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When I was doing my postdoc, there was a PhD student who shared the same office with me; he didn't get along very well with me or anyone in the office. He could be described as unfriendly and a little bit rude.

As we were working on different projects, I didn't know much about his research ability.

I am now a lecturer (at the same university) and have just received funding to hire a postdoc. The same PhD student applied for the position and has since been shortlisted along with another candidate. Based on the CV alone, the PhD student is comparable to another candidate. However, based on his behaviour in the past, I don't want to consider him for the job (my department lets me make the final decision who to hire).

Is it ok to not hire someone because, from past history, I believe that we will not get along?

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    Why would you consider hiring somebody you don't get along with. Particularly if your working relationship could impact your career? – Jon Custer Apr 8 '16 at 19:09
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    It is also curious - you have the funding for the postdoc. Who is doing the shortlisting? – Jon Custer Apr 8 '16 at 19:55
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    I think the most relevant issue here is that you know one of the two candidates personally, but not the other one. To avoid any accusation of bias either way, it would be very sensible to include some other "neutral" people in the selection process. With that caveat, of course your personal knowledge of one candidate, whether it is positive or negative, is relevant to the decision. If the "neutrals" are not convinced by your description of the guy's personality based on what they see in the interview, and out-vote you, well, so be it. – alephzero Apr 9 '16 at 3:30
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    I think the OP is worried about being unfair to the candidate, but at the same time thinks realistically. My suggestion is that: will hiring that candidate be productive? Is the person, despite being rude, going to be (together with you) a productive addition to the team? You have to factor in how good that person works/publishes, but also how much time you will need to invest (and therefore withhold from your research activities) to make that happen. If the person is just rude and works well and you can isolate yourself from them, it's not so much a problem. If not, you've got your answer. – Captain Emacs Apr 9 '16 at 5:57
  • What specifically didn't you get along with this person about? Was it something that you'd consider solvable? – corsiKa Apr 10 '16 at 3:54
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This question is fascinating to me on many levels. It shows a weird tendency that we have in academia to equate job offers to something like awards, where the decision for or against a candidate has to be based on scientific (or educational, or whatever) merit alone. I argue that if you posted the question "Should I not hire someone who does not get along with me" over at Workplace.SE, you would get very confused people asking you why you would even consider such a thing.

To answer this very frankly - no, you should not hire a person that you suspect you will not get along with. Not over an equally qualified person that you might get along with better, and arguably not even over a slightly less qualified person that you might get along with better. Your main metric for deciding for or against a candidate should be how good you think he will be able to do the job. For a postdoc under your guidance, your suspicion that he will not get along with you means that he will likely not do a good job. That he might do a good job working under somebody else is not relevant to this decision.

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    Such a "tendency" result from administrative rules. In some countries, e.g. Spain, academic jobs are awarded after a tribunal assesses the merits of the candidates according to a formal scoring scheme. Although they have some leeway in establishing the metric, in principle it takes into account only "objective" factors, such as publications, teaching history, etc. and not personality issues. This can be viewed as a defect of the process (I think it is), but it creates a situation in which some consider it improper to take such factors into consideration, or feel a need to hide that they do. – Dan Fox Apr 9 '16 at 6:12
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    @DanFox I understand this, but administrative rules do not come out of nowhere - they are a manifestation of how people think about the process. To be concrete, I think that those inflexible rules are an overreaction to the widespread nepotism that was running rampant in European academia until a while ago (and, in some parts, unfortunately still is). Clearly a balance should be struck between "you always hire your good friend's son" and "you have to hire an arrogant brick because he published a journal paper more than the guy that would fit in". – xLeitix Apr 9 '16 at 6:45
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This has nothing to do with academia and everything to do with constructing working teams.

Imagine you were buying a replacement brake caliper for a car. The skill you are paying for is "squeeze brake pads against disc with a specified amount of pressure". There will be dozens of commercial units capable of doing this, but you need one that will fit in with the rest of your components. Mount holes in the right geometry, fits a disc of the same thickness and diameter, clearances are such that it doesn't foul on anything and so forth.

You aren't just hiring the skill, you're hiring the skill and compatibility with the rest of the team. Incompatible people are as unsuitable for your purposes as a caliper that doesn't fit.

Some people are going to say that mounting geometry etc is quantifiable and objective, but compatibility is subjective. This is irrelevant in the context of the original question, which presupposes that compatibility has already been reliably assessed. Sometimes, you can tell.

"Candidate is known to irritate and annoy existing team members." is an objective rejection criterion.

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    The brake-pad analogy doesn't work at all. A brake pad must meet certain objective criteria to be even worth considering; a brake pad with the wrong geometry doesn't meet those criteria at all. The candidate for this job does meet all the objective criteria. The problem is the subjective criteria. – David Richerby Apr 9 '16 at 5:24
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    @DavidRicherby, I think Peter's analogy is that getting along with your post-doc is a first-class criteria when considering who to hire. – user1717828 Apr 9 '16 at 14:04
  • That was exactly my point, user1717828. As for subjectivity, you have no other option so trust your judgement. – Peter Wone Apr 9 '16 at 18:46
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    Analogies are like fortune cookies, they can be made to say anything. – Stephan Branczyk Apr 11 '16 at 7:21
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If he was shortlisted with another candidate, that means both are equally qualified (to some extent), then who would you pick if you did not know him? If you would pick the other guy, then you can simply offer the position to the other guy. There is no guarantee that the other guy is friendly either! However, you know for a fact that your previous office mate is unfriendly and rude! If it was me, I would gamble with and pick the other guy (since both have similar qualifications). If the other guy tuns out to be rude (50% chance), you would have to deal with him anyway.

PS, I assume you know that you can always interview the other guy to make sure he is fine. Also, you can start a fresh relationship with the second guy and set your boundaries/preferences.

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    I'd argue that it's probably far less than 50%. Most people are nice or at least try to be agreeable. – user41631 Apr 9 '16 at 5:20
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    Why on earth do you think there's a 50% chance that the other person is rude, too? It's not because there are only two options (rude or not-rude), right? – David Richerby Apr 9 '16 at 5:21
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    I still don't understand Bayesian priors. – Daniel R. Collins Apr 9 '16 at 5:32
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    @TheFireGuy: Well, you should be careful. Every time you cross a street, you may get hit by a bus. ;-) – tomasz Apr 9 '16 at 10:36
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    @TheFireGuy Actually, one should be careful, when using mathematical expressions, that one actually means what the mathematical expression says. – David Z Apr 9 '16 at 14:25

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