August 20, 2021

Third Party Interviews versus Reference Checks

The Managers’ Corner:

The interview is over.  But the question remains:  Do I have all the information I need to decide? In this series of blogs, we have given you several options including in-basket exercises, self-evaluations case studies to obtain even more information.  Now let’s look at another possibility:  third party interviews.  But let’s be clear.  Third party interviews are not the same as the standard reference checks which this writer has never deemed overly satisfactory.  They are a substitute for these. Second, this device is suggested for managerial positions.

Third party interview are focused discussions with individuals who are aware of the candidate’s employment history, performance and personal and professional capabilities within the context of the position applied for.There are several considerations that must be borne in mind to make this as productive and informative as possible.

The first questions are:  Do I do this for all candidates?  How many people should be contacted for interviews? and, Who decides on their identities?  The answer to the first question is “No.” It is likely only necessary for the two or three top candidates at the very most.  In terms of who, Bendel suggests a colleague, a supervisor and a person who has worked for the candidate in the past.  This is, of course, an abridged version of the 360-degree feedback loop.

The answer to the third question is perhaps more complex.  Ideally, the selection should be made by the candidate following a discussion with the chair of the interview team to ensure that those contacted can be counted on to know enough about the candidate’s past performance and, also, to ensure some sort of reliability factor.  Beyond that, the chair must assume the candidates are being honest and forthright in providing the best sources of information and not just “cooking the books” in their best interests.  The candidate should also be made fully aware of the general nature of the interview which is outlined below while avoiding telling the candidate the specific questions the third part interviewees will be asked.

However, it may be that the candidates do not wish to tell their current employers that are looking for a new position and that must be respected.  It is then incumbent upon the candidates to find alternate choices though the need for the identification of a past supervisor should be pressed for obvious reasons.  In the end, the chair of the team must go, however, with the names that have been given.

This is where the difference comes in regarding the standard reference check.  In the interview the candidate has been asked several questions based on the job description.  There are (or should be) indicators available for assessing those responses.  What this third party interview does is to take those questions which were framed for the candidate and re-frame them for the third person. Here is an example.

(For the Candidate):  In our jobs and in our personal lives, we have all had to deal with conflict among others.  Please tell me about a conflict situation in which you were involved.  What was the problem?  What role did you play in achieving a solution?  Were you successful?  How do you know?

(For the Interviewee):  Please tell me about a conflict situation in which (candidate’s name) was involved.  What role did (the candidate) play in addressing the conflict?  Was there a successful conclusion to the issue?  What did the candidate’s actions/reactions reveal about his/her capacity to manage conflict in the workplace?

By asking the same questions, you can confirm or re-assess what the candidates said about themselves by comparing the responses to the same question by a third party.  You are, therefore, triangulating and aligning (those words again) what the candidates say about themselves with what others say about them in an identical situation.  It makes the data more consistent and more focused – and that’s what you need to make an informed decision.

Finally, it may be to your advantage to send the questions in advance to the third person interviewee so he/she can have time to think about the responses.  At the same time, you could confirm that the candidate was aware of how the third-person interview was to be handled and ask that the third person interviewee treat the matter as completely confidential until after the competition is over.

Does this take more time than the standard reference check?  Probably not, and if so, only minimally.  Is it better data than that revealed in a standard reference check?  The answer is “Yes” because it is more focused on the specifics of the job and it allows for a legitimate comparison between what candidates say about themselves and what others say about them – on the identical issues.

A new twist on an old theme!

Dr. Dan