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How can I use peer interviewing?

How can I use peer interviewing?

The question on every HR professional and manager's mind is, how do you hire, retain, and develop the best employees?

There's one technique in particular that is becoming more and more popular – peer-to-peer interviewing. This interviewing practice has job candidates meet one-on-one with your current employees; the candidate is able to ask the employee questions about the company and job, while the employee can size up the applicant and then tell the boss their thoughts on whether they'd be suitable.

Peer-to-peer interviewing is especially successful in smaller companies and team-based operations as it allows the organisation to get a more complete idea of a candidate's overall fit.

The upsides

  • Transfer of knowledge – Applicants are able to learn more about the company from employees who are likely to tell it a little more like it is. 
  • Guard is down – Applicants are more likely to let their guard down with peers, so the organisation will get a better sense of who their candidates are and how they'll fit. 
  • Morale is up – Employees help to select their future colleagues. Being involved in the selection process is good for morale and productivity; employees now have more of a stake in the organisation. All this strengthens workers' commitment and builds on a community atmosphere, in which peoples' opinions do matter.  
  • Happy together – As employees are invested in the new hires' success (they've already met them and have a sense of who they are), they are more likely to help new employees. Similarly, new employees start work knowing their peers support them.

Potential downsides

  • Two-way street – It's important to remember that the candidate is also evaluating the company. There have been cases in which unhappy employees interview applicants, talk about the problems with the company, and end up discouraging the candidates from taking the job, if they're hired. Be sure that the employees you select to interview are genuinely positive, happy, and enthusiastic about the company.  
  • Personal agendas – Some employees could be threatened by an applicant and not recommend them out of their own insecurities. Here's where a bit of managerial intuition comes into play. Beyond that, employees participating in these interviews should get along with their colleagues and be generally likeable people. Employees should also have great people skills, be articulate, and understand what company is looking for in its next hire.  
  • An interview, not an interrogation – A three-hour, six person interview is not what the candidate will be expecting or appreciate. Peer-to-peer interviewing certainly doesn't mean a candidate should be interviewed by half of your staff. Not only is this intimidating for the candidate, but what kind of message does this send that any potential new hire should be questioned by everyone in the company? Keep the peer interviews to one or two people per visit.  
  • Morale is up, but productivity is down – How can peer interviews increase productivity when they take away so much of workers' time? Peer-to-peer interviewing can involve a lot of time – preparing, conducting the interview itself, following-up with recommendations. Have a list of set questions for employees to ask, and a brief form (of recommendations) for employees to fill out afterward. Set a time limit of 30 minutes on the entire process. Again, this is another reason to keep the peer interviews to an effective and minimal couple of people.

Interview training is essential. For example, employees must know that what questions are unprofessional, illegal, and therefore off-limits. Keep the evaluative forms quick and effective. Adapt a quantitative approach by using a rating scale (between 1 and 10). Employees should grade the applicant on their knowledge, skills, experience, etc. 

If you're going to undertake peer-to-peer interviewing, make it clear that while employees' feedback will be taken into high regard, HR and management still make the final decision.