The surprising value of the colleague reference

Chloe Hava


written on July 31, 2017

While managers are a necessary point of reference for information about a candidate’s competence and technical skill set, close colleagues may have better insight into the range of their soft skills.

A candidate who looks great on paper, sufficiently charms you during interviews and checks out well with former managers may seem like the obvious choice to fill an available role. But how much can you glean about the way they interact with others through these sources? A recent study by Skill Survey shows managers shouldn’t be the only port of call when obtaining information about candidates. The study shows that former colleagues are able to give hiring managers a greater impression about a person’s soft skills.

Why you should talk to their colleagues

Colleagues have a better understanding of what employees are like to work with and how they perform in a team environment, according to Ray Bixler, CEO and president of SkillSurvey. “While managers may be able to speak to a candidate’s abilities, a co-worker may provide more insights about a candidate’s office presence and effectiveness as a teammate which has the potential to impact customer service, company culture, and organisational success.”

Dr Cynthia A. Hedricks, SkillSurvey’s Chief Analytics Officer stated, “while managers hone in on more traditional themes such as task performance, experience and knowledge, co-workers are more likely to emphasize interpersonal behaviours.”

The study showed co-workers were able to provide information about:

  • how their colleagues manage stress
  • whether they are a perfectionist, work too much or are “too helpful”
  • if they listen and are understanding, compassionate and caring
  • If they are assertive, confident, friendly and helpful.

Additionally, colleagues have a specific insight into the knowledge and experience of a candidate by working closely alongside them.

How important are soft skills?

As previously reported by HRM, soft skills have become increasingly important in the workplace and are actually the harder skill set to nail down when it comes to finding great employees. Soft skills relate to a person’s interpersonal communication style, work ethic and emotional intelligence. Examples of soft skills include active listening and learning, critical thinking, time management, problem solving and whether a person is a team player.

The possession of technical skills goes without saying, but it is the attitude and willingness of a candidate that sets them apart. A person with well developed soft skills can more effectively execute the technical aspects of their job as well as positively interact with colleagues, management and clients.

How can colleague references be obtained?

It’s best to be upfront and honest with a candidate if you want to contact someone not included on their reference list.  The Fair Work Ombudsman states that while not technically in breach of the Commonwealth privacy laws, it’s best practice to obtain employee consent before contacting additional references not listed on a candidate’s CV. Afterall, if an employee doesn’t have anything to hide, they most likely won’t mind.

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One thought on “The surprising value of the colleague reference

  1. I have often wondered with reference checks — why they seem to target only the employees manager. I find that the best placed people to provide feedback are the people your potential new employee works with on a day to day basis. They see them at the coal face and see the direct impacts they have within the business and on others. (good and bad)

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