Think reference checking is a waste of time? Out of 17,368 people who were interviewing for a job* and who were told their interview statements and resume information would be verified, 1/3 were found to have lied!
Contrary to what many employers think, there really ARE effective ways to do reference checking on a salesperson (or sales manager) candidate and get valuable information to help you in your hiring decisions.
STEP 1: The Consent Form Waiver. Each candidate that you plan on checking references for should sign a reference check consent form. This has become standard procedure in many industries and a candidate should have no problem agreeing to this. (Click here for a sample form.) Having this is critical to getting reference participation, because you can then tell references you have this waiver and can email it to them. This enables references to feel more comfortable in being candid about the candidate.
STEP 2: You Choose The References. This is key… YOU can decide who you want to be a reference and tell the candidate, instead of the candidate choosing. How does this work? First, in your interviews with candidates, make sure you take good notes on the answers to your questions about former bosses, co-workers, and clients. Then, if you decide to proceed in the hiring process with the candidate, you will have a list of names to request to talk to and specific information to ask the references about in your call. Here are the types of questions that will yield you this information:
- Client Examples: Ask candidates to tell you about a sale (or accomplishment) with a customer they are proud of and why. Ask for one example from their current job, and one from a previous job. Jot down the names of the clients and a few key points. When you are ready to ask for references, tell the candidate you would like to talk to the current client. If the candidate says she can’t do that because she doesn’t want the current client to know she is interviewing, no problem, ask for the client from her previous position example. You can also ask for examples of long-term client relationships, clients where they grew them from small investments to large investments, etc.
- Former Boss Examples: Ask candidates to tell you about the best boss they ever had and why. Again, take note if they say the name of the person, at the very least they will certainly mention which company it was. Variations on this question could be, “From which boss did you learn the most? Which boss would you be willing to work for again and why?” When it is time to do reference checks you can refer back to these examples and tell the candidate you want to speak with them as references. Make it clear to candidates that it is your policy to speak to at a minimum, one former boss so they know this isn’t optional. If you get excuses such as the person isn’t there anymore or they are no longer in contact with the former boss, be wary. Rarely does a person lose contact with a favorite boss and have no idea how to get in touch with him or her.
- Co-worker Examples: Outside sales is an individual pursuit, not a team sport. However, it’s important to know if a candidate can play nice with others inside the building. Also, co-workers give you a different perspective of a person than that of former bosses and clients. Ask candidates for an example of how they worked with someone in another department to achieve a goal. A truthful example will almost always include a specific name of a person – even if it is just a first name. Note the key points of the example. Or, you could ask for an example of a co-worker they admired and why or who they learned from the most. Now you will have the name or names of co-workers that you can request to talk to for your reference checking.
You need to speak to a minimum of at least 3 references. It’s important to get a variety of perspectives in order to accurately judge the information you receive. Reference checking isn’t just about verifying facts, it also can significantly aid in understanding a person’s skills, and help you determine if the person is a good fit for your company’s culture and your management style.
STEP 3: How To Contact The References. What’s the best way for you to contact the references you have requested? You don’t, the candidate does. Once you have determined who you want to talk to you have the candidate call the references and set up the appointments. Aren’t they going to “coach” the references? If they are smart they will, but so what? That can happen no matter who is facilitating the calls, that doesn’t mean you aren’t going to get information that may help you.
Give the candidate several days and time windows to offer the references. By having the candidate set the calls, you don’t waste time chasing down the references and it dramatically increases the likelihood that the person will keep the appointment. Once the call appointments are confirmed have the candidate give you email addresses for each one so that you can send in advance of the call, a copy of the Reference Checking Consent Form Waiver that you had the candidate sign.
STEP 4: What To Ask The References. Obviously this depends on the relationship of the candidate to the person giving the reference. Here are some types of questions you might ask:
- Client References: Certainly you will want to refer back to your interview notes about the example the candidate gave you and ask some specific questions about it; such as, “Jessica said that she was most proud of the XYZ idea she put together for you. Can you tell me a little about that and why it was successful?” You might also ask what the client’s first impression of the candidate was and if that changed once the client started working with him or her. Or, ask the client how the candidate first approached the client and what persuaded the client to give her business to the candidate. Another good question is, “Jessica says she is a creative problem solver. Was she able to demonstrate that with you?” These types of questions will tell you a lot about the process candidates use in their selling as well as their relationship building skills.
- Former Boss References: You will want to ask some of the basic verification questions such as dates of employment, compensation, is the person eligible for re-hire, etc. Then you can get into asking questions about the specific example(s) the candidate gave you about that person. “John said that you were the best boss he ever had. What is it that you think was most important in managing him?” Other leading questions are, “What do you feel was John’s most significant accomplishment?” “How often did John surpass his budget goals?” “How does he handle stress?” “How does he build relationships with people inside the building?” “What are the most important things for me to do if I am his manager?” “What are his motivators?” “What should I be careful not to do?” You might want to wrap up with a “rating” question such as, “On a 1-5 scale with 5 being the absolute best, how would you rate John on: Professionalism… Dependability/Responsibility… Initiative… Sales Drive… Attitude?”
- Co-worker References: Start off with questions about the examples that the candidate gave you in the interview about this person. Ask a co-worker for three adjectives that come to mind when describing the candidate. You can ask the co-worker what attributes set this candidate apart from other salespeople. Ask the co-worker how he would describe the relationships that the candidate had with clients. You might want to ask if the candidate was good at developing relationships with support personnel and examples of such. Co-worker references can provide great insight into a candidate because people tend to be more relaxed and truer to their real nature when with co-workers versus a boss or a client.
When talking to references, don’t forget…
♦ Take good notes
♦ Follow H.R. policies
♦ Be friendly and conversational (this isn’t an interrogation)
♦ Ask open-ended questions
♦ Listen, listen, listen
Step 5: Social Media/Online Resources. Always check the candidate’s LinkedIn profile. They can be a treasure trove of information. You can also fact check information candidates have told you in the interview with their profile. Scroll through the candidate’s connections and see if you have any mutual ones or even 2nd degree connections. These are potentially people you may want to speak to in your reference checking.
There are online, automated services that can help you gather reference checking information and provide helpful additional insights. One such company is www.Checkster.com. You decide how many references and what type of references (i.e., 2 former bosses, 3 clients, etc.) you want the candidate to invite to participate. The references go online and answer a questionnaire about the candidate. The questions are tailored to your open job position and the information that is important to you. The references responses remain anonymous. This can significantly aid in references providing more specific information about the candidate.
The job candidate is required to sign an online consent form and a release of liabilities form. Because it is an automated process, it ensures that there is consistency in the questions being asked about each of your candidates. There is also a sophisticated reference fraud detection process in place. A minimum of 3 and a maximum of 20 references can participate and the candidate takes a self-assessment as well. The employer then receives a detailed report of the findings and a “gap analysis” report comparing the candidate’s self-assessment with that of the references. It’s economical (prices depend on volume) and a time efficient way to gather valuable information about your candidates. (Click HERE to test drive the process for free.)
One last thing… Don’t wait and do references on a final candidate. You may be too invested in the candidate by that point to evaluate the information you receive in an unbiased way. Instead, do reference checks earlier in the hiring process with perhaps your top 3 candidates. It’s too important to leave it to the last minute or not do at all!
“I don’t live to work, it’s more the other way around. I work to live. Incidentally, what’s your policy on Columbus Day?”
– Owen Wilson’s character in the movie “You, Me and Dupree”
* Research study by Julia Levashina, Frederick P. Morgeson, Michael A. Campion