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Leveraging 360-degree assessments... pre-hire

A new best practice for candidate reference checks


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By Erika von Hoyer

The rationale behind reference checking is that past performance is the best predictor of future behavior. To truly understand a candidate's potential to succeed, employers must understand the candidate's past job performance in terms of the skills, values and behaviors that have been exhibited over time. The ultimate resource for this information is the candidate's current and former managers, peers, direct reports, and clients.

Developing a full picture through traditional reference checking has posed a challenge -- it can take multiple attempts over several days to get hold of a reference provider, who may or may not offer useful feedback. Yet employers must make the effort or risk being named in a negligent hiring suit.

With advances in technology, it is now not only possible, but practical, to collect useful and actionable information from references, using web-based reference checking software. As recruiters hang-up the phone in lieu of this automated approach, they quickly find themselves wondering how they had managed without it.

Reference checking in the form of a pre-hire 360

For some time, 360-degree feedback has been widely accepted as an effective employee development tool. It relies on the premise that the people who work closest to an employee are able to experience the person's behavior in settings and circumstances that a supervisor may not.

The concept of generating a 360 report pre-hire may seem impossible - particularly given the difficulties many recruiters have experienced when requesting references by phone. Yet 360-degree feedback is exactly the methodology that web-based reference checking leverages and what makes it so effective.

There are three attributes that serve as the key to the technology's success:

  • Confidentiality - references must be comfortable providing candid responses;
  • Robust Set of References - including a variety of references from varying roles, which ensures more accurate feedback; and
  • Competency-Based Questions - focusing on essential skills and behaviors for the job that are best measured over time will complement what can be learned during the in-person interview.

A web-based system

Upon entering the candidate's name and e-mail address into the software (accessed online or through an Applicant Tracking System), the recuriter identifies the appropriate job survey from the embedded library. The reference check is officially underway and the balance of the process is managed through personal yet automated e-mails that guide the process.

Candidates are then provided a link for entering the minimum number of references requested by the hiring manager - typically not fewer than five-and given the option to "consent" to being reference-checked or opt out of the process. Using contact information entered by the candidate, reference providers receive an automated e-mail from the candidate asking that they complete an online survey available through a link in the e-mail.

Monitoring activity through an online dashboard or electing to receive e-mail updates, the recruiter generates the pre-hire 360 once a sufficient number of references respond. Typically complete in less than 48 hours, the finalized report is not a simple consolidation of feedback but rather an in-depth report that utilizes a scoring model specifically tuned for external job candidates.

Benefits of the pre-hire 360

Conducting reference checks in the form of a pre-hire 360 ensures that the process is centralized, consistent and fully documented. The process enables the monitoring of detailed metrics on reference check completion, operational efficiency, and overall scoring results. For third-party users such as staffing agencies and screeners, this data can be provided to a client at a moment's notice.

The value of pre-hire 360's extends beyond the hire/don't hire decision. The higher volume of references captured through this approach enables users to build a robust database of passive candidate information with little or no effort. Additionally, the reports serve as valuable feedback for accelerating the on-boarding process.

The table below summarizes the key differences between web and phone-based reference checking:




Standard and Uniform Process



Provides Candid, Confidential Data



Verbatim Audit Trail of Data



24 x 7 Availability





Usually not

Number of Questions

About 20

Usually 6-10

Number of References Provided



Average Time to Complete

About 48 hours

3-7 days

Recruiter Time per Candidate

5 min


30-60 min.

Current adopters

While all businesses can realize the benefits of automating the reference check process, the true value of a pre-hire 360 is most apparent when one considers the industries with the highest rate of adoption - financial services, recruitment and staffing services, healthcare and education - each operating in an environment that requires highly sophisticated risk management strategies.

The firms that have incorporated pre-hire 360s into specific divisions or across the organization include an extensive list of well-recognized names, including Citigroup, Scottrade, McKesson, Reebok, L.L. Bean, GlaxoSmithKline, St. Jude Children's Research Hospital, Cardinal Health, Mirant, Nutrisystem and Sylvan Learning Center. From start-ups to Fortune 500 companies, the efficiency and effectiveness of the pre-hire 360 make it an appealing option.


With the advent of web-based reference checking, organizations are able to deploy an efficient and effective process in the form of a pre-hire 360. The approach benefits candidates by providing a fair and unbiased method of reference checking. For the reference provider, this approach assures anonymity coupled with 24/7 accessibility. Recruiters are conducting in-depth reference checks in minutes and simultaneously developing a passive candidate database and improving the company's on-boarding process.

While there is no silver bullet when it comes to checking references, the ability to gain broader and deeper insight into candidates' past job performance, skills, and behaviors with a pre-hire 360 brings employers closer to the ultimate goal of complete information in support of hiring decisions.

Erika von Hoyer is the vice president of marketing for SkillSurvey, Inc., a provider of pre-hire 360 solutions. She is also a NEHRA member. Erika may be reached at info@skillsurvey.com or by visiting http://www.skillsurvey.com.

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