Guidance on Personal Relationships with Applicants

Use this guidance to know whether the SME should recuse themselves from assessing an applicant.

It’s common for SMEs participating in a hiring action to know applicants. SMEs may interview people they know, supervise, and work with, such as contract professionals or fellow public servants, except in these cases:

  • The SME has a personal relationship with the applicant outside of work, whether or not the relationship is known to others.
  • There is any appearance of bias from the SME toward the applicant, such as when it’s well known that the SME and applicant have regular disagreements, or that the SME and the applicant have a unique bond.

In general, if the SME and the applicant have occasionally attended the same office happy hour, there is no conflict. However, if the SME and applicant regularly socialize together outside of work, the SME should recuse themselves.

Interviewing an Acquaintance

Phone interview assessments are examinations that applicants must pass based the comparison of their responses to questions and the associated competencies and proficiency levels. If an SME interviews an acquainted applicant during qualifying interviews, they may only consider the applicant’s interview responses to qualify them. While SMEs may reasonably draw conclusions from an applicant’s response to questions, SMEs may not use outside knowledge of the applicant’s performance to make a determination.

Hiring managers may choose to conduct additional interviews with applicants who make it to the hiring certificate, and may consider past performance and personal knowledge of how the applicant works with others during those interviews. However, such interviews are only intended to determine an applicant’s suitability and interest in the role, rather than to determine their qualifications.