How to Get Candidates to Arrange Reference Calls with Their Managers

In the , which focuses on how to get top results when working with outside recruiters, I recommended that you require all recruiters to inform the candidates they present to you that as a final step in hiring, the candidates will arrange reference calls with managers they reported to. In this blog, I’m going to expand on that by showing you how to get candidates to arrange calls with their bosses and how to structure those calls.


Who Should You Call for a Reference?

The hiring manager and anyone else who interviewed the candidate (HR, the Talent Acquisition manager, the candidate’s future peers, etc.) will need to agree on exactly which bosses the candidate should arrange calls with. For managers or upper level roles, it should certainly include all the candidate’s managers in the past decade. The candidate typically will only arrange a call with their current manager when a job offer is on the table.

For managerial jobs, you should also include a couple of A Player direct reports and a couple of peers. For sales jobs, in addition to doing reference calls with sales managers, include a couple of customers.

Once you have your list of people you would like to speak to, candidates typically contact those people to ask if they would talk with you and, if so, when is convenient and using what phone number. A mobile number is usually best. Candidates then pass that information on to you.


How to Structure Reference Calls

First, of course, thank the person for their time. Then confirm the employment dates and title of the candidate. Then ask the most important reference question: How would you rate the candidate’s overall performance on a scale of Excellent, Very Good, Good, Fair, and Poor?

A Players get ratings of Excellent and Very Good. “Good” is not good enough – a “good” rating indicates that person was not a high performer.

Next, ask, “What would you list as the candidate’s strengths?” This question is deliberately general – you’re building trust before the next question, “What would you list as the candidate’s weaker points and areas for improvement?”

If the response is too glowing, point out weaker points the candidate disclosed in their interview. The manager is apt to say, “You obviously know a great deal about them” and then tell you more.

After that, it’s helpful to summarize all the strengths and weaker points you discussed in the call to make sure you’ve captured the right information.

Then, of course, thank them again for their time and candor.


When working with outside recruiters to fill open positions, you may be inundated with resumes and candidates, but it’s hard to know just which candidates are high performers, or who will be the right person for the job. By using these four tips, you will most certainly improve the pool of candidates your recruiters present to you, and you will be able to hire with confidence.


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