The Peer Interview: a Practical Guide for HR
Many companies today are working hard on improving their quality of hire. In that regard, the peer interview can add a lot of value to the recruitment and selection process, helping companies get a comprehensive view of their candidates. In this article, we take a deep dive into the peer interview, its pros and cons, and how to design an effective peer interview process.
What is a peer interview?
A peer interview is, as its name suggests, an interview between a candidate and their future peers. Instead of only meeting with a recruiter and the hiring manager, applicants get to speak with one or more current employees too. The goal is to better gauge how a candidate would fit the role, the team, and the organization.
In this Learning Bite, we’ll discuss how you can create an effective peer interview process in 9 steps
Peer interviews are particularly popular in small companies and team-based organizations where a good (cultural) fit of the new hire is even more important for the success of the business.
That doesn’t mean, however, that large organizations can’t benefit from adding peer interviews to their hiring process. Companies like Facebook, Google, and Gitlab for example are all keen users of this interview method.
Pros of peer interviews
Peer interviews can have many benefits both for candidates and organizations. We’ve listed 4 of them.
1. Improved candidate experience
Imagine yourself as a candidate. You applied for this job at a company you heard great things about. During the selection process, you get to speak to your future boss and one of the company’s HR employees or recruiters.
While the conversation goes well and they seem friendly enough, you can’t help but wonder that you’d love to hear more about what it’s like to work there from your potential future teammates.
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Interviewing with multiple members of the team can give candidates an even better picture of the job, the culture, and the organization. After all, the employees are the ones who are actually doing the job on a day-to-day basis.
Providing candidates with this type of a realistic job preview helps them self-evaluate the job and organizational fit.
Employee interviewers will be able to answer questions that the hiring manager or recruiter can’t, simply because they have a much deeper knowledge about certain elements of the job.
For candidates, the barrier to raise concerns is likely to be lower when they talk with a peer. They’ll probably feel more comfortable talking about what might prevent them from saying yes to someone that understands exactly what it’s like to be in their shoes.
All this to say that adding a peer interview to your hiring process can be a great way to provide your applicants with an even better candidate experience. This, in turn, will help strengthen your company’s reputation.
2. Selling the job to the candidate
It’s one thing to hear about a job from a hiring manager or recruiter. You kind of expect them to sell it to you. Hearing about a position from your potential coworkers is another thing entirely.
Employees know much better what elements are important for a candidate – and what factors might hold them back. They can share their own insights and stories which will almost certainly be more compelling than any written vacancy.
The sheer enthusiasm and honesty of an employee about the team and the company can be enough to sell the job to the candidate.
3. Multiple perspectives on a candidate
It’s always good to get multiple perspectives on a candidate. I might for instance pay attention to things that my colleague doesn’t even notice and vice versa. We all have our blind spots when it comes to interviewing people.
Just the other day a colleague of mine told me a story about exactly this. One of her teammates was looking to hire a data specialist. She had interviewed a candidate and although she ‘ticked all the boxes’ she had a feeling something was missing but she couldn’t quite figure out what it was.
Thus, before making a final decision, she asked my colleague to also interview this candidate to hear her thoughts on the matter. After what had been a good conversation my colleague shared her findings with her teammate.
It turned out that while the candidate had the right qualifications on paper, her interests didn’t lie in working with data. Kind of an important ‘detail’ if you’re looking to fill a position that is all about data.
This is not to say that the hiring manager in this story didn’t do a good job, it’s simply to illustrate the value of having multiple people interview a candidate.
Having a well-rounded view of a candidate enables you to make better hiring decisions which result in improved quality of hire.
4. Employee empowerment
If you involve employees in the hiring process they will feel responsible for the hiring decision too. As such they are likely to take ownership of it and do the best they can to ensure that the new employee succeeds in his or her new role.
Peer interviews can also positively contribute to employee morale; the fact that their opinion matters when it comes to these kinds of important decisions will make them feel valued and boost their commitment to the organization.
Disadvantages of peer interviews
Of course, there are drawbacks too. Peer interviewing is something that takes careful consideration and preparation. Here are some of the cons of peer interviews to take into account and tackle as much as possible.
Any candidate interview done well takes time. Apart from the interview itself, there are the peer interview questions to prepare and the scheduling of the actual conversation with the candidate.
Once the interview is over, the coworker has to share their feedback with the hiring manager, recruiter, and other peers involved.
While there certainly are ways to structure and automate parts of this process (like interview scheduling), it will still demand a considerable amount of time from employees. Depending on how many qualified candidates there are to interview and how often, this can quickly add up.
Adding a human element to the hiring process in the form of a peer interview increases the risk of bias sneaking its way in. After all, we all have our biases and they can (heavily) cloud our judgment.
Having untrained employees interview candidates can, therefore, negatively affect the overall assessment of an applicant. The good news is that this is something we can be made aware of, we’ll talk more about that below.
3. Scaring candidates off
Having candidates speak with employees can go both ways. It can be a fantastic opportunity for your organization as an employer to shine but it can also be the opposite.
If you have an unhappy employee doing the peer interview, their view on things could very well scare the candidate off.
But even employees who are happy can unintentionally put the company in a negative light, for instance, by talking about an internal issue that worries them.
Creating a peer interview process that works for your business
While there certainly are risks involved when it comes to peer interviewing, we believe that the benefits outweigh the negatives. To help you create a peer interview process that works, we’ve listed 9 steps to follow.
1. Develop a standardized process
This is your starting point. Consider creating an interview guide but specifically for peer interviews. Among other things, this will help you structure the entire process and ensure as much of an equal assessment and candidate experience as possible.
Most of the following steps can be covered in your peer interview guide.
2. Determine who participates in the process
There’s no need to have more than two or three employees conduct a peer interview. It is, however, important which people to choose for this. Elements to take into account when building your peer interview team include:
- How engaged/happy they are in their job
- How well they perform
- Whether or not they demonstrate organizational citizenship behavior
Including people from diverse backgrounds in your peer interview panel will help you take different perspectives into account, creating a more holistic view of a candidate.
For obvious reasons, you want to avoid unhappy employees or employees who may inadvertently sabotage the hiring process.
3. Set clear requirements and evaluation criteria
There are two things your employee interviewers who are involved in the interview process need to understand upfront:
- the requirements and expectations of the candidate you are looking to hire for the open position and;
- the system for how to evaluate candidates
Let’s start with the candidate requirements. Add these to your peer interview guide so that every employee can read them before the interview begins.
It’s important that your peer interview team understands how the candidate requirements translate to actual behaviors so that they can assess them. The interviewers need to know what to look for in candidates’ answers. Here too, adding examples in the interview guide is useful as well as touching on this during the interviewing training.
Let’s move on to the evaluation process now. Ideally, you want a defined system for peers to give feedback because a standardized evaluation process creates consistency in the way candidates are rated.
Using an interview scorecard is a good way to get feedback on pre-defined areas such as person-job and person -organization fit for each candidate. Once each peer has assessed the applicants individually they can discuss the evaluation with their peers, the recruiter, and the hiring manager.
4. Prepare relevant peer interview questions
This is something that a recruiter or hiring manager needs to do together with the candidate’s future coworkers. Peers pay attention to different aspects of an applicant’s experience, skills, and mentality than a hiring manager.
They look at a candidate through the eyes of someone who has to do the job on a daily basis. This is an extremely valuable perspective during the hiring process.
Let your employees, therefore, take the lead in preparing the peer interview questions. Once the employee questions are done and agreed upon, add them to the peer interview guide to make sure that each candidate gets the same questions in the same order. This will help you maintain a consistent interview structure.
To give you an idea, here is a small sample of peer interview questions:
- Can you share an example of when you had to boost your coworkers?
- Can you describe a situation where you had to collaborate with a team remotely?
- How would you describe your interaction with colleagues, can you give some specific examples?
- Can you give an example of how you resolved a conflict with one of your colleagues?
- Can you describe a situation where you had to adapt to change quickly?
You can also decide to have a technical peer interview. In that case, the employees would ask tech skills-related questions.
5. Train your interviewers
Training your interviewers is essential for several reasons. Perhaps the most important one is to make them aware of their own biases.
Bias can easily creep into the hiring process. We all have a tendency to get along (better) with others who are like us for example. So without even knowing it, we might become a victim of our own affinity bias when interviewing candidates.
But there’s more to interview training than increasing people’s awareness of biases. Think, for instance, of basics interview etiquette, which includes being on time, introducing yourself, etc. For someone who has never interviewed a candidate before, going over the fundamentals can be very useful (if not necessary). Interviewers also need to learn how to build rapport with a candidate.
Another subject to train employee interviewers on is helping them understand how the candidate requirements translate into tangible behaviors. They’ll need to know this in order to be able to assess whether or not a candidate meets the requirements.
And then there is the legal and ethical side of things. What questions are okay to ask and what questions aren’t? Train your employees on this, quiz them on it, and regularly provide refreshers.
6. Create a pleasant setting
This is typically something that can be covered in a peer interview guide. Let candidates know beforehand who they will be meeting and what the purpose of the interview is. This will help reduce the interview stress.
Given the current situation in a lot of countries, it will be hard to conduct in-person interviews and to consistently ensure the same setting.
You can, however, set some (basic) guidelines for your interviewers and help them create a smooth remote interview experience.
A few examples to include in your peer interview guide:
- Test your equipment beforehand (camera, mic, internet connection, the platform you use for your video call)
- Prepare a backup (make sure you have the candidate’s email and phone number handy in case you have a technical issue)
- Switch off all notifications and chats to minimize distractions
- Be prepared (have the candidate’s resume and the questions you want to ask them with you)
- Pay attention to facial expressions and tone of voice
7. Leave space for candidate questions
The questions a candidate may ask and the concerns they may raise while talking to their likely peers are just as important as the questions the latter ask the former.
Candidate questions can give you a better sense of the candidate’s motivation for the job, factors that are important to them, their values, possible deal-breakers, and so on.
Therefore, it’s important to create room for applicant questions during the peer interview and to prepare your interviewers for typical questions candidates could ask.
8. Choose wisely when to conduct the peer interviews
Not every candidate who enters the interview stage of the hiring process will get a peer interview. This decision is up to the hiring manager (and perhaps the recruiter) and it’s not one to take lightly.
Conducting a peer interview demands a considerable amount of time from employees so the hiring managers should choose wisely when to ask their team members for one.
It can be helpful to create a set of criteria that, once they are met by a candidate, will lead to a peer interview. Typically, peer interviews would take place towards the end of the selection process. You can schedule it on the same day when a candidate has other interviews, for example, with the management.
On a more practical note, it’s important to give employees enough time to prepare without slowing down the hiring process. A balancing act that isn’t always easy.
9. Continue iterating the peer interview process
A peer interview process is very much a two-way street. It’s a collaboration between the hiring manager (and the recruiter) and their employee interviewers.
Once the interview process is over, gather feedback from your candidates – both from those who weren’t hired and those who were – and your employees.
Based on their feedback you can make adjustments to the process. For example, maybe you’ll find out that the interviews are too long and that you need a time limit or that they take place too early in the process.
For a peer interview to be a valuable part of your selection process, it has to be a deliberate effort. Determine which roles it could be particularly beneficial for and start looking for ways to involve the team in the interview process.
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