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Angie's List gives top review for reference-checking service

Angie's List automated and improved the process of reference checking with SkillSurvey, and used the software to obtain anonymous evaluations of people seeking work.

Angie's List, a consumer review site, signed on with SkillSurvey when it was looking for honest reviews of its own for hiring purposes.

Angie's List went live with the automated reference-checking service in January 2015, and used the software for about 750 to 1,000 job applicants at the company last year, said Jason Rodd, director of talent acquisition. Angie's List hired more than 500 people in 2015 using the tool, which provides recruiting analytics.

SkillSurvey is easy to use and provides speedy, candid feedback on candidates, Rodd said. The software dramatically increased and simplified the reference-checking process, and saved a lot of time, he said. "This provided a way for us to dot the i's and cross the t's, and make sure we were hiring the right people."

He said the price was the kicker in the deal. Angie's List pays about $3,000 a year for an annual subscription that includes unlimited reference checks, he said. The annual price for the reference-checking service may be lower because the company signed a multiyear contract, he added.

Rodd said he realized that SkillSurvey was "a game changer" when a colleague asked him to provide a reference and the prospective employer required him to use the reference-checking service. The request came while Angie's List was testing SkillSurvey during 2014, he said.

"I have seen both sides of it," he said. "I was able to go through it as a referral and I knew immediately it provided valuable information."

A user knows the names and job titles of references supplied by an applicant, but completed surveys are anonymous, he said. An employer cannot tell who provided a response, because at least four references are required and all responses are anonymous, he said.

Rodd said the response rate is between 80% and 90%, and the survey is usually completed in two to three days. "The quality of the information we receive is unbelievable ... We have received some of the most candid, direct feedback for candidates than I have ever received over the phone." To help with recruiting analytics, an employer receives an executive summary of reference feedback for a candidate.

When they apply for a job, candidates provide references and the emails for the references, said Ray Bixler, CEO of SkillSurvey, based in Wayne, Pa. The references receive an email from the software, written as if it came from the applicant. The software is built for mobile and about 60% of references respond via smartphone or iPad, he said.

The survey questions are specific to the job being sought and the behaviors that pertain to those jobs. For a sales opening, for example, he said a question might be, "Does the applicant stay involved and make sure a new sale goes smoothly?"

The average survey includes about 25 questions that can be answered on a scale of one to seven. Seven would mean an applicant is always good at a behavior, and one would mean the applicant was never good at the behavior, Bixler said.

Partly for recruiting analytics, the survey includes two "yes or no" questions, including one that asks if the reference hired the applicant. Hirers might be more favorable because they might feel accountable for bringing the person onboard or they might be proud, he said. That is important for helping an employer make a better hiring decision, he said.

The survey also includes two open-ended questions on areas for improvement and strengths. In an improvement for recruiting analytics, there are close to 400 different surveys specific to different jobs and behaviors for those roles.

SkillSurvey is used by about 1,400 companies, institutions and organizations, including Clemson University, Brown-Forman and HealthSouth. All are based in the U.S., but some are global and will use the product overseas because it is translated into five languages, he said.

The cost for SkillSurvey depends on a user's number of employees, Bixler said. John Hartz, a spokesman for SkillSurvey, said in an email that the pricing "can run from a few thousand dollars up to in the six figures."

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What are your company's experiences with using a reference-checking service?
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I have an experience giving a reference through such service and asking my referrers to go through one. 
In a way, it simplifies things because it can be done at your convenient time; filled forms can be saved, verified, and edited before the final submission.
On the other hand, social process is important, especially in the very question about people. As with an interview, the tone, voice, body language, attitude, and all these informal messages are important for decision-making, they also should not be lost in reference checking.
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agareev - Thanks for the comment. You are making a strong point to consider. You have filled out a survey from an automated service and you have asked your references to fill them out, so you, too, have seen both sides. I guess if someone is very enthusiastic about a job applicant, it might be easy to pick that up in a phone conversation. The entire reference process can be tricky.
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As I expressed in another thread, cutting out human interaction cuts out too much important information. I used this service. It made me wonder why I need to pay at all if I can use LinkedIn recommendations the same way. The fact they're publicly given only adds to the credibility.
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agareev - SkillSurvey does provide for anonymous references and the argument is that the references can be more candid than they would in public. Thanks for your observations.
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Dan - I don't quite understand this argument. Here are my thoughts.

Giving a reference is voluntary. If someone is unwilling to do that, it's a feedback already, and a very important feedback.

If someone is willing to give a positive endorsement, whether verbally or in writing, how going anonymous makes it "more candid"?

And if the feedback is negative, going
anonymous may not protect from lawsuits. Data get stolen, leaked, and sold all the time.
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agareev - I guess we can agree to disagree on that one. If people are searching for a job, they need to stay in close contact with their references. That's good advice whether the reference is contacted by the employer over the phone or over the Internet.
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