iCIMS Acquires SkillSurvey: The Evolution of Digital Reference Checking

compass with the arrow pointing towards the word talent

This week iCIMS announced the acquisition of SkillSurvey, a digital reference checking provider with over 2000 customers (many in healthcare).

I met SkillSurvey and CEO Ray Bixler in 2009, and I was immediately impressed with both the product and its potential. At the time, SkillSurvey was one of the only providers automating the reference check process. Instead of recruiters calling and waiting for references, SkillSurvey offered a simpler option. First, candidates get an email with a link to complete the references. Then, the candidate forwards the email to three references. And the references answer a few questions online. The entire process takes a few minutes. And not to mention that the references become potential leads in a talent pipeline.

Digital reference checking made recruiters’ lives easier, empowered candidates to control and expedite a frustrating part of the hiring process, and improved efficiency. But, what online reference checking did well was provide some standards around quality of hire.

Companies that improve quality of hire have three common characteristics: invest in technology, use data to make hiring decisions, and gather ongoing feedback. Online reference checking can help inform decisions and give a more precise picture of the quality of a candidate and avoid the syndrome of “getting only positive references.” Companies that invested in online reference check solutions over the past few years saw significant improvements in quality of hire, first-year retention, and first-year performance.

Ten years ago, the only other provider offering these solutions was Checkster (acquired by Harver -formerly Outmatch). With Checkster, Harver now includes a feedback loop on hiring decisions to include post-hire data and AI-driven insights to help companies make better decisions for the future. In addition, we are seeing new providers competing in this space, including Crosschq and Searchlight. As a result, the category has changed, and the products have evolved beyond simple online reference checking, including sourcing and analytics. 

Here are a few thoughts on this category and iCIMS acquisition:

  • Talent Intelligence: Many of these providers are positioning themselves as talent intelligence platforms when they are not. They provide insights into one area of talent acquisition and focus on hiring decisions. Talent intelligence is a broader, more complicated category best suited for the Eightfolds of the world. Quality of hire or talent analytics is a more appropriate description of these providers’ offerings.
  • Plans for iCIMS: iCIMS has made some very smart acquisitions over the past year, including Candidate.ID. This acquisition only furthers its leadership across end-to-end TA, but questions remain around how SkillSurvey will be integrated and the strategy for iCIMS long-term. For example, will they fully integrate these solutions into one platform or continue to sell them as stand-alone and disparate solutions?
  • Future Acquisitions: With Checkster and SkillSurvey acquired, other ATS providers or hiring experience platforms will look at some of their competitors. We should see a few more acquisitions over the next 12 months.

It has been a busy few weeks of acquisitions in HRTech. I look forward to seeing what happens with this latest announcement from iCIMS.


  • Madeline Laurano

    Madeline Laurano is the founder and chief analyst of Aptitude Research. For over 18 years, Madeline’s primary focus has been on the HCM market, specializing in talent acquisition and employee experience. Her work helps companies both validate and re-evaluate their strategies and understand the role technology can play in driving business outcomes. She has watched HCM transform from a back-office function to a strategic company initiative with a focus on partnerships, experience and efficiency. Before founding Aptitude Research, Madeline held research roles at Aberdeen, Bersin by Deloitte, ERE Media and Brandon Hall Group. She is the co-author of Best Practices in Leading a Global Workforce and is often quoted in leading business publications including The Wall Street Journal, The Boston Globe, Yahoo News, The New York Times and The Financial Times. She is a frequent presenter at industry conferences including the HR Technology Conference and Exposition, SHRM, IHRIM, HCI’s Strategic Talent Acquisition Conference, Unleash, GDS International’s HCM Summit, and HRO Today. In her spare time, she is a runner, an avid sports fan and juggles a house full of boys (where a spontaneous indoor hockey game is not unheard of!).