The Science Behind Self-Reflections, Reference Checks and Better Hiring

Posted on November 2, 2022


Behavioral DataHiring EfficiencyReference Checks

Social Share:

Despite worries of an upcoming recession, data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics show that organizations are still desperate to quickly hire and retain talent. The push for talent has led organizations to enhance the speed of the hiring process, identifying and selecting talent at faster and faster rates. 

One overlooked factor in speeding up the recruitment process is the organization’s use of reference checks. A reference check generally involves contacting job candidates’ former colleagues and managers to obtain information about the individual’s values, skills and knowledge. Traditional reference checks exclusively collect information about the job candidate from sources other than the candidates themselves. 

While it is tempting to eliminate the reference check altogether in pursuit of recruitment speed, reference checks can provide valuable information about a job candidate that are not found in a resume or typical interview format. 

To maximize speed while also surfacing insights found in reference checks, organizations are turning to self reflections. Unlike traditional reference checks (which may take a few business days to be completed), job candidates are hyper motivated to complete self reflections as soon as they are received. Thus, self reflections have speed while at the same time collecting similar insights that would be found in a (slower) reference check.  

Building on the scientific research behind self reflections, I review what self reflections are, why they matter and how to conduct them.

What Are Self Reflections? 

Self reflections ask job candidates to complete a survey which measures their individual attributes (e.g., motivations, skills) in an objective and standardized manner. For instance, imagine you have 20 job candidates — who look similar in terms of past work experience and education — and you need to make decisions on who to advance in the recruitment process. Self reflections can be deployed to collect information about the job candidates not found in a resume or through a structured interview, such as values, interpersonal skills and technical knowledge. This provides another data point used to make decisions on which candidates are the best fit for the organization and role.  

Self reflections can take different forms. For instance, self reflections may involve answering a series of Likert questions (rate agreement with a statement), slider questions (answer a question by dragging a slider), or open-ended questions (write a few sentences in response to the question). The most effective self reflections use a mix of different question formats to ensure the specific question format does not influence the results. 

Moreover, self reflections can measure different attributes of an individual. For instance, Searchlight’s Predictive Talent Platform uses self reflections to build a holistic, well-rounded image of candidates, capturing the candidate’s competencies, cultural alignment, power skills and work motivations

What Is the Value of Self Reflections?

We know from the scientific literature that incorporating self reflections into reference checks brings value to both the job candidate and the organization. Here is the evidence-based value proposition for self reflections:

Combining self reflections with a traditional reference check leads to a more accurate (valid) evaluation of the job candidate

The goal of any reference check is to produce an accurate (and thus actionable) evaluation of the job candidate. When traditional reference checks ask prior colleagues and managers to evaluate the candidate, they miss a critical ingredient: the candidate’s own voice. Job candidates possess knowledge about themselves that prior managers and colleagues cannot access. Previous research has shown that “360-degree” ratings (a process of gathering peer and self-evaluations) are more accurate compared to peer evaluations alone. So self reflections result in a more accurate evaluation of the candidate overall.
For instance, if the reference check seeks to understand the job candidate’s motivations to work, prior colleagues and managers may lack detailed knowledge of the candidate’s financial situation at home, leading colleagues and managers to inaccurately report the degree to which the job candidate is motivated by financial resources. A self reflection could reveal this, and other insights not found in a resume, traditional structured interview, or reference check from prior colleagues and managers.

Self reflections are viewed as a fair process, promoting positive work outcomes 

By asking job candidates to complete a reflection (and not only relying on a third party’s feedback), candidates perceive the process to be more fair (called “procedural justice” in the academic literature). When a reference check is evaluated to be more fair, candidates are more likely to trust the outcome of the reference check, and as a result, trust the organization conducting the reference check. Previous research has shown that employee participation at work leads to positive outcomes such as higher engagement and stronger performance.

Self reflections promote individual growth

Reference checks are often viewed as a “check-the-box activity,” providing little value to the job candidate. In contrast, when job candidates are asked to self-reflect on their strengths and areas for improvement, they experience individual growth. As explained in the Harvard Business Review, the act of reflecting requires the brain to pause and consider prior observations and experiences. This reflection becomes learning, informing future goals and actions. So not only does self reflection help the employer, it can also help the employee by nudging them towards growth.

How Does Searchlight Utilize Self Reflections? 

With Searchlight, we leverage self reflections to surface a candidate’s self-perception on their strengths and opportunities, cultural preferences, and work motivations in order to assess their alignment with the role and organization. These self reflections can be conducted in tandem with references or as a discrete step in the hiring process.

Our customers report that self reflections improves: 

1. Hiring quality by asking key questions about Power Skills, Cultural Alignment, and Work Motivations in the hiring process that may not be consistently asked in an interview.

2. Hiring effectiveness by surfacing critical decision factors a candidate is considering for a job offer. For instance, we measure work motivations with self assessments, pinpointing the candidate’s most important attributes of the job (e.g., job title, impact, learning). These insights enable recruiters and hiring managers to tailor the job offer letter to the motivations of the job candidate. 

3. Hiring efficiency when used as a mechanism to sort candidates in the pipeline. For instance, those whose self reflections indicate a low cultural alignment can be deprioritized for late stage interviews compared to those with strong cultural alignment.

Daniel Stein, PhD

People Data Scientist As a People Data Scientist at Searchlight, Dan combines subject matter expertise in organizational psychology with data science methods to uncover actionable people insights backed by science. Dan has a Ph.D. in organizational behavior from the University of California, Berkeley, and his research has been published in Harvard Business Review and Scientific American.

Download our Guides