September 7, 2017

To Get a Fuller Picture of a Candidate, Talk to Their Coworkers


Checking references after an interview has been standard hiring practice for a long time – but what if this method fails to give hiring managers the full picture?

When asked for references, most job seekers will provide lists of former bosses who can speak to their hard skills and successes. Instead of only talking to managers, it may be in the best interest of prospective employers to request more well-rounded sets of references.

When giving references for former employees, managers tend to focus on task-related behaviors, such as meeting deadlines or the ability to work independently, according to a study of 20,000 job references conducted by online reference checker SkillSurvey. Meanwhile, the study showed that former coworkers focused more on interpersonal behaviors, using words like “helpful,” “compassionate,” and “friendly” far more often than managers.

“To put it bluntly, managers may be providing feedback about what a candidate provides, while the coworkers provide feedback about how they provide it, which is a more well-rounded picture,” says Ray Bixler, SkillSurvey’s CEO and president. “For example, a chief medical officer might be best able to rate a nurse’s level of quality of care, while the nurse’s colleagues might be better able to rate how the nurse candidate made the patient feel. So, coworkers are providing invaluable insights into a candidate’s work presence and effectiveness as a teammate, which has the potential to impact customer service, company culture, and organizational success.”

Getting a Complete Picture of Your Candidate

It isn’t difficult to get applicants to hand over well-rounded reference lists. Recruiters and hiring managers just need to be specific about what they are looking for in references when they ask for them.

“If employers are already requesting references from job candidates, then it may be as easy as specifically requesting one or two coworker references along with manager references,” Bixler says.

While the days of the personal reference remain firmly behind us due to various legal obligations, coworker references can fill that void, giving hiring managers and recruiters access to valuable information about an applicant’s personality and demeanor.

“It is really critical that references can speak to skills or behaviors they know and have observed … that relate to the job the candidate is applying for,” Bixler says. “It’s important to remember that when asking questions [to references], compliance is important, so the questions legally need to be job-specific. Given the risks of not being compliant – as well as the price tag that comes with recruiting – it is in an organization’s best interest to thoroughly look into various types of job references.”

To give a better idea of what former managers and coworkers are talking about during reference checks, see these tables based on information from the SkillSurvey study:

Table 1

Table 2

Just as applicants should research a company’s culture and operations before taking a position, hiring managers and recruiters should research candidates to make sure they will be good fits. Getting a more well-rounded view of the candidate by talking to both former coworkers and managers is one way to accomplish that.

Read more in Resume References

Jason McDowell holds a BS in English from the University of Wisconsin-Superior and an MFA in Creative Writing from The New School. By day, he works as a mild-mannered freelance writer and business journalist. By night, he spends time with his wife and dogs, writes novels and short stories, and tries in vain to catch up on all of those superhero television shows.