The Pro’s and Con’s of Peer Interviews

In an ideal world, all new hires would fit seamlessly into the corporate culture, get along with their colleagues, and be instantly integrated into their workplace team. That’s a tall order to fill, however, as interviews don’t always reveal a candidate’s true personality.

When sitting face to face with a corporate recruiter or their potential future boss, job seekers may not feel completely comfortable being themselves. It’s not always a matter of “putting on airs” or being deliberately deceitful. Sometimes, a potential new employee simply feels nervous or uneasy in a traditional interview situation.

In an attempt to bolster their recruiting efforts, a growing number of companies are employing peer interviews. This technique involves having current employees meet with job candidates in a relaxed setting. Both sides ask each other questions, thus giving the potential new employee the opportunity to learn what it’s really like to work at the company, while current employees get a feel for how this particular individual would fit in.

As with any recruiting strategy, there’s both an upside and a downside to peer interviews. Let’s take a closer look:

The Upside

• Candidates are more likely to relax and let their guard down when they are chatting with peers instead of a member of HR or a supervisor. As a result, they are more likely to be themselves and provide a glimpse into their real self.

• New employees are less likely to harbor unrealistic notions about the company when given the opportunity to ask their future peers what it’s like to work there. This eliminates impractical expectations that could make for a difficult working relationship down the road.

• Giving workers the opportunity to aid in the selection of new employees empowers them. It makes them feel appreciated and important, resulting in improved morale and retention. These newly minted interviewers also have a vested interest in helping the new hire succeed and will be more likely to help them become part of the team.

The Downside

• Peer interviews are a two-way street. If you choose a disgruntled employee to do the interviewing, they are likely to share their dissatisfaction with the candidate. Their candor could end up discouraging a desirable candidate from taking the job.

• Some employees may feel threatened by a candidate if they view them as potential competition for future promotions. They may also be prejudiced against the candidate if the job was previously held by a favorite co-worker. As a result, the best candidate may not be recommended for the job.

• If an employee (or group of employees) is enthusiastic about a candidate, but management feels he/she wouldn’t make for a good hire (or vice versa), you have a dilemma. Do you trust your gut or that of your employee(s)? While it’s important to maintain that the final decision rests in the hands of management, you must be careful not to give the impression that the opinion of your peer interviewers doesn’t matter.

Helpful Tips

• Remember that the candidate is also sizing up the company, so choose your peer interviewers carefully. Only select enthusiastic and articulate individuals, who possess great people skills, are upbeat about the company and have a firm grasp of where it’s headed. Also be sure to choose a group of employees who represent a cross-section of the workforce in terms of race, sex, ethnicity, and tenure.

• Be mindful that employees are not HR professionals. They may inadvertently ask questions that have been deemed illegal under hiring laws, such as an applicant’s age and whether they are married or have children. Before they participate in any interviews, make sure you review a list of prohibited questions with them.

• Peer interviews are not intended to intimidate the candidate, so avoid having an entire panel of employees conducting the interview. You should also endeavor to keep the interview short and to the point. While there should ideally be some give-and-take, few candidates will appreciate a three-hour interview. Whenever possible, limit peer interviews to 30 minutes.

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