Checking references - Sales Management

Prior to making a formal job offer, but after completing the selection process to the point where you have a favored candidate, you should take references on the prospective appointee (with his or her consent). In some companies this may be undertaken by human resource manager, but in others it will fall to the line manager. Where that is not the case the following guidelines will aid the sales manager in taking references.

Sometimes a job offer is made orally in the first instance, but it should be made conditional upon satisfactory references being received. A conditional offer by letter avoids the risk of later misunderstandings. (Note that in some countries the taking of references from employers is not permitted.) Personal references from friends acting as referees carry less weight than a reference from a current or former employer of a job applicant. Good sources of reference include:

  • a former line superior, who can provide insight into a candidate’s performance against objectives, job achievements,skills, abilities, strengths, potential,management style, etc.
  • a peer group colleague, who may provide insight into how the candidate works within a team, interacting with colleagues,and earns and builds respect
  • a subordinate, who may provide insight into management style, team building and leadership skills, training and feedback skills, etc.

References are usually best taken over the telephone. Letters tend to be replied to slowly, if at all, and produce minimum factual information. Table illustrates the who, what and how of taking references. The person asked to give a reference will respond more positively if you identify yourself and confirm you call with the candidate’permission, and if the referee has been forewarned by the candidate to expect the call.

Also, make a note of the key points. It is usually best to do this on a structured reference, such as that illustrated in Table.



During a reference-taking conversation it is always best to start with a few basic questions that are aimed to verify facts, as that usually will relax the referee more towards you, and start the flow of information. Then you can proceed to elicit some additional information with open questions, e.g.:

  • ‘How would you describe his/her work and performance?’
  • ‘How does he/she get on with the other staff and supervisors?’
  • ‘Would you re-employ him/her?’
  • ‘What have you found to be his/her main strengths and weaknesses?’
  • ‘Is there anything else you think I should know about his/ her work, personality or background before offering a job?’

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