A BIG mistake in hiring top sales performers occurs after the hiring decision has been made: skipping reference checks. Not taking the time to check facts and references is risky.

Here’s why you should never, ever, ever skip background and reference checks:

  • Candidates lie. Okay, they “misrepresent the facts” or however you want to sugar coat it. Falsities in resumes and interviews occur more than 50% of the time.
  • It’s much harder to make a change if concerning information is uncovered after they are employed. I’ve watched many managers struggle with finding out a truth after-the-fact. This reduces trust and makes it harder to coach and manage that team member.
  • The information you learn could lead to further questions and discussion points. These additional details could help with setting expectations and coaching. They could uncover more about how the person works and what they will need from you.
  • Protection from possible dangers. Knowing the most you can about a candidate protects your customers, you, and other employees from someone who can damage reputations, relationships, and company growth.

All too often an offer is extended just as soon as the decision to hire the candidate is made, because you want to get that person onboard as quickly as possible. The problem is it’s premature to extend the offer now. It’s time to exercise due diligence first to verify the collected data is accurate.

I’m told by many that references are a waste of time…hogwash! The right reference checks can add powerful insight into confirming your decision and will help decide the proper onboarding and training plan.

[Tweet “Reference checks help confirm the hiring decision and decide proper onboarding and training.”]

4 Tips to Make Your Reference Checks Matter:

  1. Complete reference checks before extending a contingent offer.It’s hard to retract an offer. Though you might be anxious to get it out on the table, or the candidate may push for a “real” offer before giving references, it is dangerous.
  1. Determine the references you want to talk with and ask the candidate for those specific people/roles. For example, in a sales role for an outside salesperson ask for three specific references. Either a former or current:
  • Client
  • Manager
  • Colleague

A church friend, neighbor, or manager from 15 years ago might be able to speak to the person’s character in the context they know them, but won’t help identify if they can do your job in your environment.

  1. Prepare your questions carefully. A question such as, “Does Mary work well with difficult people?” does not provide a very powerful answer. Who is going to say “no”? Instead, ask for more specifics, “Please share with me an example of when you saw Mary work with a difficult person.”
  1. Don’t stop with people references. Ask for further proof of their statements such as proof of education, awards, or compensation statements. There is so much information available electronically now.
  • If a candidate tells you that they won the Rookie of the Year Award or they always exceed their goals by x% – ask for copies of the report; they can scrub any of the confidential information and still show proof.
  • It’s not unrealistic to ask for a copy of their W-2. If they claim they make a certain amount and are using that to justify a certain compensation package, ask for proof!
  • Complete background, criminal, and credit checks.

Recently, we completed a simple public records check on a candidate. We found that he had two DUIs which would make it kind of hard for an outside sales rep who needs to drive locally AND travel and rent cars. He told us that he would hire, on his own, a driver for when he needed to do that. At $70,000 a year, I don’t know how he was going to hire (or afford) someone for that. But, what was more damaging was that he told me he had only one DUI with a long story about how the judge made him an example in his hometown! The falsifying of information did not demonstrate the trustworthiness that someone who is going to work with other people’s money should have.

shortcuts to failure

If you are lucky enough, you can delegate some of the actions, but never skip them. Now what about getting the information you need from the reference?

4 Bonus Tips for the Actual Reference Check Conversation:

  • Begin by connecting with the reference. Thanking them for their time is a good start.
  • Explain the position you are considering the person for. Let them know you appreciate any information to help ensure that the role is going to be a good fit for the candidate (whom they might have a vested interest in).
  • Explain that the specific information will be held in confidence. This context helps greatly as they give you information to your well-prepared questions.
  • Don’t be afraid to ask for specifics. Ask questions similar to the behavioral based interviews for candidates, as generalities and speculative responses aren’t helpful.

While effective reference and background checks add several days to the wait time before a new employee starts, what happens if you don’t complete them? More often than not, shortcuts in hiring lead to poor hires and a lot of wasted time and expense.

4 Success Drivers You Need to Know...and Grow


How do you strengthen this "Will" among your sales associates? How does the lack of drive impact your daily life? I discussed this and so much more on a recent virtual training event you can access below. It's valuable information for any business leader who needs to maximize performance of their people to grow their company.

Click here to access the replay.