Two businesswomen at the interview in an officeInterviews are the golden gateway into your organization; the crucial filter that separates the mediocre from the excellent. It can mean the difference between a good and great organization. This is why interviews are usually the preserve of recruiters and hiring managers, and it could seem a somewhat radical scenario where the hiring process was in fact turned over to peers, that is, the team mates of the potential new hire were allowed to assess candidates through a process known as peer interviewing.

This is not a new thing, peer interviewing has been around for some time. It just isn’t widely adopted, which is a shame as I believe it can bring many benefits to the organization and I have outlined five of these below.

1. Less guarded interview responses. Peer interviews are a great stealth interviewing tool as candidates may be less guarded around peers and potential teammates. You can find out information that might otherwise be hidden in a classic manager candidate interview setting.

2. Provide a more realistic job preview. Candidates are likely to get a more down to earth, feet on the ground view of the role, which gives them a broader and more realistic perspective of the role. Research has shown that realistic job previews increase retention levels of hired staff.

3. Provide developmental opportunities for team members. Peer interviewing can give existing team members the chance to “step up” and develop team leadership skills and is a great personal development tool.

4. Increase sense of involvement and engagement. Giving team members a say in who will be joining their team can help to give them a greater feeling of control, which can reduce stress and increase involvement and engagement.

5. Better team cohesion. As team members have helped to choose their new hires, they feel more invested in the new hire and may be more accepting of the new candidate lending to a more cohesive and better functioning team.

It’s very apparent to me that peer interviewing is an under utilized, and to so some degree, innovative interviewing technique that can help to give employers  a tactical edge in finding and retaining talent in today’s talent tough climate. However, there are inherent risks with peer interviewing as with any selection technique and I think they are four important steps to take before conducting them.

6. Speak to your top performers first. Interview the current highest performers in the role and find out what makes them so good at their jobs and what qualities they think are crucial to doing the job well. This will tell you the key success criteria as the team members see it.

7. Speak to managers. You need all round team ‘buy-in’ so speak to your managers too and perhaps ask them to review the key success criteria provided by team members and prioritize them into a rank order of importance. You now have a set of key success criteria for the team, which team members and managers are bought into.

8. Create a peer interview questionnaire. You will still need some formality and consistency in questioning to ensure your hiring process is fair and legally defensible so create a peer interview questionnaire. However, you might want to avoid the lofty, distant nature of HR/Hiring managers’ questions and soften the tone and style to suit a more relaxed peer-to-peer style question. For example, peer interviewers should ideally start questions with “we” in order to bring in a sense of being a peer and make use of words like us to build the sense of camaraderie, for example:

    • We experienced this problem… it was pretty stressful for us… how could you help us to deal with this? Do you have any experience handling this?
    • Our team is short on these skills; we are hoping to find someone who is strong here and help us to develop in these areas. Have you worked in these areas and used these skills in your career? How could you help us develop these skills?
    • We have problems getting the sales staff to stop overselling our skills; we want to be able to communicate better with them? Have you ever had this happen to you? How did you manage this? Tell us how you can help to overcome this issue?

And finally, if you are to get the full benefits of peer interviewing, I would recommend that peers be allowed to interview candidates separately in their own relaxed way and setting (with proper advanced coaching naturally) to create the unique peer interviewing environment that yields less guarded answers and provides a unique perspective adding value to the overall hiring process.

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