Improving the quality of feedback from peer references can transform those sometimes dubious references into datamines for actionable candidate information.
Let’s start with the basics.
What is a peer reference?
Peer references are people who have worked as a peer of your candidates, working at similar if not equal positions at one or more companies. A peer reference can also refer to someone who worked with your candidate at a particular company, but who no longer works for that company.
While some are quick to dismiss peer references, peers of your candidates can give you unparalleled insight into: a candidate’s work attitudes, their skill levels, their effectiveness when working within teams and even how much fun they are to work with.
In fact, peer references are some of the most important people to talk to about any candidate, because they know what it’s like to work directly with or parallel to the candidate, helping you to assess culture fit, and avoid hiring people who are a bad fit for the team they would be joining.
Why does culture fit matter? It turns out, 89% of bad hires are due to attitude and culture misfit. And those bad hires are costly. In addition to the high expense of lost work and recruiting costs for finding a placement (1.5 - 2x their annual salary), bad hires also damage team morale, leading to higher turnover of formerly engaged employees too.
To sum it up: peer reference checks reveal valuable candidate information when checks are run correctly.
Unfortunately: most peer reference checks aren’t processed correctly.
Here we will show you how to improve the quality of peer reference feedback and use this feedback to make better hires.
If you’re unsure what questions you can ask a reference legally in your state, check out our blog post The Legal Issues of Reference Checking.
What to ask when checking peer references
When deciding what to ask when checking peer references, start with questions that will help you examine their relationship to the candidate and how it has given the reference specific insights into the candidate’s performance.
You can’t do a background check on references, but you still need to vet them to better understand their credibility and what relevant hiring process data their relationship with the candidate can yield.
Because you do not fully understand how the peer reference knows your candidate, questions to ask personal references when hiring should start with these general questions to quantify the candidate’s connection to their peer references:
- How long have you known the candidate and what was the candidate’s roles and responsibilities while you knew them?
- How were your roles and responsibilities related to the candidate’s?
- How well did you get to know the candidate while you worked with them?
- Where do you and the candidate have the most overlap in terms of work done together and/or time spent together?
- Where do you and the candidate have the most overlap in workplace attitudes, cultural fit and work style?
How to improve peer reference check speed
Reference checks can be time consuming, especially if a candidate’s references are difficult to get on the phone.
The number 1 way to improve the speed of your peer reference check process without sacrificing the quality of the peer reference feedback is by going digital. Instead of spending countless hours on the phone chasing down peer references, utilize a digital platform like Checkster to reach out, remind, gather feedback, and track progress of the references automatically..
Checkster’s digital reference checks reduce the time it takes to check all of a candidate’s peer and other references from an average of 76 minutes down to just 2 minutes.
Checkster's digital reference checks improve your reference check speed by eliminating the need for initial phone calls or follow ups and providing references with an easy platform on which to give anonymous feedback, quickly.
Checkster also delivers instant insights. Our digital platform collects all reference feedback and consolidates it into actionable reports, improving the overall value of peer reference feedback and the reference check process as a whole.
Another best practice to follow to streamline your reference checks, is to remove unnecessary questions and combine related/redundant questions when possible, thus improving response time.
Streamlined questions also improve engagement, and increase the quality of responses. Checkster provides templates of reference questions that are not only consistent, customized and to the point, but validated by independent I/O psychologists and found to be accurate and reliable predictors of performance and turnover.
Notes: Use digital reference checks to check peer references. Streamline reference check questions for peer references.
How to improve peer reference skill feedback
To improve the feedback peer references give you on a candidate's skills and technical knowledge, the first step is adding specific peer survey questions like these to gauge the skill-level of the peer reference.
Asking these questions when checking employment references will help you better understand how much insight the peer reference has into the skill levels of the candidate, both in terms of their experience working with the candidate and their understanding of the skillset you are hiring for.
- What skills did you use in your job while working with the candidate and how did you use them?
- Why is [SKILL] so important for the work you and the candidate completed in your roles?
- Do you share competency in [SKILL] with the candidate and which of you is more experienced?
Next, focus on the specific skills you are evaluating and experiences where the personal reference has witnessed a candidate’s skills in action.
- How has the candidate used [SKILL] to meet the demands of their job and meet project specific demands?
- How has the candidate deepened their [SKILL] competency while you’ve known them?
- What is the candidate’s strongest competency when it comes to [SKILL]?
- What is something that the candidate taught you about [SKILL] that you still use today?
- Does the candidate have any [SKILL] shortcomings that you have observed?
Notes: Understand the skill-level of peer references. Focus on the most important skills for the role you are hiring for.
How to improve peer reference culture fit feedback
To improve the quality of culture fit feedback that you get from peer references, your first peer feedback questions must uncover the nature of their company’s culture and how the candidate felt about their fit within this culture.
- What was it like to work at the company?
- What were some of the defining traits of the company culture?
- How was your department’s culture similar and different to the company’s corporate culture?
- What were some of the defining traits of your department’s culture ?
Once you understand the working environment that your candidate and their reference were in, explore if and why the candidate felt a fit with their job, their team, their department and with the overall company. Although this feedback can be quite subjective from a peer reference, it will directionally give you a better idea as to the candidate’s fit with that particular company culture and whether any of those traits may be a fit for your company.
- What do you think was the candidate’s favorite part of working for the company? Least favorite part?
- Did the candidate make friends in their team and department?
- Did the candidate share any values with your employer, ie: volunteered at a company-sponsored charity?
- Did the candidate appear to feel an overall fit with the company? Why or why not?
- Did the candidate appear to feel an overall fit with their department? Why or why not?
- Did the candidate appear to feel an overall fit with their team? Why or why not?
Notes: Understand how the candidate engaged with the company’s culture.
Make it easy for peer references to give feedback on candidates.
The traditional reference check process requires references to sit on the phone with a complete stranger and answer probing questions about their work history and former colleague. This process can at best be slightly uncomfortable, and at worst lead to short, unhelpful answers that amount to a complete waste of everybody’s time.
Checkster’s digital reference checks make it easy for your candidate’s peer references to provide detailed, anonymous feedback and that’s exactly what they do. Candidates are able to invite peer and other references easily from their desktop or any mobile device, and references are able to respond online as well. As a result, more are invited, and more respond with feedback, and with longer feedback at that. In fact, recruiters receive back 6+ references on average using Checkster, a big jump up from the 2 they get from conducting traditional phone calls.
By making the reference check process easier on peer references, Checkster’s digital reference checks get you more feedback and more detailed feedback overall from the reference check process.
How to get passive candidates from your peer references
And there’s a bonus: Checkster also makes it easy for you to gather passive candidates during the reference check process. On average, for each candidate checked, 5 passive candidates opt in to hear about job openings at your company . At that rate, 100 hires yields 500 - 1500 passive candidates. In no time, you’ll automatically build a big database of qualified potential hires.
Make it easy for peer references to provide you with passive candidates.
Don’t skip out on peer references
Peer references can provide a wealth of information about your candidate including their ability to work in teams, their skill levels, their day-to-day attitude toward work and coworkers and managers, and their potential for culture fit. Given the right reference collecting method, peer references can contribute helpful, detailed feedback that can greatly assist in your decision making process, helping you avoid a bad hire and move toward making a great hire