A traditional hiring process -- admittedly, the definition of “traditional” is changing, and varies by company -- usually involves a hiring manager needing headcount for a specific role, meeting with a member of the recruiting team, and going over the role. A sourcer/recruiter then finds some candidates, screens them, and presents a “short list” to the hiring manager, who will look it over, take the recruiter’s comments into account, and decide who they want to interview. After those interviews, and often some form of assessment, someone in the process will receive an offer.
You may notice this process involves just the hiring manager and a recruiter/sourcer. But once the hire is made, he/she will be part of a team. So shouldn’t the team be involved in the hiring of their new member? Wouldn’t the team know best what the workload and culture of being on that specific team is? Indeed. And that’s where peer interviews comes into place. What are peer interviews and how can you use this interview tactic effectively next time you need to hire?
What are peer interviews?
As the name would imply, these are interviews conducted by the future peers of the candidate, i.e. members of the team they would eventually be on. The peer interviews can either be a supplement to the hiring manager interview, or the team and the hiring manager can combine to interview candidates together. In most organizations, the hiring manager will want to make the final call on the hire (it’s his/her team, after all), so they typically need to be present at some stage of the process. Hiring managers who deeply trust their team can let the team interview the final 3-4 candidates, get their feedback on those candidates, and make the decision that way; admittedly, that process is less common, but can happen. Peer interviews are typically conducted by senior members of the team or one or two representatives that either know the open position well, have worked it themselves, or will be working closely with the new hire. And it's important to note these are not casual conversations like you'd have at a bar but real professional interviews conducted in more of a panel format.
What are some of the benefits of a peer interviewing process?
Because team members know the culture of the team, know what the day-to-day looks like, know what urgent projects tend to crop up, and generally know the specifics of the role and the flow of work, they can ask more specific, targeted questions. For example, a hiring manager could easily think “I am hiring this specific type of marketer,” i.e. “They will work primarily on Google Ads.” But the team might know that right now most requests from sales are actually about Facebook Ads. It’s a slightly different skill set, and while it’s not awesome that the hiring manager wouldn’t know everything his/her team is doing, it does happen. You can get more specifically at the skills really needed to excel on that team when you do peer interviews.
Peer interviews are also an effective candidate selling tool; the people already on the team have the most compelling stories about what makes that company a good place to work. They also give the candidate experience a boost as candidates often find peers more credible than hiring managers when it comes to selling a position. They might also feel more comfortable asking real questions to future peers that they wouldn't to their future boss. This help both weed out the candidates who might not realize the job isn't the right fit for them before they accept the job and give those who do join the team a better snapshot of what life will really be like. Hiring managers often have pressure to “fill the seat,” so they will gloss over any negatives of the role to get someone in the door faster (not all hiring managers do this, but many will). The team is more likely to present the pros and cons in a balanced way, as they live it every day.
What are some of the drawbacks?
Honestly, the big one is time. When you are trying to schedule a full group of people to interview someone, schedules can get in the way, and the hiring process can be delayed. As we all know, slowed hiring processes can hurt your chances at top-tier candidates.
The more unconscious negative is that some current members of the team may look at the skill set of a candidate and think “Oh, this person overlaps a lot with me.” If there is a fear that someone might be coming to replace their job, that can obviously skew decision-making from team members.
A final potential “con” -- which can be managed into a pro -- is finding the balance between the hiring manager talking to and vetting candidates, and the team doing so. This completely varies based on the personality of the hiring manager and the composition of the team, but ideally -- time-permitting -- you want to get both involved as best you can. That gives the candidate a fuller view of your organization, and it gives you the opportunity to hear more voices in the selection process. One danger of doing that is overlapping interview questions. Be careful to plan for a peer interview in advance if you're going to do one and divide the questions a manager and what the team will. Specific questions can be better from the hiring manager and vice versa.
How would you get started?
Try using this tactic on a lower-tier role at first. Tell members of your team they need to set aside Thursday mornings for a two-hour block and bring in 2-3 candidates during that span. See how the dynamic unfolds with the hiring manager and the team and their process of asking questions and discussing each candidate after. Evaluate where the problem spots may be. Potentially move a candidate from “team discussion” (30 minutes) to “hiring manager discussion” (60 minutes), while you bring in a new candidate to talk to the team. After the candidates have rotated through both sets of their discussions, have the team and the manager meet and see what, if any, red flags emerge in that discussion. Ask each side (team and manager) how they felt about the process. Tweak and iterate as necessary.
If there’s not alignment on who was the best of those 2-3 candidates, ask why. What was the team looking at and responding to, and what was the hiring manager looking for? Where is the gap/difference there? Could that gap be resolved or is it an unconscious bias-type issue? Talk out how the process went, where there is alignment/misalignment on what factors should be evaluated in candidates, and anything else that comes up.
Let the decision fall to the hiring manager on the test case, and then try the process again incorporating the tweaks from the test run.
When you start doing this more, some of the resources to create might include:
- “What are we looking for in this role?” one-pager, agreed upon by hiring manager and team
- Sample interview questions divided between each side
- Examples of work stories NOT to bring up (for the team)
- A quick bio of everyone on the team, for the candidate’s sake before they come in. Send this via email before they interview.
- Blocked schedule time
Peer interviews can be a great resource to both (a) find the right fit and (b) sell them on this particular role, but as you roll them out, you will need to iterate and have conversations about the potential blind spots and timing issues they could create. Once any bugs are worked out, however, you'll find this shift in interview process can benefit new employees who feel more comfortable joining the team and current workers who get a chance to know their future coworkers before day one. Hiring decisions are never simple and finding the right people can be a challenge. The more minds at work on finding your next new hire, the more likely you'll be to land an all-star.