10 Questions to Ask When Doing Reference Checks for Sales Hires

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Lestraundra Alfred
Lestraundra Alfred


Hiring a new employee is always a little scary. You want to make sure they’re good at what you’re hiring them to do, fit into the company culture, and have the experience necessary to be successful.

Of course, hiring a salesperson can be an even more challenging task. If you don’t select the right candidate and do your homework, the company’s bottom line could suffer … quickly.

If you’ve been hiring team members for years, you may be comfortable interviewing potential hires and doing the background checks necessary. However, if you’re a brand new sales manager, say, someone who was just promoted for excellent performance in sales, you might be wondering exactly how to go about finding the right person.

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Successful hiring requires a little bit of know-how and preparation. Here’s how to make sure you don’t waste your time or money onboarding the wrong fit.

Do your candidate homework.

Once you complete your candidate interviews and decide on a handful of potential employees, it’s time to do some sleuthing.

Use social media to familiarize yourself with candidates.

A quick check of the candidate’s social media accounts can be helpful. Red flags like a negative attitude or bad-mouthing their employers or customers will be easy to spot.

If you see an issue with their online presence, you may choose to take them out of the running entirely, depending on the severity. Or you may identify areas to dig into a bit further during the interview process.

Check references. Yes, really.

One of the best ways to vet a potential employee is through reference checks. During the application process, they should have provided professional references.

These people can speak to who your future hire is as a person, a colleague, a boss, and an employee. When handled properly, they can make the difference between hiring the perfect candidate and regretting your decision quickly.

In order to get the most out of these “interviews,” you’ll want to prepare before you make the calls. Know what questions you want to ask and what is most important to you and your company. Then, be friendly, appreciative, and willing to hear and evaluate whatever the reference shares.

Some of these questions can be used as-is, whereas others will need to be tweaked to your industry and the specific responsibilities your potential employee would handle.

Read through the list before picking up the phone, and make sure you’re confident in your approach.

Keep in mind that the more you can keep your questions open-ended, the better.

1. ‘Please tell me about your relationship with the candidate.

As your first question, this will help set the context for the conversation.

2. 'Why did they leave your company and under what circumstances?'

There is some information a former employer is not legally allowed to provide to you. However, this question can still help you gauge a potential candidate.

If the reference tap dances around their answer, they are likely attempting not to defame the candidate. Consider this a red flag.

3. 'Did the candidate have any major accomplishments during the time you worked together?'

If you’re about to hire a sales superstar that blows quotas out of the water, you want to know. If you’re about to hire someone who does the bare minimum to squeak by… you want to know that too.

4. 'What do you believe are the candidate’s greatest strengths?'

Hopefully, you asked the potential hire this question during their interview. Asking their reference the same question allows you to see how the candidate sees themself compared to how others see them.

5. 'What do you believe are the candidate’s biggest weaknesses?'

Another great gauge of their self-assessment. Interviewees tend to go light on themselves with this question, offering up a weakness that can be easily reframed as a strength. A reference will likely give it to you straight.

6. 'Was any training or coaching provided to correct these weaknesses?'

It’s impossible to find a perfect employee. Every single human being has something they could improve upon. If they were given support to improve this weakness and were either uncoachable or couldn’t be helped, you need to know.

If they were never given the opportunity to improve, they could blossom with the right training.

7. 'For this position, the candidate will need to be [insert the most important qualities you’re looking for]. Do you feel they fit this description and why or why not?'

What will this potential hire need to succeed? Be very clear (before you pick up the phone) about what characteristics and skills are necessary for them to flourish. Go through each skill with the reference and ask them to provide examples if possible.

8. 'Do you feel that the candidate was a good communicator?'

Communication may be the most important skill any employee can master. Good communication will make working with this person more pleasant and productive.

Poor communication could mean disagreements among the team and misunderstandings with customers which could wreak havoc on your business.

9. 'Would you work with the candidate again in the future if the opportunity presented itself?'

This may be the most important question you can ask. If you don’t get an emphatic “Yes!” you’ll need to ask followup questions to determine if that organization wasn’t a good culture-fit for your candidate (and your business would be better), or if hiring this person would be a huge mistake.

10. 'Is there anyone else I should speak with?'

The reference listed may provide useful insight into your candidate. However, they may know someone else at the company who worked more closely with them and could give you another perspective.

Hiring a new salesperson is a big investment of time, money, and energy. This decision isn’t one you want to take lightly or make without gathering all the possible information.

Do your homework by prepping for reference checks and knowing the right questions to ask. If you’d like to learn more about what it takes to be a successful sales manager, take HubSpot’s free Certification Course, Sales Management Training: Certification for Developing a Successful Modern Sales Team.

Topics: Sales Hiring

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