Peer-to-Peer Interviewing

As part of a company's peer-to-peer interviewing practice, a candidate meets with two current employees he would work with if hired.

The question on every HR professional and manager’s mind is—how do you hire, retain, and develop the best employees? It starts with a well-written job description. When it’s time for the interview, there’s one interview 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 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 his or her thoughts.

Bringing non-managerial employees into the process is an especially successful interview process for small companies and for team-based operations, as it allows the organization to get a more complete idea of a candidate’s overall fit.

The Upside to Peer-to-Peer Interviewing

Bringing non-HR employees into the interview process is a great way to more fully assess whether a candidate is the right fit for your organization. It also can help maintain a more harmonious workplace in general. Here are some upsides to this approach:

  • Transfer of knowledge. Applicants can 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 organization will get a better sense of who their candidates are and how they’ll fit.
  • Morale is up. Being involved in the selection process is good for morale and productivity; employees now have more of a stake in the organization. All this strengthens workers’ commitment to the organization 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.

Is There a Downside?

Nothing is perfect and you should also be aware of the potential pitfalls that may arise when you implement peer-to-peer interviewing. These can be managed but should be carefully considered. Examples of how things could derail (including suggested solutions) include the following:

It’s a Two-Way Street

It’s important to remember that the candidate is also evaluating the company in the interview process. There have been cases in which unhappy employees interview applicants, talk about any problems they may have with the company, and end up discouraging the candidates from taking the job, if they’re hired.

Solution: Be sure that your employees (at least those involved in the interview process) 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.

Solution: Here’s where a bit of managerial intuition comes into play. Beyond that, employees participating in these interviews should get along with their coworkers and be likeable. Also, it’s important to ensure that employee interviewers represent a cultural cross-section of the organization; that is, have an equal mix of ethnicities, races, and genders. Employees should also have great people skills, be articulate, and understand what the company is looking for in its next hire.

It’s an Interview, Not an Interrogation

A three-hour, six person interview is not what the candidate will be expecting (nor would it be appreciated).

Solution: 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 about your organization—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?

Solution: 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.

Tips on Conducting Effective Job Interviews

No one should simply “wing it,” as the interview presents an opportunity to learn key aspects of your candidates but—done wrong—can backfire. This is why interview training is essential. For example, employees must know what constitutes a legal interview question and which are unprofessional, illegal, and therefore off-limits. For instance, you never should ask whether a candidate has or plans to have children.

To keep the process efficient and balanced, make sure the evaluative forms are quick and effective. Adapt a quantitative approach by using a rating scale (for example, between 1 and 10). Employees involved in the process should grade the applicant on their knowledge, skills, emotional intelligence, experience, and anything else you may value in your employees.

Also, make it clear that while employees’ feedback will be taken into high regard, HR and management still make the final decisions.

Add Peer-to-Peer Interviewing to Your Recruitment Toolbox

Virtually every job requires at least one interview, which can help you determine the skills, mental acuity, and temperament of your top candidates. There’s more than one way to conduct an interview, however, and peer-to-peer interviews may help you find the right fit. Get more expert tips, trends, and advice delivered straight to your inbox.