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Revolutionizing Reference Checks: How Candidate Self-Assessments are Transforming Hiring

Hiring has evolved enormously over the past few decades. While reference checks used to be a cornerstone of the hiring process, they have slowly become less and less valuable to recruiters and hiring managers seeking to match candidates to skill-specific roles.

The Reference Checking Problem

Traditional reference checks are clunky, low-value, and take a great deal of time and effort to complete. Every candidate can have three or more references, and each reference can take 30 minutes or more to check - not including the hours or days spent trying to reach the reference.

The information gained from a reference check can be thin and often unhelpful for making candidate hiring decisions. It’s far too easy to get off track when checking references by phone, meaning information that could actually be helpful isn’t collected.

These facts have made many companies push off the reference check to the very end of the hiring process, or even skip it altogether. There are serious issues with both of these approaches.

Leaving the step until late means the possibility of uncovering information that will stop a new hire decision at the very latest stage, forcing the company to restart the process. Skipping the check entirely means even what little information that can be gathered is lost.

So, how do you solve the reference check problem? Answer: by turning the process on its head

With advanced recruiting tools, you can streamline the process and make it yield high-value information about candidates about the things that really matter: their core attributes, skill, and competencies.  

Why Self-Assessments Should Be Your New First Step

Are reference checks dead? Answer: No, but they are in desperate need of transformation. 

What if you had access to a solution that lets you speed up the process, gather more data (and higher-value data!) and empower candidates to be part of the process?

Using self-assessments as the first step of your reference check replacement plan lets you leverage modern hiring intelligence to surface top talent at an early stage of the hiring process. Even better, self-assessments change your process from a reference check that is done to candidates, to a “candidate check” that they are active participants in.  

What are self-assessments?

According to Merriam-Webster, a self assessment is "the act or process of analyzing and evaluating oneself or one's actions; an assessment of oneself".

In the workforce, employees are often asked to complete self assessments before a performance review, giving them a chance to score their own performance and compare it to scores provided by their managers and coworkers.

In recruitment, the concept is similar: a self assessment lets the candidate score themselves across specific skills and competencies, before their references score them on those same attributes. 

Instead of vague, often misleading information about a candidate’s work history, abilities, and work temperament, the self assessment is the first step to building an accurate, high-value profile of the candidate and their potential Quality of Hire.

Benefits of Candidate Self Assessments

Giving candidates some measure of control in the hiring process can be invaluable, and greatly improve their candidate experience, impacting whether top talent stays in your pipeline or self-selects out of the process. It also gives your hiring managers deeper insight into your candidate pool.

Benefits for Candidates

A top reason candidates report having bad hiring process experiences is due to feeling that their interview didn’t provide a fair process. They never got a chance to showcase their abilities or highlight their skills, preventing them from highlighting why they would be a perfect hire.

Candidate Empowerment
Self assessments fix that, by allowing each candidate to gain more control over their job application and interview experience by leveraging the digital reference checking process. This approach lets your candidates:

  • Handpick references they know can best speak to their skills related to the job
  • Complete a self assessment using the same questions their references will be given
  • Advocate for themselves before they enter the interview phase
  • Obtain a greater sense of control and confidence in the interview process  

Getting “first whack” at the questions their references will be asked by doing a self assessment can increase a candidate’s self awareness. This is crucial to developing skills and competencies and driving self improvement. 

Benefits for Employers


Hiring Manager Insights
Hiring managers can gain many insights into the candidate and what they think of their abilities when comparing their responses against the responses provided by their references. This can be a critical step for talent measurement early in the hiring process.

Insightful Data Predictive of Job Success
More importantly, our data team's analysis has shown that self-reference responses can be predictive of success on the job independently of their reference's response. The level of self awareness shown by candidates can be more accurate than a third party.

Improved Interview Process
You can also improve on your interview process by gaining some clarification or further detail about questions based on how the references AND candidate responded (and comparatively) on the surveys. Draw out more information on attributes that are important to the role, and give your candidate a chance to expand on their strengths.

Better Candidate Experience
When candidates are given the ability to contribute directly to what the interviewer knows about their skills and competencies in advance of their interview, they can walk away knowing they were given a fair chance to present their case. Even if they don’t get the job, they are less likely to feel resentful or dissatisfied with the process.

More Sourcing Opportunities
All of this can be extremely helpful to companies trying to build a database of talent in their industry. Even if a candidate isn’t the top choice now, for this role, they could be perfect for a role that becomes available later.   

If you add one additional step and give these high-value but “not now” candidates thoughtful feedback post-interview, they are 4x as likely to apply for a role again with your organization, keeping them “in your hip pocket” in case your first choice doesn’t work out or you have a similar role come up again in the future. 

Targeted Upskilling
Post-hire, your L&D team can identify and target high-performance individuals who are ready for cross training, upskilling, and promotions. Lower performing employees can have their skill-sets and strengths reevaluated for better positioning for success.

The Connection between Self-Assessments and Reference Checks

You may still be a little lost on what self assessments and reference checks have to do with one another. Let’s clear that up by addressing these common questions:

How do Self Assessments Replace Reference Checks? 

So, can self assessments alone replace the reference checking process? Answer: No.

Instead this process acts as a complement to a new way of doing reference checks, and helps you change how reference checking is done. You’re still getting feedback from former peers and managers, but you’re getting it in a way that puts actionable data at the center of the process. 

What Is Hiring Intelligence, and How Does It Apply Here?

Hiring intelligence is a closed loop system that hiring professionals can use to continually learn and improve. Self assessments are part of that loop, bringing in the second round of candidate data after the resume and providing insight into the actual skills and competencies each candidate brings to the table.

What Are Skills and Competencies?

Skills and competencies are a key piece of the modern reference check process. 

Skills are the actual abilities and knowledge the candidate possesses - for example, the ability to run a specific program, diagnose and fix a physical system, analyze data to arrive at the correct conclusion, or defuse a tense situation in the workplace or with a customer. 

Competencies are how well the candidate uses those skills to achieve positive outcomes. Does the program being run achieve its objective? Does the physical system get fixed on time and resume its task in production? Does the data analyzed serve a purpose? Is the workplace situation or customer dispute settled satisfactorily?

Make sure you’re hiring candidates with verified soft skills as well as hard ones, and develop survey questions that elicit information about the candidate’s competency or ability for actually getting things done. Try to spotlight key candidate quality indicators that can bump top talent to the top of your list.

Does Automated Skills Verification Really Work?

Automated skills verification is supported by technology and carefully prepared surveys that ensure the right questions are being asked and the right data is being collected. Modern technology and psychology play enormous roles in making the process efficient with products like Crosschq 360.

Crosschq 360 digital reference checks use survey questions carefully formulated by IO psychologists to get accurate data on each candidate without allowing unconscious bias to skew results. These surveys can be tweaked for each industry and role, making them highly valuable for verifying specific data on required skills and competencies.   

Are There Any Legal or Ethical Considerations with Self Assessments?

A self-assessment should follow the same guidelines as are required for any hiring process step seeking candidate information, including but not limited to: 

Non-Discrimination: Any self-assessment tool should be designed to avoid questions that could be seen as discriminatory based on race, gender, age, disability, or other protected categories, in line with laws such as the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) guidelines.

Privacy Concerns: Candidates should be informed about how their data will be used, stored, and shared. 

Feedback: Ethically, if candidates take the time to complete a self-assessment, they should receive feedback on their results, even if they aren’t selected for the position.

Transparency: It’s essential to be transparent about how the self-assessment results will be used in the hiring process.

Bias and Fairness: Ensure that the self-assessment doesn’t inadvertently introduce bias.

Consistency: If self-assessments are part of the hiring process, they should be consistently applied to all candidates for a particular role to ensure fairness.


Self Assessment Best Practices and Implementation

A step-by-step guide to creating an effective self-assessment to fit your organization’s needs starts with understanding what skills and competencies your open role requires, what can be taught in-house, and what needs to be already in place. 

Does the team already in place work flawlessly, so you’re worried about adding a new member? You’ll need to ensure any potential new hire works well with others. 

Will the job role require precise attention to detail? You need a focused individual who thrives on checking and double checking every task.

Are you desperate for someone who can bring a new creative edge to your team? You want an employee who can think outside the box to drive innovation.

Your self assessment survey questions should be developed specifically for each role, and worded to surface data on each candidate’s aptitude for and proficiency in these pre-identified skills and competencies.

How to Implement Self Assessments In Your Hiring Process 

It’s critical for your surveys to be as easy to understand and complete as possible. A single click to answer each question is ideal. You have several options for survey questions: Likert scale-based questions, which allow respondents to choose a number one to five, and binary questions, which have simple yes/no answer choices.

Likert scale questions: 5 meaning strongly agree and 1 meaning strongly disagree.  

Survey Question






_____ was committed to improving in their role. 






_____ was an effective listener and communicator.






_____ was easy to work with. 







Binary questions:

Survey Question



I would rehire _____.



_____ contributed to a positive work environment



_____ worked well with others in team settings. 




Automating With Technology: The Crosschq 360 Advantage

When you choose Crosschq 360 to help you assess skills across your candidate pool, you open the door to data collection that is ethical and bias-resistant. 

Your candidates feel involved in the process, and are able to participate by completing their own self assessment and choosing which references can speak directly to their abilities pertinent to the new job role they are pursuing.  

It all starts with the creation of the survey, which will be used for both the candidate self assessment and the candidate’s references.

Questions can be tailored depending on industry (engineering, hospitality, sales, etc) and the role (managerial, service staff, etc). In addition to simple Likert or Binary score ratings for specific skills and competencies, the surveys also leave room for more complex questions and answers. This allows respondents to comment on candidate strengths and areas for improvement, and leave personal feedback which can be useful for context. 

Crosschq has rapidly become the leader in reference checks for several reasons:

  • Surveys are digital, making them easy and fast to complete
  • Surveys are tailored for the role/industry, helping you collect better data
  • Surveys are designed to remove bias from the reference checking process
  • Surveys identify best matches fast, reducing time to hire
  • Surveys help project post-hire performance, improving Quality of Hire

The process is simple: candidates receive the self-reference check via email. The survey asks them to rate themselves on a variety of role-related attributes, and rank their performance compared to others they have worked with.

Candidates get to list what they think their top skill strengths and areas for improvement are.  They may answer questions about their personal ethical code, their working style, and the most recent feedback they remember receiving.

An optional survey section allows respondents to provide demographic data, which can help your company both in supporting DEIB initiatives and increasing innovation, creativity, and revenues through diversity in hiring. 

Once a candidate has completed their self assessment, they add emails for their references, who will receive and complete the same survey. All responses plus a complete report go to your recruitment team, who can compare candidate results and identify front-runners. 

Self-Assessments Are the Future of Candidate Checking

Switching from traditional reference checking to a candidate checking process that starts with a self assessment can help you start making data-driven decisions in recruitment and improve your entire organization's Quality of Hire. 

With self assessments performed early in the hiring funnel, you can empower your applicants, give your hiring managers and interviewers crucial data about candidates, and make it easy to spot top talent and compare neck-and-neck candidates with each other without bias.

The reference check isn’t dead. It just metamorphosed. It’s time to start looking at your candidates differently, and utilizing the power of self assessments to highlight your top candidate’s strengths in ways that relate to the job they’ve applied for.

Are you ready to transform your candidate checking process? Check out Crosschq 360 by asking for a no-obligation demonstration from our team today.


Katie Kennedy

by Katie Kennedy

Talent Consulting Lead

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