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10 Reference Check Questions You Need to Ask for Sales Leader Roles


Reference checks are an important way to validate the traits and performance abilities of a sales candidate. With over 50% of resumes containing false information and many candidates bending the truth in interviews, conducting background checks is a critical step in the sales hiring process.

So, what questions can hiring managers ask and what strategies can be implemented to maximize the likelihood of acquiring truthful and accurate information from references?

First, incorporate these three best practices into you reference check strategy:

  • Speak to Former Managers: Many salespeople will provide peers, customers, and indirect bosses as references. Ensure that at least one of the references provided is a direct manager who can speak directly to what it was like to manage the candidate, and discuss the specific habits and behaviors that the candidate demonstrated while in a leadership position.
  • Check Multiple References: Candidates typically provide three references who have might have been coached to say complimentary things. When conducting reference checks, seek to find other people who have been exposed to the salesperson and who have the ability to cross reference the candidates answers and provide support that their achievements were real.
  • Ask behavioral questions: Often, reference checks involve confirming a candidate’s employment dates, attendance habits, and one or two weaknesses, but fail to key in on the specific behaviors that made the rep successful. Asking for examples where the candidate displayed desired selling behaviors gives you detailed insight into how the rep will behave if they join your team.

With any good reference strategy, arguably the most important factor is asking the right questions. Therefore, we compiled the top 10 sales reference check questions you need to ask when hiring a sales leader, what you need to look for in their answers, and a sales reference questions template for you to print out and use in your hiring process:

1. Please describe your reporting relationship with the candidate? If none, in which capacity did you observe the candidate’s work?

Tips: Use this question to establish the relationship between the reference and the candidate. Ask follow up questions to determine if the candidate reported to this person directly, if they were the candidate’s manager, and if they had direct responsibility for hiring the candidate. In addition, use this question to determine an overview of the candidate’s work habits and how they interact with clients.

2. Why did he or she leave the assignment or company for which you are giving a reference?

Tips: Cross-reference the candidate’s reasoning for leaving the job in question. From time to time, there are some candidates who are inclined to bend the truth about the reason for leaving a former employer. But, the cross-reference strategy allows you to discover the truth.

3. Are you able to describe the candidate’s management style?

Tips: Look to see that the candidate can apply metrics to their management tasks. Can they relate back to how their management tasks contributed to the ultimate sales goals? Ask for examples.

4. How did they approach hiring/firing/coaching?

Tips: Probe for specifics in terms of hiring, firing and coaching. For instance, you may want to ask follow up questions, including:

  • How many people were hired and fired during the candidate’s term?
  • What were the candidate’s interviewing techniques when hiring?
  • How did the candidate manage poor performers?
  • How often did the candidate meet with sales reps in the field vs. in the office?
  • How often did the candidate conduct performance reviews with his or her sales reps?

5. What kind of programs did they put in place to drive sales results?

Tips: Look to see if the candidate’s programs and strategies were able to take the company’s revenue from X to Y and achieve growth goals. Ask for specific examples.

6. Out of 10, where would the candidate rank in terms of competitiveness? Can you provide some examples of competitiveness at work or elsewhere?

Tips: First get the ranking, then ask for an example. Look for competitiveness in terms of competing against other competitors or internal sales competitions. Did they succeed in these competitions?

7. Can you recall a time where he or she made a sacrifice for their work?

Tips: Ask for a specific example of a time they went above and beyond for a client or the company. Look to see if the candidate puts the team before themselves, puts the company before the team, and puts the customer before the company.  

8. How was his or her relationship with peers on the leadership team?

Tips: Look for examples of how the candidate commanded trust, respect, and loyalty.

9. Would you work with the candidate again or rehire?

Tips: You want to hear a definite yes. Managers indicating that they would rehire the candidate right away if they could is a clear sign that the candidate is a top performing sales leader.

10. Is there anything else about the candidate that you could tell me to help me understand his or her strong points and possible areas for improvement both as an employee and a sales manager?

Tips: No one is perfect – there is always room for improvement. Should the candidate be hired, use the suggestions for management purposes.


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Get these questions and more! Download our sales reference check questions template below by filling out the form.




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Eliot Burdett

CEO at Peak Sales Recruiting

Before Peak, Eliot spent more than 20 years building and leading companies, where he took the lead in recruiting and managing high performance sales teams. He co-founded Ventrada Systems (mobile applications) and GlobalX (e-commerce software). He was also Vice President of Sales for PointShot Wireless. Eliot received his B. Comm. from Carleton University and has been honored as a Top 40 Under 40 Award winner. He co-authored Sales Recruiting 2.0, How to Find Top Performing Sales People, Fast and provides regular insights on sales team management and hiring on the Peak Sales Recruiting Blog.