Peer Interviews – A Powerful “Must Try” Hiring Tool (For improving your assessment and candidate selling results overnight)

It’s the most powerful hiring tool because of its double impact on candidate assessment and selling. Peer interviews are also easy to implement because the concept is easy to understand and requires no approvals or out-of-pocket expenditures.

Article Descriptors| Recruiting / Peer Interviews – It’s Many Advantages – 5 min read

What Are Peer Interviews And How Do They Add Value?

Peer interviews are where the team members, as a group, conduct a separate interview (without the manager present) with each of the top two finalists for a key job. This tool is so powerful because of its double impact.

First, it will immediately improve the accuracy of your candidate assessment. As an added bonus, it will also dramatically improve your ability to sell a top finalist candidate on accepting your job (if it is offered). Of course, every other available recruitment tool works in only one of the four talent acquisition areas (i.e., branding, sourcing, assessment, and candidate selling). 

Today, they are even more necessary because they are likely the only tool to accurately identify the increasingly large number of hidden AI-supported candidates. Peer interviews also make a significant “selling contribution.”

During the intense competition for landing “must-have” top performers in the critical functional areas of AI, cybersecurity, quantum computing, and data analysis, perhaps the best part of this tool is that because peer interviews are so intuitive, they can be quickly implemented by any hiring manager independent of HR and with no additional out-of-pocket expenses.

Candidate Assessment – The Top 5 Reasons Why Peer Interviews Improve Assessment 

There are numerous positive reasons why you should use peer interviews for candidate assessment. The most impactful reasons appear at the beginning of the list. 

  • Peer interviews have consistently provided effective results – and are not new. In fact, they have been successfully used for candidate assessment at Amazon and IBM. And they have been dominant during the selection of nurses for years. Obviously, accurate candidate assessment is essential to separate the top candidates from the average ones, even though few TA leaders have actually taken the time to run the data on the accuracy of the common candidate assessment approaches. Those that do almost universally find the most common assessment tools (i.e., unstructured interviews, personality tests, and reference checks) are little better than a coin flip in identifying the top candidate. However, peer interviews have proven extremely helpful and effective in probing a candidate’s skills, capabilities, and motivation (just ask anybody in nursing). 
  • Peers are best equipped to make an accurate candidate assessment – because peers “live the job every day.” They have literally seen it all. That experience qualifies a peer interviewer to assess a candidate’s strengths and weaknesses through their questions. In addition, these peers are more likely to demand an accurate, in-depth assessment of the candidate because they are the ones who will have to suffer every day after a weak assessment forces them to work alongside a bad new hire. 
  • Without the manager present, everyone is likely to be more frank – Most candidates naturally put on their best show. However, because managers cannot be present during a peer interview, the candidate and the peer group are likelier to “let their hair down” and be more transparent. So that each side will be more willing to ask each other the tough questions they need to be answered. In most cases, their answers will be less rehearsed, blunter, and more authentic.
  • Teammates participating are more likely to feel involved in and take ownership of the hiring decision – Involving a group of employees in something as important as a hiring decision. It may make the teammates feel more valued. And because they are invested in selecting the final candidate, employees may be more accepting and supportive of the candidate once they begin the job. Participating in the hiring process may also help to prepare some of your employees for future leadership positions. 
  • They reduce the number of interviews that a candidate and a manager must endure – because peer interviews give every participating team member a chance to ask the candidate questions. The candidate is spared from going through traditional multiple interviews with a handful of individual team members. And that significant reduction in total interview time will likely reduce early top candidate dropouts. And because managers can’t participate in peer interviews, the total time they must devote to interviewing will also be shortened.

Candidate Selling – The Top 5 Reasons Why Peer Interviews Improve Candidate Selling / Convincing 

Although, a great deal of time and resources have recently been committed to improving candidate sourcing and candidate assessment. Unfortunately, during the same time period little attention has been devoted to the third element of hiring, candidate convincing, and candidate closing. Fortunately, peer interviews are the most effective candidate-selling tool in your arsenal. The most impactful candidate selling benefits are listed first in the following list of advantages.

  • Employees and not recruiters are the most effective at selling – most team members and hiring managers automatically assume that recruiters are the best at selling candidates. Unfortunately, that’s often not true. First, because recruiters are so busy, they have not recently been trained on how to sell candidates. Also, the data shows that most candidates have simply learned “not to believe recruiters.” Of course, hiring managers have also earned a reputation for stretching the truth in their desperation to hire a new hire. But it’s the team members that candidates have consistently rated as the most believable. So you must educate your employees that they are actually the most effective people at selling a job. Further, educate each interviewer on the positive sales areas that are the most important to the interviewed candidate. 
  • Because they “experience the benefits of the job every day,” peers are most likely to know the best parts of the job to bring up – because the peer group has stayed as long as they have. The experience will allow them to know all of the positive aspects of the job. And especially those where this job really makes a difference. And because they have experienced all of the benefits firsthand. Members of this peer group are likely to be more confident. And their sales pitches will almost always be rich, compelling, and energetic. These future coworkers will also have an array of compelling job, team, and company stories to share with the candidate. Of course, they will also know the job’s downsides. However, they will also be able to effectively explain to the candidate how they have successfully learned to cope with these negatives.
  • Because they “live the job,” peers are more believable – because they “live the job” daily. And as equals, it’s natural for the candidate to assume their peers will be more credible and believable. Most candidates will also realize that there is really no incentive for a peer to mislead a candidate. If they do, the new hire will certainly confront them during their first month. Also, if the candidate is misled, they get the job. Every teammate will know that they will end up working every day, side-by-side with a miserable employee. Finally, the candidate will likely be impressed with their future manager because the manager showed great trust in their employees by allowing them to interview the candidate without them being there.
  • Among their peers, candidates are more likely to be open about their concerns – because the candidate in a peer interview is among their peers, and there is no manager around. A more relaxed candidate will likely be more open and honest about their concerns. And because a group will be attending. There will be multiple individuals who will be able to answer each of the candidate’s potential concerns.
  • Seeing the team interact as a unit will impress the candidate – a key job acceptance factor for most top performers is the chance to work with an effective and cohesive team. Unfortunately, most recruiting processes never allow the candidate to see the team working together. However, with peer interviews, the candidate gets a chance not only to meet and fully interact with 4 to 8 of their potential future coworkers. After seeing the team work so well together, a candidate will be more likely to accept a job offer.

If You Decide To Implement Peer Interviews… Here Are Some Action Steps

Perhaps the best part of peer interviews is that individual hiring managers can easily implement them. The concept itself is so simple to understand and easy to implement. But also because implementation doesn’t require any additional budget or approval from HR. Almost without exception, those who participate consistently report that they enjoyed the experience. So, if you decide to implement peer interviews, here are some important action steps to consider.

  • Education makes peer interviews even more effective – after peer interviewers are briefed on what to look for and what to sell. Your results will be even better.
  • Provide a list of peer interview questions – to prevent potential legal issues and minimize roaming off-topic. By providing peer interviewers with a list of preapproved questions, they can start with. Provide two separate lists, one for candidate assessment and one for selling the candidate.
  • Require each peer interviewer to use an assessment checklist – requiring each interviewer to use an assessment checklist. This will lead to more consistent results because the checklist will help to keep your peer interviewers from using invalid or illegal assessment criteria. 
  • Limit participation to a select group of 4 to 8 employees – to make scheduling this peer interview easier. Limiting the number of peer interviewers to between four and eight makes sense. It will also allow the interview team to be populated with employees who will impress the candidate and excel in both assessment and candidate selling. 
  • You can improve your chances that a finalist will accept – you can further improve the odds that an offered candidate will say yes. If after the offer is made, you encourage the leader of the peer interview to call the candidate and make it crystal clear that they will be welcomed into the team. 
  • Peer interviews can be done remotely – most peer interviews are conducted in person because this format generates much more excitement. However, peer interviews can also be done remotely using live video on the mobile platform. If the peer interview is recorded, that will also allow team members who couldn’t attend a chance to experience later what happened. 
  • Utilizing the metrics will improve their predictive value – like any other recruiting process, peer interviews should be data-driven. So, after implementing them, it makes sense to validate them by seeing whether individual interviews, manager interviews, or peer interviews have the highest correlation with new-hire performance and early retention. 
  • Be careful about cultural fit assessment – because of their experience, team members will understand your current culture. So, if team members are educated on the pitfalls of assessing cultural fit, peer interviews can add a second input into assessing whether the candidate is a strong team fit.
If you only do one thing – informally, try a handful of peer interviews. Then, ask the candidates and your team members participating in them for anonymous candid reactions.

Final Thoughts

I have written previously on the importance of getting all employees involved in finding, assessing, and selling top candidates. Peer interviews and employee referrals have proven to be the most effective way to increase employee involvement. Since employer referrals are more difficult to implement and perfect, I recommend you immediately try peer interviews. And I promise that you won’t be disappointed!

Author’s Note

This is the latest in his 25 continuous years of weekly articles on talent. Access those thousands of articles here.
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About Dr John Sullivan

Dr John Sullivan is an internationally known HR thought-leader from the Silicon Valley who specializes in providing bold and high business impact; strategic Talent Management solutions to large corporations.

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