Ooops! The Candidate Gets Too Personal

By Mark Swartz
Monster Contributing Writer

There you are, just about ready to wrap up the interview. What a great candidate. She came prepared and made a strong impression on you.

Then it happens: she asks if she can "Friend" you on Facebook. Or makes an off-hand comment that somehow breaches professional boundaries. Either way she has ruffled your feathers.
What can you do to keep the discussion from getting out of hand…and does she present a hiring risk?
It's OK To Create A Bond With Candidates
There's a fine balance when interviewing candidates. On your side, you want to show a degree of friendliness. It helps make the other person feel welcome and comfortable. That can encourage them to be extra open as they answer your questions.
At the same time, the candidate is hoping that you will like them (the real kind of like, not necessarily the Facebook version). They know that you are more inclined to consider hiring them if a positive bond has been established.
Between these two objectives — you wanting to come off as approachable, and the candidate trying to be personable — lies a grey area where each party might mistakenly overstep their bounds. This can sometimes happen when differing cultures get misunderstood. It can also happen when either you or the candidate goes too far.
Recognize When Boundaries Have Been Breached
One example of a candidate getting overly familiar, is when they start asking questions about your personal life. This can happen innocently. They may notice the photos in your office that hint at your marital status (e.g. pictures of your spouse and children), or see objects that reveal your hobbies (e.g. a photo of you sailing; or a knick knack from a foreign locale that suggests you travel).
So long as the candidate keeps their conversation on these matters pleasant and within reason, it's fine to carry on.
However just as there are illegal questions you aren't permitted to ask a candidate, so too must the candidate respect your privacy. If they start asking things like how long have you been married, or if you have certain political or religious leanings, you'll need to shut them down quickly.
Set Limits Without Offending The Candidate
Keep in mind that candidates are naturally nervous during interviews. They may end up blurting out a personal comment simply as a way to keep the discussion going.
You, representing your employer, should handle their indiscretion with sensitivity. Did the candidate make a genuine remark about your accent, and ask you "where you're from?" If so, you can instruct the candidate that in this workplace, diversity is welcome, and that they may want to respect people's right to not be queried in this way.
But what if the candidate is just plain disrespectful of boundaries? You could be put on the spot if they tell you how attractive you are. They could ask you, for instance, to tell them why it is that no one else wants to hire them. Possibly you'd cringe if they were to invite you out for a friendly beer.
When your limits have been violated, it's time to set the candidate straight. Let them know right then and there that it's unacceptable. Above all this is a place of business, where professionalism must be upheld at all times. The candidate will either respect you for pointing out their error, or leave in a huff. Regardless, you have defended the integrity of your employer well.
Judge According To The Situation
So, back to that great candidate who asked to Friend you on Facebook. Or inquired with genuine interest about your accent. Is she giving off danger signals that suggest you shouldn't hire her?
It's a judgment call on your part. If a candidate gets too personal because their culture encourages it, or they were so nervous that they mistakenly blundered, you can ask them to tell you if they can see how their comments might be taken as boundary breaking. If they give you a good answer, this may mean that they can learn from their mistakes: a fine quality to have.
If the person is oblivious to their ways, or strikes you as rude and insensitive, then these may be clear warning signs. You don't want to let a bull loose in your company's china shop.