When internal or “known” candidates are included in the pool, unique opportunities for bias and conflict of interest arise. Since as human beings we can’t “un‐ know” what we already know, our thoughts about some candidates can undermine the goal of an equitable search. As a committee, engage in discussion about conflicts of interest or known applicants prior to any applicant review.
Disclose relationships and/or prior knowledge: Known applicants including potential conflicts of interest should be disclosed and discussed prior to any applicant review.
Conflicts of interest occur when a search committee member has a personal interest in a particular candidate’s success—the member may stand to benefit or experience disadvantage from that candidate’s selection--or if there is any other factor that might compromise the member’s objectivity in evaluating that candidate. When a conflict of interest is identified, it is ideal for the member to recuse themselves from the search if possible. If that is not possible – for example if that member is the only subject matter expert in the department – the committee must determine another way to mitigate the conflict. The appearance of favoritism or negativity towards particular candidates in a search can make it hard for the successful applicant to be accepted in the position, even when there is no impropriety in the actual selection process.
Known candidates do not necessarily constitute a conflict of interest unless the situation meets the description of conflict of interest above. When a candidate in the pool is known to one or more committee members, it is expected that the committee members will make every effort to give them the same treatment as other candidates in the pool.
Committee members should commit to not disclosing information about known candidates from outside the application or interview process. If relevant factual information about a known candidate does not show up in the screening or interview process, it’s likely that the same gap is present for other candidates as well. Rather than sharing the specifics about the known candidate, strategize about how to address the apparent gap in the process—that is, discuss how you can systematically request appropriate information about that topic for all candidates still under consideration. Though it is not recommended, should the committee determine that some critical information must be shared after the first interviews, they must limit themselves to relevant and factual information obtained from a credible and reliable source. When such information is used to screen a candidate in or out, comparable information should be sought for other candidates at this time as well. Exception: factual information that might disqualify a candidate from consideration should be shared privately with the search chair and hiring official. For example, if a candidate was dismissed from a recent job because they were found to have engaged in prohibited activity such as sexual harassment, discrimination, violence in the workplace, etc., in most cases it would not be appropriate for the candidate to advance.
Protect the reputations of internal candidates: People are sometimes reluctant to risk their reputations by competing for an internal vacancy. If they are not selected, they are sometimes seen as “failures.” Do everything you reasonably can to keep their applicant status confidential until the on‐site interviews. If an internal candidate is not advancing to on‐site, they may wish to withdraw rather than be eliminated.