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Can we ask to see an applicant's prior performance reviews?

Yes, you can ask applicants to provide this information, although the real issue is whether it is an effective HR practice.

Some employers believe the rationale for requesting performance review information during the hiring process is to determine in advance the type of employee the applicant will become. However, there is no effective way to determine if there is a direct correlation or if a performance review is a reliable or valid predictor of future performance.

Performance reviews, evaluations or appraisals at best are a summary of past employee performance at a specific point in time. Most performance review processes are subject to various forms of controversy, and numerous articles have been written about the problems with rater bias and subjectivity.

The issue is further compounded when one looks at the transferability of performance review information from one employer to another. Is it possible for one employer to effectively and meaningfully glean and use the information from performance appraisals from another organization, particularly when the potential employer is unaware of or unfamiliar with the rating scales, values and culture of other organizations? For example, one organization may value innovation whereas another organization may value strict adherence to established rules. The applicant may be applying for a position with an organization specifically because of this cultural-fit issue with his or her current employer. If the hiring company used performance review information from the current employer to weed out the applicant, it could miss an opportunity to hire a stellar performer for the organization.

Employers also should consider the effect of other related issues, including concerns about discrimination if the practice is not consistently applied, particularly without a job-related purpose, as well as concerns about the applicant's privacy. If employers decide to go forward with this practice, they should develop guidelines about how best to obtain and use the information, and what the consequences would be for applicants if they fail to provide the information.

A more effective practice might be to obtain the applicant's written permission to confer with current or former supervisors once a conditional offer of employment is made. Supervisory referrals may provide more useful information that can be helpful not only in determining whether to hire the employee but the types of supervision the applicant best responds to. This is an accepted practice and less likely to be met with resistance from applicants or their supervisors.


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