups’ dental hygienist’s mother for a position. She may have been qualified as an engineer, but she didn’t speak fluent English. She had to write down some of our interview Q&A because she could write better than she could speak. It was a “no hire.”

    The thing I don’t like about courtesy interviews is that I think the candidate thinks they have an edge since they were referred. (They do have an edge since they weren’t going to get an interview at all otherwise, but I think they sometimes get the impression that they have a strong chance.)

    1. thevekuc*

      Yep, this.

      I worked somewhere where the CEO prided himself on finding talent in unusual places. Basically it was people he came across that he particularly liked, not that had any qualifications. I remember one hire asked our Windows admin to explain how to use Windows or maybe it was Office.

      Another individual I was asked to interview was referred by one of our founders who was a very nice & humble guy. We were quite surprised when the interviewee had anecdote after anecdote that all boiled down to “I’m smart, but I work with stupid people.”. No thanks. Fortunately there was no push back from the founder.

      1. DecorativeCacti*

        We had one with “extensive computer experience” who didn’t know what a cursor was…

        Don’t lie on your resume.

        1. Anon for this*

          I had to work with a client’s “Windows NT Administrator” once over the phone…I had to walk this person through how to click on the plus to open folders in Windows Explorer. (I tried having them double click first. They were not doing it fast enough.)

        2. Snazzy Hat*

          Dude, even if someone has extensive computer experience with a Commodore 64 or a Tandy, they should still know what a cursor is.

    2. Artemesia*

      I made the mistake of agreeing to be a reference for a wife of a partner of my husband’s without first really viewing her resume and she didn’t get interviewed and forever after felt that either I was clearly some loser with no power in the organization or I had dinged her when she wasn’t interviewed. The truth is I could probably have gotten her an interview as a courtesy to me, but no way was she getting hired and once I got a good look at her resume I didn’t want my name associated with it any more than it was. A lesson to me for sure.

      I think the fact is that pushy managers who referred someone may be embarrassed if they don’t get interviewed because they feel it makes them look unimportant — so the courtesy is to them not to the applicant. Think of it as sorority rush when lots of people get invited to events the first round because friends of their mother who are alumnae put in the word; those are courtesy bids and after the first round are meaningless. People think these things give them a leg up, but mostly they don’t.

      1. TootsNYC*

        I think what I’d do in that case is make the “courtesy” be that I definitely looked at the resumé (more than skimmed it), and that I directly contacted the applicant.

        So I’d contact the applicant and say, “George passed on your resumé to me [indicates George has access], so I went through it carefully. Unfortunately, you are missing X which is unfortunately very important to us in this position. [indicates George has the clout to get me to truly evaluate her]. We have so many highly qualified applicants that I won’t have time to meet with you, unfortunately. But thank you for your interest.”

        Hopefully I keep George from looking lame, and I get to move on.

        The candidate and the colleague can only ask for “greater consideration” than other candidates might get. So, I’d consider the resumé carefully, and then reaction appropriately. I’d also be a little more considerate in my communication (someone who just replied to an ad won’t get anything, probably), almost as if they had actually interviewed.

        1. snuck*

          Yes. This.

          And if it’s a senior role, consider making it a phone call…

          If George is very senior, talk to him first.

    3. AFineSpringDay*

      We’re going through this at my job now. Our boss died last year, and our senior colleague has been handling all boss duties. Of course we want him to get the promotion. They finally start the interview process in January, and he’s told last month that it’s down to him and 2 external people – it’s a very specialized position so no one else in the company is qualified. Then, our Grand Boss gets a call from a wealthy client. “Have you interviewed these 4 other people? Oh, you really should!” We are all SO TICKED OFF that Grand Boss felt he had to have these people interviewed to preserve a relationship, and we still don’t have an answer because they have to work around people’s vacation schedules.

  3. Loopy*

    I once applied for an internal position in my own department and didn’t even get an interview. I was stung sure, but in the end I decided I was more glad they didn’t waste me time and get my hopes up!

    1. Mike C.*

      When it’s an internal candidate, I think they really owe you the courtesy of explaining what you needed to get picked for such a position in the future.

      1. AMPG*

        I definitely agree – that should fall under the heading of “professional development.”

      2. Loopy*

        The explanation was basically “well we already unofficially told this other person they had the job before the process even started” -_-

    2. JacqOfAllTrades*

      I once got rejected for an interview for an internal position – that I’d interviewed for before, so I was definitely qualified – and got the standard form rejection email. Complete with, “We wish you well with your job search.” This wasn’t a huge anonymous company, either – my office was right next to HR, and I was a manager in and out of the one person HR aaaaalllll the time.

      1. Jadelyn*

        To be honest, some of that might have been their ATS, if they were using one. In many systems, once you change a candidate’s status to “not chosen” and close the position out, it automatically sends those form emails to *all candidates* regardless of who they are.

        Now, if they didn’t precede that or follow it up with a personal conversation…that’s kinda crappy of them.

        1. JacqOfAllTrades*

          They did not use an ATS, and I know on mine I can still customize messages but maybe you can’t on all of them. And the hiring manager did not follow up until another internal candidate went to HR and complained that she had gotten the standard rejection form as well, and that wasn’t the way to treat internal candidates. That led to the manager (who was, honestly, a weasel anyway) coming in with some silly excuse about why I wasn’t chosen for an interview. But it all ended well – I was, in fact, looking for another job and got one the next week. Buh-bye! :)

    3. Alex*

      That happened to me too. Totally qualified for the position, no interview. The person they did hire also worked in the department. Everyone else interviewed was an outside person. I’m kind of glad I didn’t have to go through with the awkward internal interview thing if I wasn’t likely to be chosen anyway.

      1. Snazzy Hat*

        I wasn’t interviewed for a position where the person who would be leaving wanted me to be her replacement. Too bad she wasn’t on the hiring committee.

  4. Mike C.*

    If it weren’t for nepotism, how would any of us get our first real jobs? :p

    More seriously, I like the advice of going back to your colleagues because I think it’s important to understand if there is anything they know about the candidate that wouldn’t show up well on paper. On the other hand, if they can’t justify the recommendation in concrete terms, it gives you more weight to ignore their requests all together.

    1. LS*

      Actually my first job I got without knowing anyone at the company. The hiring manager said he felt an obligation to help people get past the “no experience” barrier. I’ve had one other job where I didn’t know anyone at the company. My other 6 jobs have all been with companies where I knew people… but that’s not unusual in my industry because people are trying to break into the field and some (okay, many) claim skills and experience they don’t really have. So people prefer to hire based on personal knowledge or recommendations from someone they trust.

      1. Gazebo Slayer*

        I love that there’s a hiring manager who feels obligated to help out people with zero experience. I wish that kind of generosity were more common.

        1. TootsNYC*

          I used to get so annoyed because the people who were choosing interns would always choose people who had already had one or two (sometimes three!) high-profile internships.

          I argued that the point of an internship was to train people so that you’d have a wider talent pool in your industry; “No, you want to choose the person who can do the job best,” she said. Except–interns weren’t supposed to be doing “jobs,” since they weren’t paid.

          If I were ever in charge, it would be a secret rule that I wouldn’t select you if you’d had another internship. I’ve realized that I’d need to be sure people never knew that, because then they’d just leave the internships off, and I wouldn’t have any way to check that they were truly rookies.

    2. Sibley*

      I did. Actually, only 1 of the jobs I’ve ever held did I get with “help”. That’s the one I only lasted 6 months at because it was such a horrible culture fit.

      So, jobs I’ve held: library page (age 14), deli worker (age 17), 1st public accting job, 2nd public accting job, internal audit job. And on the hunt for the next one.

    3. Jubilance*

      I’ve never gotten a job based on knowing someone – I’ve always just applied to job reqs on the company site and then gotten a call from the recruiter.

      1. Julianne*

        Same. Although I have half-joked that when my favorite coworker leaves our current employer, I expect him to get me a job with his new employer not too long after. (I don’t actually expect it, but he and I have very similar working styles and philosophies about the work we do, so what I really mean is I’d like us to continue working together somewhere that’s a slightly better fit for both of us.)

    4. Another person*

      I had to take a low level position and work my way up based on hard work and skills; I guess I’m one of the unlucky ones.

      I have to wonder, do the people brought in for courtesy interviews know that’s why? Seems it is doing them a disservice if they’re wildly unqualified but led to believe they have a shot at the kinds of jobs they’re really not at all qualified for.

      1. Mallory Janis Ian*

        ” . . . do the people brought in for courtesy interviews know that’s why?”

        I have to wonder if they sometimes suspect? Especially the time we had turned down a candidate for a communications director position because all her writing samples were horribly ungrammatical. But THEN our dean got a call from the bigwig in upper admin who had recommended her, and the dean’s assistant had to call her back and bring her in for an interview. Meanwhile we were about to make an offer to the chosen candidate, and that got put on hold so that they could fake-interview the upper-admin guy’s referral. We ended up hiring the chosen candidate, anyway, but it delayed the offer by about a week and a half.

        1. Toph*

          I never understand why when this happens someone doesn’t tell bigwig “oh sorry we just made an offer” if the offer were about to happen anyway. I guess depending on the structure of the organization bigwig admin might know that were not the case, but especially with external referrals where it’s basically been decided but just not gone out yet, it’d make so much more sense to “not get that message until after the offer went out” than delay everything by a week or more (potentially losing the candidate you really wanted in the meantime) just to appease someone with a last-second referral who has no chance. If the only point of the courtesy interview is saving face for everyone involved, even though I’m not really a proponent of lying, in this case smudging it would make so much more sense and save everyone the trouble and delay.

          1. Mallory Janis Ian*

            She wasn’t a last-second referral; she was in the pool all along and the upper admin guy was tracking her progress. This was back in 2008 or so and the local newspaper had laid off a whole slew of people, so they were all scrambling for communications positions at the university. The successful candidate was a reporter and the unsuccessful one had a social pages column that was made up mostly of pictures of local goings-on and prominent community members with not much actual writing. I’m guessing in all the desperation for a new job, her contact in upper admin really wanted her placed in a position.

    5. Lia*

      Only one position I’ve held was due to me knowing someone — I was a part-time merchandiser for Company A, and when the manager for Company B came to one of my accounts, filling in for their recently departed part-time merchandiser, she asked the store manager if he knew any good people. Store manager gave Manager B my name and then called me and said “hey, hope this is ok, but I know you are part time and figured if you didn’t want a job, you might know someone else”.

      I talked to Manager B a bit when she called, she offered me the job, and I worked for that company for another 5 years.

      Every other job, I’ve gotten 100% on my own.

    6. Mike C.*

      I’m not sure it came across, but I was joking in the first sentence. That’s why I ended it with a :p.

      1. NepotismSchmeptosim*

        It comes across really naïve and condescending. I get from this follow up comment that that’s not what you intended at all–but that is how it read to me. (Since you asked.)

      2. Frank Doyle*

        You had to know this was coming, though. People in comment sections love an excuse to “well actually” something with which they disagree by supplying an anecdote.

    7. PNW Jenn*

      My first “real” job came as a result of writing a cold letter to a hiring manager who happened to be looking (unbeknownst to me) for a real to create a .75 FTE contract position in her department. I got it and the rest was history.

      You never know why people are seeking to hire.

    8. NepotismSchmeptosim*

      I’ve… literally never gotten a job because of nepotism. Every job I’ve gotten has been on my own merit and/or network contacts I’ve built myself.

    9. ZucchiniBikini*

      I got my first real job “cold”, just applied based on the ad; but the next one (which was the one that really started my career) was 100% a nepotism hire. I didn’t even have an interview for it. A college friend was moving up in her organisation and her manager asked her if she knew anyone who’d be good for her old role for 6 months (they were planning to disestablish the role after that, but did need the work done for 6 more months). She suggested me; he said OK, great, when can she start?

      I know the reason it was all so casual was bc they expected it to be so short-term, but still, I was very lucky. They ended up liking my work and when that role finished, I was moved into a new one they created specifically for me.

      My career since has been a mixture of network-based hires and cold hires (I’ve had 4 other office jobs and it was 2 in each category). Now I’m a freelancer, all of my old work contacts are essential to my working life. Indeed, my biggest and third-biggest clients are both organisations that I held staff roles for in the past!

    10. Cassie*

      Technically… I’ve never really gotten a job by going through the regular process without connections. I got my student worker job because my friend’s mom worked at the college and after I graduated, I stayed as a temp. She recommended me for a career position and when my then-boss moved away a couple of years later, she rehired me into a career position. And then when she moved away, she recommended me to another person. I have a couple of work friends who have had similar trajectories – one got her first job through the traditional apply-interview route (the dept hired another candidate over her but that candidate quit after a month) but every other job after that has been because of her excellent work performance and reputation.

      I remember telling my parents that connections don’t matter in the US – it’s not like the old country where people get jobs because of so-and-so. Boy, was I surprised to find out that that is not an absolute truth!

      I’d like to think that people can get jobs without connections, and after you’ve worked at an organization for a while and have (hopefully) proven yourself – that that can help you advance along your career. (Does that still count as getting a job based on a connection?) Sometimes it really just depends on someone giving you a chance even if you don’t have the exact qualifications or experience in the particular field.

    11. starsaphire*

      Weirdly, that was the exact opposite of my problem when I was hunting for my first desk job. I was in a medium-small town, and everybody knew my parents. Seriously, I’d get to a job interview, and within the first three questions I’d hear, “So how is your mom?” or “What’s new with your dad?” Everyone liked my folks, they were great people — but that sure wasn’t helping me get a job!

      I actually had to move to another county in order to accelerate my career from the cash register kingdom to the land of the desktop computer…

  5. GigglyPuff*

    As someone who’s been more the interviewee than the interviewer, I would hate a courtesy interview. Maybe it’s my personality but even when applying for internal positions or having people vouch for me ahead of time, I’ve never expected different treatment of my application, I mean maybe a closer look or a double check but that’s about it. I’d much rather get the rejection, with possibly a little sting, over having to prepare and go through the interview process and then finding out it wasn’t really real. That would piss me off more than a proper rejection.

    1. AnotherAlison*

      Agreed! I had an internal interview in my own department. Once I knew who the other candidates were, I was thinking they didn’t need to waste our time. One guy was clearly head and shoulders above me and the other candidate.

      Some other internal applicants got a nice one-on-one with our manager to tell them they weren’t moving forward, but I guess they had to interview more than one person.

      1. Cassandra*

        Weeeeeellllllllll, sometimes Mx. Head-and-Shoulders decides the job isn’t a fit. You’re not necessarily out of the running!

    2. SarahTheEntwife*

      Me too! There have been a couple of positions open at my workplace that I’m kinda-sorta qualified for in a way that would make me totally send a resume out into the aether if it was somewhere else, but I partly don’t want to be asked in for an awkward courtesy interview if I’m not actually a strong enough candidate or there are external candidates who are clearly better.

      Really, I just need to talk to people and ask if I’d be a good fit like a grownup, but in my defense I’m really quite happy in my current job. :-b

  6. AnonIHE*

    Ughhhhh this is a thing I despise.

    Even worse, at my current workplace (higher education) where we have several unions, per the union agreements we have to interview any internal candidate who applies for any position so long as they meet the minimum qualifications. I ran a search recently with 137 applicants and we had to offer 8 interviews to internals because they met the minimums. This was a waste of 20 hours of personnel time since there were five of us on the search committee who each had to be there for the 30 minute phone screens with each candidate. And it’s not even limited to folks who hold positions within the same union as the posted position, so a faculty member or hourly admin could apply for a student affairs job even though it’s clear that they don’t stand a chance against others in the candidate pool.

    1. Mike C.*

      Why not raise the minimums then? If they meet your requirements then they’re qualified, are they not?

      1. Anony Mouse*

        In higher ed, sometimes HR has a say in what the minimums are. For example, all positions in a certain pay grade or department may have set minimums, even though the roles themselves are quite different. For example, we hired for a position that had a set salary (absolutely no wiggle room due to budgetary issues), yet HR listed a salary range on the posting. It was kind of unfair, we felt, since the stated range was $2800-$4800 per month, even though the actual salary was only $2800.

      2. Kyrielle*

        Besides Anony Mouse’s point, sometimes each of the minimums taken individually is correct, but you need someone who excels in one or more of those areas or brings several of the optional strengths to the table. Wording for the latter as a minimum can be possible (“And three or more of:”) but wording for the former is just about impossible.

        So if you tick the minimums in all categories, you’re not competitive. But if you tick the minimums in all categories and excel in one, or if you tick the minimum in some and are above-average or strong in the rest, you are competitive.

        1. LabTech*

          What about: “Only candidates who excel in one or more of these areas will be given consideration.”?

      3. puzzld*

        We have weird pools. Sometimes we get 125 apps for a position, then next time we’ll get 11, or 2 or none for the same position. Economy must be picking up, as we’ve got a search now with only a few apps. But if we’d raised our minimum reqs during the recession years, we’d really be out of luck now.

    2. kittymommy*

      Yeah, at my place if a current employee or a veteran meets minimum qualifications they get an interview regardless of whether or not they are considered a strong candidate.

      1. nonymous*

        Why not subject the internal candidate/vet to parallel interview track. For example, an HR person could ask the same questions that the panel plans to, and then follow up with a kindly worded rejection email.

        1. TootsNYC*

          But how is that remotely helpful?

          At least if you get your “courtesy only” interview with the actual hiring managers, you get a shot at the job. And you get to make some sort of impression on someone who might hire/promote you later.

          With HR only, it’s just a total waste of time. Just send me the rejection now.

    3. SQL Coder Cat*

      We have a similar issue at my university- only it’s ‘this person is related to a major donor.’ As a result, I was on a search committee for a technology systems advisor where we interviewed a donor’s son- whose only experience (work or otherwise) was driving a garbage truck for five years. It was horribly awkward.

  7. Bob*

    I always assume courtesy to the candidate when I hear that term. I’ve seen this done many times with internal candidates. I don’t have an issue with it if that employee is considered to be “upwardly mobile” and could use the interview experience for a future promotion. But I’m not a fan when it’s only about not hurting the employee’s feelings. I would prefer to be told why I’m not being considered and how likely I am to be considered in the future. That way I can move on if I’ve gone as far I can at that company.

  8. Roscoe*

    I work for a fairly small org (only around 50 people). I’m only referring people for a job that I think could actually do it. So if management doesn’t even give that person an interview, I’ll be honest, I’d be annoyed. Assume that I have enough sense to refer someone competant. I’d also be a lot less likely to refer others in the future. Sometimes its good for morale to do these courtesy interviews.

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      Keep in mind, though, that your candidate could indeed be well qualified, but there could be 10 people who are more qualified. Generally there are far more qualified people than there are interview slots.

      1. Here we go again*

        Right, but just because someone is “more” qualified, doesn’t mean they are the best pick for the job. A lot of people could look great on paper, but that doesn’t mean they will be good at the job. They could have more experience in something, but not actually have any talent, or they may have talent but not be a good culture fit or they may just not be willing to learn or grow or whatever. I do think providing a “courtesy interview” when there is an internal reference and keeping an open mind **as long as the person is remotely qualified for the job** is a good investment in any employer’s time.

        1. Emma*

          But sometimes you have multiple people with internal references, and many better qualified candidates. It’s easy to say it doesn’t hurt to interview someone, but it takes time. I’m doing short interviews tomorrow that each last a half hour. It adds up quickly!

          1. Here we go again*

            I think that you missed my point… Just looking at a resume gives you a small snapshot of a person and their qualifications. There are so many things you can’t figure out from a resume. You are jumping to the conclusion that the “better qualified” person is going to be the “better person for the job”… That’s just not true. You need some screening tools, and I believe that an internal references should be one of them. I also haven’t worked in a large enough corporation for this to be an issue, but I’ve never seen more than 2 or 3 people submitting a reference for one opening.

      2. Roscoe*

        I do understand that. But, at many companies, they often tell people “refer your friends and others in your network”, but if I’m referring you and you don’t even give them a courtesy interview, it makes it seem like you don’t value my referrals enough to even give them 30 minutes of your time. I’m not saying to hire them if they aren’t the best fit, but at least talk to them.

        1. Ask a Manager* Post author

          Yep, I can see that argument, which is part of the reason I changed my stance on courtesy interviews the way I described in the post.

          But when talking to the person making the referrals, I still think it’s worth them remembering this stuff.

        2. Toph*

          In a vacuum, I hear where you’re coming from, but I’m wondering, if the hiring manager got back to you with a response similar to Allison’s, saying “thanks but here’s why we don’t want to move them forward” would that have any chance of changing your mind? Not that they’re saying you’re totally wrong and the person were totally unqualified, or even that they have people they consider stronger candidates, but more like “we really want someone with X and your person doesn’t but thanks anyway”. Or would you still be peeved and discouraged from further referrals? I’m just curious.

          1. Roscoe*

            I think if it was a fair and valid explanation, possibly. If its just “we have 10 people we like better” that wouldn’t do anything. But if they could actually articulate it, I might be ok. The reason being that if you tell us internally what your qualifications are, and I bring you something that meets them, then you obviously weren’t honest about what you were looking for. If I have someone with 2 years sales experience, and tell us internally that you need someone with 2 years sales experiences, but say “WE really want someone with 5 years sales experience” then I’d find that problematic.

            1. Anon for this*

              I find that problematic too. But what if they want at least two years of sales experience, you refer someone with three, and they have a pool of 200 candidates – and say 50 of them have 3+ years of experience and are much better in other areas? How many candidates who have little to no chance (because of the candidate pool, not minimum requirements) are they supposed to interview, either just-in-case or to be polite?

              (And, as the candidate – if I had no chance, I would rather not waste my time and effort on a pointless interview!)

              1. Roscoe*

                Sure. If you they were to say “we will interview them, but I can almost guarantee we won’t hire” then I’d say forget it, don’t waste their time. However, I do think if you are are encouraging your current staff to refer people to your organization (and assuming it isn’t an org with 100s or 1000s of employees) then I think you need to be willing to interview these people with an open mind if employees do it. Because I’ll be honest, its going to really turn me off from referring people.

              2. The OG Anonsie*

                My reaction to that is that, since we’re talking about the resume phase still, “much better in other areas” is an on paper assumption. A lot of people seem well qualified for a job, but you’ll never know how those people stack up until you interview them because a lot of being the right fit for a job involve soft skills that you have to assess through the entire process.

                It’s also true that many people who will thrive in a position are not in the 3+ years plus additional breadth resume category. You narrow it down on paper first out of necessity and because that gives you good overall odds, but if a trusted colleague recommends someone, factoring their assessment of that person is probably wise because the in-person assessments of someone’s fit can be a lot more important than some angles of experience. I think it’s worth asking your colleague about that person and potentially bringing them in to interview if it sounds like they are someone who will do well in the position– even if they have a couple years less experience or whatever the deal is. Worst case scenario, someone else interviews better and you select them instead. It’s low risk on your end and could be a way to identify candidates that will thrive in their roles who would have otherwise been passed up.

                This is where the overall credibility of the person giving the recommendation comes in, though. Just because someone works with you doesn’t mean they’re someone whose recommendation necessarily holds that weight.

                1. Iris Eyes*

                  Yes to all this.

                  To emphasize your last point the onus should be on the person referring the candidate to make a better argument than “I know them and I like them.” Your referral letter should address how you know that they specifically would be a good fit for this specific role.

    2. TootsNYC*

      So if management doesn’t even give that person an interview, I’ll be honest, I’d be annoyed.

      Like you, I don’t suggestion someone unless I think they’d be a very good candidate for the job in question.
      I would want to hear feedback on WHY my candidate wasn’t interviewed. And that’s less because I want my opinion respected and more because I want to calibrate my judgment.
      But also because I may have info that will offset whatever negatives are bumping them out.

      All I’m asking for is serious consideration. For the candidate to be truly considered.

  9. Tertia*

    Are these relatively junior positions? I’m wondering if the higher-ups are approaching it as a practice interview opportunity for the recommendees.

    1. moql*

      In academia advisers are under pressure to find good placement for their students. This can extend to people who collaborated with someone on their thesis. It’s sort of a “it looks good for everyone when the new postdoc does well” thing. Also things are very clique-y, so it could be a grand-advisor doing someone a favor thing, or fellow PhD cohort member doing someone a favor.

  10. Anony Mouse*

    What do you call it when someone is interviewed purely to fulfill an HR quota (e.g. they already plan to hire an internal candidate)?

      1. Anony Mouse*

        This happened to me earlier this year. I was accidentally handed the business card of the person who interviewed before me. A quick LinkedIn search of that person and a conversation with a friend who works in that department made it clear I wasn’t getting the job. So frustrating.

        1. TeapotKhaleese*

          This also happened to me. I applied for a government job and received an email rejection a week later. Then a few days after the email, the same agency that rejected called me to come in for an interview. It was a weird experience. Later, someone familiar with their hiring process said I was most likely a a quote interview. Especially, since the time frame to apply was very short (I think just a week). Apparently, that’s a sign that an agency already has someone in mind for the position but still needs to interview for equal employment reasons.

          It is frustrating and now looking back I feel I was strung along. This also led me to abandon any plans to work for the government.

          1. sunshyne84*

            They are good for having positions open for only a few days including the weekend.

            Sounds to me like they either know they don’t want to hire the person, but since it’s a friend they can blame it on you for them not getting the job. Or they know they want to hire the person despite them not being qualified so they are passing their names along to get them in the running when they otherwise would not be.

            1. An Inspector of Gadgets*

              I think in a lot of cases government postings are short because that’s how HR posts them, and HR would not have much idea what the people in the receiving part of the agency think of any potential internal candidates. It’s annoying but not always nefarious, basically.

          2. nonymous*

            I’ve seen the other side of this and can assure you that sometimes those that are hiring do not have anyone in mind. We are just as frustrated by the short opening of one week as applicants! What happens in my working group is that we get so many (mostly qualified) applications for a single opening, it doesn’t make sense for them to drag on forever because then HR has to make decisions. Although if you’re applying without vet’s preference up to GS9, it will be a rare unicorn to get on the cert.

      2. Another person*

        Thank you for that! I’m still annoyed about the time I took a morning off work to sit through a mandatory skills test for a tech job that involved making very specific changes in an internally developed system that I was predestined to fail as an external candidate. I looked around and realized I was the only female candidate in the room and the only other candidate who had come in from outside was a person of color.

    1. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

      A quota interview. Or a CBA-mandated interview. It’s certainly not a courtesy interview.

      1. Decima Dewey*

        Back when I was jobhunting, I’d rather have interviewed for a job I actually had a chance of getting. Prepping for an interview only offered me as a courtesy because someone knew my ex-boss or my parents? No thanks.

  11. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

    I have been on the interviewer panel for courtesy interviews, and it is often so painful. But, in all but one case, the courtesy part of the interview had to do with the relationship between my boss and the candidate’s recommender, which I think is a bit strange. Every now and again, the candidate is interesting and we learn things we wouldn’t have known if we’d rejected them (but they almost always are still rejected).

    I’m of two minds, because sometimes they can leverage the fact that they’re interviewing with us to score interviews with other companies/employers. I’m totally ok with that—if I’m not going to hire you, then I hope someone else does! I don’t like that it wastes everyone’s time, but I try to reframe it as investing time in preserving an important work/business relationship (either with the recommender or with the candidate). And when I think about it as relationship preservation, it doesn’t bother me as much.

  12. (Mr.) Cajun2core*

    I don’t know about the OP but I know I would be concerned for my own job and well-being if I didn’t interview candidate that a higher-up strongly wanted me to interview.

    1. AMPG*

      At my old job higher-ups would sometimes pass along applications with the caveat that we were 100% in charge of deciding who to interview. I always appreciated that.

      1. (Mr.) Cajun2core*

        It is good that you had that authority. However, I am sure not all places are like that.

  13. Professor Ronny*

    This is an academic environment so tenure can be an issue. If the senior people are either on the tenure committee or could be on the tenure committee and you’re on a tenure track but not yet tenured, you have to give these “recommendations” much more weight than you otherwise might.

    1. Sam*

      YEP. There are also weird power dynamics in play if you’re a lecturer or a staff member. It would be great if you could trust that senior faculty weren’t going to irrationally hold something against you, but that’s just not always the case.

  14. BeezLouise*

    This may not be appropriate in this case, but I applied for a job internally once, and didn’t get an interview. But I did get a particularly lovely (though short!) email from the hiring manager about how I wasn’t a great match for this position, but that he hoped I would consider applying to future positions in his department, as he knew how valuable I was to the organization as a whole.

    That email stuck with me so much — it was much better than wasting my or the committee’s time when they knew they weren’t going to hire me, but it still acknowledged I had applied and told me why I wasn’t a match based on what they were looking for. As a plus, since it was an internal job, there wasn’t any awkwardness afterward like there can be when you apply for a job and then don’t get an interview or any acknowledgement. It closed the door, but kindly.

    1. Kyrielle*

      Oh, I love that approach! For internal candidates, that’s such a kind way to handle it.

    2. TootsNYC*


      THIS is what it means when someone passes on your resumé. That the hiring manager will seriously, actually look at your resumé and consider you.

      And then that they will be considerate in their treatment of you–which means, you respond directly to the applicant, and you don’t use a form-letter rejection.

      1. DDJ*

        I’ve never NOT read through an application submitted by referral. In my experience, most hiring managers are the same way. Sometimes it becomes apparent very quickly that the applicant isn’t a good fit, but they’ll get a closer examination than someone who wasn’t referred. Typically speaking.

        Although (and I’m not sure if it’s the same in many organizations), even as the hiring manager, all communications with applicants had to be done through our Recruiter, so I wasn’t allowed to send emails to applicants directly. And then, there are times when company policy is going to dictate communications with applicants. Unfortunately.

  15. Middle Manager*

    Several years ago I was asked to do a courtesy phone interview of a young man who was the son of a friend of a higher-up. He clearly wasn’t qualified. My supervisor suggested that I would be able to make this clear to the applicant just by the questions I asked him. By asking him to tell me about his experience with X, Y, and Z – his answer to all was “none” – he would then realize why he wasn’t getting an onsite interview. While I had to spend ten minutes on the phone with him, this approach worked and it shut his candidacy down. It’s a technique that would work best, obviously, for candidates who are not viable but for whatever reason you have to look at. It also presumes a certain level of self awareness!

  16. AMPG*

    I did this once to a colleague, actually. I had hired for the same position on my own team a few months earlier and had a strong candidate who placed in the top three but I chose not to hire. She was a member of our professional association and so was in contact with people in our department semi-regularly. I went to the colleague and mentioned that I had been very impressed with her and would be happy to reach out to her and suggest she apply for the new opening, but if I did that, I thought it was only fair to interview her for the position. My colleague agreed, but then submitted her interview list and the candidate I put forward hadn’t made the cutoff! So I had to go back and lean on her to get her to do the phone interview. I was hugely annoyed by the whole thing (since of course the candidate now had no chance and was going through the trouble of an interview for nothing) and definitely learned my lesson.

    1. DDJ*

      That’s frustrating. I actually had a case where I interviewed someone who had previously been interviewed for a different position, and I didn’t realize until the process was well underway that they’d been a top candidate for another, similar position. I wish I’d gotten the heads-up because we ended up hiring them, but it could have been done much more quickly!

  17. nonymous*

    I worked in an org that offered a courtesy interview to all internal applicants and internal referrals (that met the education and experience requirement). Usually if we weren’t a serious contender, an HR person would perfunctory conduct the interview by phone and with no advance notice. Once I realized this (about 30sec into the the conversation), it was pretty easy to switch gears and use the call as a networking opportunity with the HR person, sometimes they would encourage you to speak to a hiring manager in a different area that was a better fit. But this was over a decade ago.

  18. Hoorah*

    This is what I’m going through at the moment. My colleague Trisha referred a close family friend Chris for a job. I interviewed Chris and declined him because he wasn’t the right fit. It’s an entry level shop assistance role but he has 10 years of marketing experience. He is also very slow and soft spoken, to the point where I don’t think he will be a good communicator with shop customers.

    The problem is that we had a recent vacancy that came up and Trisha is pushing me to reconsider Chris. Chris has found it difficult to get a job here because he is a new migrant with no local experience. While I sympathise with his plight I still don’t think he’s right for the role. I explained to Trisha he is overqualified but she insists Chris is right for the role based on his character (reliable, responsible etc).

    What would be a polite way to say no here? Trisha is normally NOT a pushy person. I think she feels badly for her unemployed friend and is really keen to help out.

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      “He seems like a great guy, but having considered him last time, I’m pretty confident that he’s not the right match with what we’re looking for.”

      And if she pushes more: “I’m pretty sure of my decision on this one. Sorry!”

    2. Lily Rowan*

      I might stay away from “overqualified,” because you actually don’t think he is qualified, right? It’s not just that you think he wouldn’t be happy in the job, you don’t actually think he would be good at it.

  19. Wayne K*

    I’m an old fart and I’m quite happy that I found this site which I find most interesting. My take is that of an old job-hopping, oft interviewed soon to be retired employee. If I were still a young job applicant given these circumstances please don’t waste my time (or yours) by giving an interview to a position that from the onset I have no chance of getting. If you have no intentions of hiring me you’re not doing anybody except Mr. or Ms. Patronage any favors and that includes yourself.

    What I would suggest is that you grin and bear it this one and only time and request a meeting with a superior of yours about this situation hoping that this person can install policy to prevent this from recurring. It may very well become problematic not only now but in the future especially when dealing with those you describe as “more senior colleagues.” It is also quite ballsy and abusive on their part to make such requests. Best of luck and may the force be with you.

  20. Indie Accountant*

    Several years ago, when I worked for an accounting firm, one of the partners requested that we (my boss and I) do a courtesy interview. A friend of the partner’s wife was interested in applying for a bookkeeping role. My boss and I agreed to interview her.

    For our interview process we had a list of about 12-15 questions that we went through with everyone, and interviews typically lasted 45-60 minutes (which we told candidates when setting up the interview). My boss and I each brought a hard copy of the questions to the interview, and made notes on our copies. We met candidates in a small meeting room with a table for 4 people – so not spread out across a big conference table. Interview-ees could easily see our papers with the questions (and thereby have a rough idea of how many questions to expect), and if they were proficient at reading upside-down might even be able to see the next few questions on the list.

    We started the meeting with the courtesy-interview candidate with the usual nice-to-meet-you’s and how-was-your-drive’s. Our first question was a nice softball style, get-to-know-you type question, something like “Give us a brief overview of your work history and how you feel it relates to this position.”

    This woman talked for sixty minutes straight. I have never experienced anything like it before or since. She talked without any pauses whatsoever. Never once did she leave an opening for my boss or I to jump in; no “would that be part of this role?” or “does that sound similar to what you’re looking for?” No ummms or pausing to collect her thoughts. Just a non-stop monologue, and the only way my boss or I could have broken it would have required us to literally talk over her to interrupt her.

    I’m sure you’re wondering why we let it go on for so long. For the first while, her monologue covered some of the topics of our other questions, so it felt like we were still covering useful ground. After it became obvious that she was just going to keep going no matter what, we were hesitant to interrupt her because we didn’t want to seem rude – the partner who referred her was notoriously difficult and volatile, and the candidate’s personal relationship with Difficult Partner definitely factored into our decision. For the last part of the hour, she started to sound like she was coming to a close, which she did, eventually. And, if I’m being honest, a part of me at that point wanted to see how long she’d go! She was not qualified for the role at all, and had very little direct experience to discuss, which made it even more impressive.

    After she finally stopped my boss said something like “And that’s all the time we have!” He also mentioned we were looking for someone more senior and basically let her down gently right there.

    Of course Difficult Partner ran into me in the hallway the next day to ask me how it went. I told him that she didn’t give a good interview, and that we had asked her the first question and she talked non-stop for an hour. He didn’t seem surprised.

    1. Windchime*

      I interviewed a candidate like this once, years ago. I was using my boss’ office for the interview and was sitting behind his desk, facing the candidate. There was a window behind her. She talked non-stop and I literally could not get a word in edgewise. My boss finally appeared in the window behind the candidate and started making “cut her off! Get rid of her!” motions. I think I finally had to just interrupt her mid-sentence to let her know our time was over.

      I’m not sure what makes people think it’s a good idea to do this.

  21. OP here*

    OP here. Thanks for the responses and everyone’s feedback. We did conduct 3 courtesy interviews and I feel like all 3 potential outcomes happened with the candidates we talked to. 1st one we talked to ended up being extremely qualified for the position. Her resume and cover letter were wordy and poorly formatted (a completely different issue that after reading this blog, I really want to kindly point out to her) so her qualifications were really lost on us until we had a chance to talk to her during her interview. We recommended she move on to the 2nd round of interviews. The 2nd candidate ended up being “meh.” They had some qualifications but really did stand out as a star candidate and we still wouldn’t have interviewed them if our senior colleague didn’t encourage us to. The 3rd was probably the worst scenario and we all feel awful about the interview. The candidate was clearly not qualified but we were encouraged to interview them (this time the pressure coming from our direct boss). It was a very clear to the candidate during the interview that they were not qualified and they admitted to not knowing how to answer certain questions. We felt bad and tried to give suggestions for potential responses. But it was scenarios like this that we wanted to avoid in making someone else feel worse after their interview when that clearly wasn’t our intent. I guess that’s why I struggled with the concept of doing courtesy interviews in the first place.

    Myself and my colleagues also discussed the fact that we all received our positions because we had connections to the organization. In fact I was originally told I was not qualified for my position because I did not meet basic work minimums (BA + 5 years work experience) despite 3 years work and 2 masters degrees relevant to the position. I was brought in for what was deemed an “informational interview” but because of an extremely relevant past project experience, I was hired for the job. So I do recognize the power of connections and courtesy interviews can have positive outcomes. Its just situations like candidate #3 that can make the whole process not ideal for both sides.

    1. MissDisplaced*

      I think also that courtesy interviews can have positive outcomes. However, it seems best if at least the person you’re being asked to interview meets some skill requirements related to the job, OR maybe the job is entry level enough that the skills don’t matter as much and you know it will be a learning role.

    2. TootsNYC*

      The candidate was clearly not qualified but we were encouraged to interview them (this time the pressure coming from our direct boss). It was a very clear to the candidate during the interview that they were not qualified and they admitted to not knowing how to answer certain questions. We felt bad and tried to give suggestions for potential responses.

      In a situation like that, I think I’d just switch completely into “friendly person giving job-hunting advice as it relates to your skills/experience, my company, and my industry.”

      I’d say, “Well, I don’t think this is the job for you, but while you’re here, maybe I could suggest that you could look into X job at L level. And I noticed you have R experience, which I think you could play up a bit–you don’t really give it its due on your resumé. And I think that skill S would apply in whatever other department.” And wrap it up after that.

      You’ll have done a huge favor.

  22. Victoria Nonprofit (USA)*

    Because the OP mentioned that the colleagues who are pushing her to interview these candidates are senior to her, I wonder whether it’s possible that her colleagues are right that the applicants in question could be strong candidates and that’s just not coming across in their application materials. I wouldn’t discount senior colleague’s advice out of hand.

    (Of course, if you’re hiring for a cake decorating role and the applicants are dog trainers and investment bankers, this wouldn’t apply.)

  23. Anon44*

    Higher Ed person here- learned a painful lesson recently. We did phone interviews, and when we made our cut for the on-campus interviews, Friend of the VP was not on the list. (Phone interview was awful.) VP pushed hard for Friend to get an on-campus interview, and we acquiesced. On campus interview was awful and we recommended Friend not be offered the position. Guess who got the job?

    Lesson learned: Courtesy interviews for phone interviews- ok, because the search committee still has power over the search. Courtesy interviews for on campus interviews- no. Too easy for the search to be fixed. Ugh.

    1. Carpe Librarium*

      Yeah, I’m not sure how in-depth the phone interviews to be conducted by the LW are expected to be, but I am more likely to do a courtesy phone interview rather than an in-person one.
      They’re less time consuming, you can pull at the “what’s your experience with X (that is a requirement and yet not listed on your resume)?” They don’t waste as much of the candidate’s time (no travel to our office, fancy interview clothes etc) and you can say you gave the interviewee due consideration.

    2. Jo*

      Came here to say something similar. Finally got approval to hire one intern. CTO recommended a candidate and made sure she got an interview at the last minute. I’m not even sure if she applied or if he applied for her. She was not in our top two candidates. We hired our first choice. The CTO made sure his choice was also hired, even though we had to fight for 9 months just to get approval to hire ONE intern.

  24. AnonToday*

    I have been a part of 2 such interviews when I worked in a mid-size accounting firm. Neither was good.

    1. Applicant for admin assistant, just after the start of the recession. This was a $12/hour job. Courtesy Candidate had an MBA and her most recent role had been an endowment coordinator of a HUGE nonprofit organization in a major city. She got downsized and moved to our area to live with her parents. Parents were friends of Then Boss. Then Boss knew we weren’t going to hire her and she knew that, but Then Boss wanted to catch up because they were family friends. Long story short: I sat through a “how’s your grandma?” sort of conversation between Then Boss and Courtesy Candidate. She could have just called her on the phone.

    2. Admin assistant applicant. Referrer was the ex-husband of Courtesy Candidate. Referrer was socially friends with Then Boss, and sent a fair amount of business to our company. Courtesy Candidate clearly stated more than once that she didn’t want the job but knew she was there out of courtesy. She ultimately was hired (over the interview team’s objection) because Referrer had just sent two really good new clients our way. Courtesy Candidate was AWFUL in her role (worthy of a post all to herself) and finally had to be terminated. Boss was upset, not that Courtesy Candidate was evil and toxic and rude to everyone in her path, but that the company may not get more repeat business referrals in the future. *headdesk*

  25. NonProfit Anon*

    “But I’ve come to appreciate that it can actually hurt an employer not to do it — because you end up with people feeling stung and (sometimes) feeling bitter toward the organization…”

    This really resonated with me. I’ve applied for a job with a partner org that at least on paper, I’m a strong fit for, and am already doing some of the work. I work with the organization on a weekly basis and received word from them they were delayed, but hearing from others that interviews are happening. While there could be some inside baseball I’m not privy to, I’d be more disappointed about how the job and relationship was handled vs. not getting the job.

  26. anna*

    In my experience in academia, the person who the higher-ups push you to interview is also the person they are going to push you to hire as well.

    I know several cases where someone high up knew someone who wanted a job, and that person got it even though the people who would normally be making the decision did not consider that person to be first choice.

    So, this may be less of a “courtesy interview” and more of a “this is who I want you to hire.”

  27. boop*

    Are these applicants really not good fits? I only ask because I recently had a phone interview with an HR rep who confessed to me that she didn’t really understand the job, was unsure how it would “work,” or how it fit into the company’s overall marketing goals. I know there are a myriad of reasons why I didn’t move along in the interview process, but her reaction to something so inconsequential (I don’t have experience in a certain expensive scheduling software because I haven’t worked for companies that could afford it) to the overall role made me think that was the deciding factor. Consequently, I feel like some people who would be great fits for roles/companies are being passed over because HR reps don’t truly understand the scope of the roles they’re being asked to fill.

    1. Anon16*

      I think there’s a lot of silly reasons people are passed up for interviews or positions because hiring has to be somewhat arbitrary given the number of applicants. I mostly have faced this on the job seeker’s side and it really sucks.

      I also totally think weird personal biases play into things, no matter how much you try to prevent them. You might just not like so-and-so for whatever reason, or someone wasn’t particularly great at touting their accomplishments on their resume and there’s a myriad of silly reasons people don’t get considered. It’s just the way it is.

      Not a knock on the site, but commentators occasionally act like there’s often a solid reason one person was considered over another and the truth is, sometimes there’s not. How can you *truly* know who’s a good fit and who isn’t? It’s a flawed process.

      1. boop*

        “It’s a flawed process.” Whoa. Like, I always knew that but I guess never really acknowledged it? Thank you for posting this- its actually really soothing and helpful! (not sarcasm, I swear)

      2. DDJ*

        “Not a knock on the site, but commentators occasionally act like there’s often a solid reason one person was considered over another and the truth is, sometimes there’s not. How can you *truly* know who’s a good fit and who isn’t? It’s a flawed process.”

        Seriously! And sometimes it can be something arbitrary that lands one person in and another person out. But you can’t realistically interview every applicant for every open position to give everyone the best opportunity to show their strengths.

  28. PM Jesper Berg*

    If your boss, or grandboss, etc., has asked that a particular candidate be included in interviews, you should honor her wishes and include the candidate with an open mind. Yes, the candidate may turn out to be awful. But it may also turn out to be someone with a jagged resume but great potential, or a stellar candidate you might otherwise have overlooked. And it’s legitimate for top management to get involved in hiring; that’s part of how you can shape organizational culture.

  29. Quickbeam*

    One of the nicest things I ever got in my career was a rejection letter. The job was a perfect fit for me and it required the skills from both of my very different careers. It was a government job and I had 3 interviews. When I was not hired the lead HR person wrote me a personal letter apologizing but that they had to hire someone already in the department who took a demotion to take the job. She regretted it and wished me well. I’ve had a great ride career wise but that was oddly enough a high point.

    I’ve been pressed into service as an interviewer as a technical expert in my field. I’ll generally give anyone 20 minutes but if they are obviously wrong I end the interview. I do try and give them some job hints if I feel they have potential elsewhere.

  30. emma2*

    So I have been a courtesy interview a couple of times (or one of those filler interviews for positions that had internal candidates)….and I still resented the organizations for rejecting me after one interview (and expressed my resentment in Glassdoor reviews.) This is probably just an attitude problem on my part, but I would have much preferred a (brief) candid discussion about why I wasn’t a fit for the role right now, and what I could work on for the future. Being a courtesy/filler candidate feels even more condescending in a lot of ways.

    1. emma2*

      After reading more of the comments, I realize I didn’t use the term courtesy interviews correctly. My bad and disregard

  31. SheLooksFamiliar*

    At a former job, the Chief Marketing Officer was hiring VP-level advisors for his team – very specific experience, hard to find even in our industry. One day he handed me a resume and asked me to interview the candidate. I skimmed the resume and said, ‘He’s more finance than marketing…’ The CMO agreed, but repeated that I should interview him. ‘Of course, do you want to meet him too?’ He looked sheepish and said no, he knew the guy wasn’t a fit, but his mother went to temple with the candidate, and gosh, son, your company is hiring, if you just meet him I know you’ll like him, maybe even find something for him…you get the picture.

    And so I interviewed a very nice but unqualified man because the CMO’s mom asked him to. Sometimes you just have to defer to a higher authority.

  32. Tired worker*

    My son got what I would guess was a courtesy interview. He applied for a job a friend referred him for, got a phone interview and then an in person interview. He spent money to travel to the interview and for new clothes. He felt he really had a shot but never heard anything again. It’s cruel to give someone an interview just to appease a co worker.

  33. Katie Fay*

    2. I think the problem lies here:
    “I was, after all, feeling perfectly fine and, as per my doctor, not likely to be contagious anymore.”
    Not likely …. two big, important words. “Not likely” isn’t good enough, for any of your co-workers, especially those with compromised immune systems. Unfortunately, the burden did lie with you to not return until you were completely and surely free of illness. But, it would have been more fair if your employer had offered you some means to work at home that second week and not forcing you to lose a week of wages.

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