When it comes to employee performance reviews, conventional wisdom has pretty much accepted the idea of 360-degree feedback—collecting appraisals from colleagues and internal clients in addition to managers—as a profound improvement on previous standards of evaluation. However, this concept has not yet made its way into the mainstream for recruiting, where data suggests there are benefits to soliciting references from a candidates’ coworkers as well as their managers.
Researchers from SkillSurvey, a company that provides online reference checking, conducted a text analytics study comparing the kinds of comments that appear in job references from managers and coworkers. They surveyed 20,000 references across 5,000 candidates on jobs ranging greatly in level, pay, industry, and function. Overall, they discovered, coworker references provide a very different view of candidates than those that come from bosses.
When looking at areas of improvement, coworkers most often cited issues related to overwork, such as perfectionism and how a candidate handles stress, whereas managers focused more on experience and being proactive. In terms of strengths, managers tended to list task-oriented items such as dependability, independence, and meeting deadlines, while coworker references offered much more insight into the personality of the candidate, focusing on strengths like friendliness, listening, and compassion.
In their Harvard Business Review article summarizing the key findings, authors Disha Rupayana, Cynthia A. Hedricks, Leigh Puchalski, and Chet Robbie conclude:
This isn’t necessarily surprising, as coworkers may have more opportunities to observe interpersonal behaviors of their peers in the workplace as compared to managers. … Practically, either a former manager or the candidate can provide the names of previous coworkers, and both manager and coworker input can be obtained using an online, confidential process. … This will ensure you’ll get a full picture of candidate’s skills and abilities, as well as their personal presence at work and effectiveness as a teammate.