For some unexplained reason, the sales component of recruiting is often ignored. Few recruiting leaders ever make a scientific assessment of the sales component of recruiting, but if they did, they would instantly become champions of peer interviews.
Peer interviews (where a panel of team members conduct a candidate interview) are certainly not a new practice. However, peer interviews have an increased impact today because firms literally have to fight to sell and land top candidates. Today’s increased competition for AI, cybersecurity, quantum computing, and other top talent means that the “selling component” of recruiting has become the most critical step since the year 2000. And because selling is now so much more difficult, now is the ideal time to revisit peer interviews. I find that peer interviews are the No. 1 tool for improving a firm’s ability to sell in-demand candidates because they meet each and every one of the required elements for an effective sales process. Incidentally, a data-driven sales approach is No. 2 and personalized offers that fit a top candidate’s personal job acceptance criteria are No. 3.
Peer Interviews Meet Each of the Requirements for a Great Sales Process
Most recruiting leaders are beginning to realize that with the tremendous growth of the Internet, social media, and employee-referral programs, finding prospects is becoming much easier. In direct contrast, with the combination of extremely low unemployment, high employee turnover, and an extreme shortage of advanced technical skills, the selling component is now emerging as the most impactful and at the same time, the weakest phase in the entire recruiting process. Fortunately, peer interviews have all the required knowledge, skill, and experience components of any successful sales effort.
The Top 10 Reasons Why Peer Interviews Are the No. 1 Most Effective Candidate Selling Tool
The reasons why peer interviews are such an effective selling tool are listed below, with the most impactful benefits listed first.
- Because they “experience the job every day,” the pitches from peers are more likely to be richer and compelling — The group of employees that are leading the peer interview itself experience the positive aspects of the job every day. They are more confident sellers, and their sales pitches will almost always be richer, more compelling, and full of energy. The candidate’s likely future coworkers will also have more compelling job and company stories to share. And that’s important; stories have proven to be the best way to leave a lasting impression with the candidate. And in contrast to written website narratives, these human sales pitches can be adjusted instantly depending on the initial reaction that they get from the candidate. And finally, because top candidates expect to have a major impact if they take any job, teammates are also best equipped to help a candidate fully understand the tremendous impact that the candidate and the job will have on the product, the customer, and the world.
- Peers better understand the job factors that top candidates will care about — The first step in any type of selling is understanding the factors that your target cares most about. And even more than managers, peers who share the same profession and job title as the candidate are most likely to know their “job acceptance factors.” Because they think like a candidate, they can more easily focus on selling in the areas that have the most impact on getting a “yes decision.” And unlike hiring managers who may be too far removed from the reality of the job, the high level of empathy of the employees may by itself be a major contributor to selling the candidate.
- Because they “live the job” candidates view employees as being credible — The expertise level and what employees say about both the positive and negative aspects of the job are more likely to be believable and persuasive. And because they will work side by side with the candidate, if they are hired, the candidate knows that their peers will eventually be held accountable for giving a true picture of the job and the work environment. Incidentally, being aware of this future accountability may further increase the credibility of whatever the interviewers say.
- “Living the job” means employees will be able to answer a wider range of questions –Employees will have a much deeper knowledge about the day-to-day elements of the job than any recruiter or manager. And, these peers will be better able to counter any objections that are brought up and to provide detailed, credible answers to the candidate’s toughest questions, issues, and concerns.
- Getting to know your future teammates is an added selling point — One of the key job acceptance factors for top performers is the chance to work with a cadre of other top performers. Unfortunately, most recruiting processes reveal little about the candidate’s future teammates. However, with peer interviews, the candidate gets a chance not only to meet but also to fully interact with four to six of their potential future coworkers. If the coworkers are impressive and appear welcoming, the peer interview can go a long way in convincing even the most difficult of candidates.
- This realistic job preview may lower new-hire turnover because the peer interviewers have experienced both the good and the bad aspects of the job. If properly coached, they are much more likely to give an accurate “job preview,” one that’s much less glossy than the ones presented by recruiters or hiring managers. This realistic job preview may dramatically reduce new-hire turnover.
- Among their peers, candidates are more likely to be open about their concerns –candidates who are more relaxed are more likely to be open and honest about their concerns. And because during these peer interviews candidates are alone with their peers, candidates are more likely to let their guard down. The opportunity for openness will give their peers, the manager, and the recruiter more insight into those now exposed concerns and why they may prevent a candidate from “saying yes.”
- Because employees have invested their own time, candidates are more likely to say “yes” — The candidate is much more likely to feel that they will be welcomed, fully supported, and coached by their teammates after they take the job. And because employees have a vested interest in them, candidates are much more likely to say yes to an offer.
- Having a manager empower their employees will be taken as a sign of trust — Top performers want some degree of freedom and chances to influence decisions once they take the job. And, the mere fact that the manager has let his or her employees contribute to a major decision like hiring reveals the level of trust that the manager has in their employees. After experiencing this high level of trust firsthand, it will be easier for the candidate to say yes to an offer.
- Peer interviews reveal that employees share the candidate’s values — many top performers won’t accept a job unless they share the values of the company, the manager, and the team. Adding an interview, where multiple teammates participate, allows the candidate to learn about the shared values of the team. If the candidate finds that there are shared values, they are much more likely to say yes.
Beyond Selling, Peer Interviews Provide Many Additional Benefits
In addition to the primary benefit of much more effective candidate selling, there are many additional benefits that a firm can expect from peer interviews. Those additional benefits are listed below.
- Peers provide a second assessment — Peer interviews provide an additional opportunity for more thorough candidate assessment. Because these peers perform the job every day, they are uniquely qualified to assess strengths. But, they can also identify candidate flaws and areas that will need to be bolstered if they are hired. And with four to six top-performing team members attending, peer assessment is more likely to be made by a diverse group. After implementing peer interviews, validate them by correlating both manager and peer interview scores with new-hire performance and early retention to see which one the most accurate predictor of new-hire success is.
- Peer interviews have a successful track record — Peer interviews have been successfully used in many hospitals, especially in the hiring of nurses. Notable corporations like Amazon and IBM have also used peer interviews.
- They can save a manager’s time when peer interviews are substituted for a second or third round of interviews with the hiring manager. They end up saving a great deal of a manager’s time.
- Peer interviews can be done remotely — Most peer interviews are conducted in person because this format generates much more excitement. However, peer interviews can also be done remotely using live video on the mobile platform. This not only makes scheduling the many participants easier, but a recording allows others to review the peer interviews later.
- Employee interviewers are more likely to feel involved and take ownership of the hiring decision — Involving a group of employees in something as important as a hiring decision may make them feel more valued and contributes to improved morale and commitment. And because they are invested in the selection of the final candidate, employees may be more accepting and supportive of the candidate once they begin the job. Participating in the hiring process may also help to prepare some of your employees for future leadership positions.
If you decide to implement peer interviews, here are some important action steps.
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- Education or training of the peer interviewers is essential — You simply can’t expect untrained employees to perform well during these types of interviews. Educate the candidate so that they understand the process and what level of confidentiality to expect.
- Clarify the roles and expectations — Make sure interviewers understand that, in addition to selling, they play an equally important role in candidate assessment.
- Provide a list of interview questions — Minimize potential legal issues by providing interviewers with a list of approved questions in advance.
- Require peer interviewers to use an assessment checklist — Peer interviewers need structure to keep them from using invalid assessment criteria. I strongly recommend that you require peer interviewers to assess candidates exclusively on the factors included in the interview assessment checklist. Be sure and gather an average summary score, so that it can be compared to the score assigned by the hiring manager.
- Limit participation to a select group of four to six employees — In order to save time and to make scheduling easier, limit peer team size and only include team members who are impressive and have an ability to convince and sell. I do not recommend individual peer interviews because they are time-consuming, and they do not generate as much energy and excitement.
- Be careful about cultural fit assessment — Avoid trying to assess cultural fit in peer interviews because it can be highly subjective, and it may limit diversity.
- Improve the chances of a finalist accepting with a follow-up employee call if the candidate hits it off particularly well with a peer interviewer. If an offer is made, it makes sense to encourage that peer interviewer to personally contact the offered candidate to encourage them further to say yes.
I have written previously on the importance of getting employees involved in all aspects of selling top candidates. This employee involvement is more likely to be encouraged once recruiting leaders to learn that there are limits to the “selling capability” of recruiters and hiring managers. And because selling top candidates is now so difficult, it makes sense to, at the very minimum, begin experimenting with peer interviews. After you have tried them, you should not be surprised when you learn that almost everyone agrees that both the candidates and the peer interviewers enjoy them. And, peer interviews have a measurable, positive impact on selection decisions and offer acceptance rates.