State how important the hire is, and how much you’ll appreciate a fair appraisal. Throughout, keep your antennae up for evasion or insincerity. Dig, follow up. Seek evidence, details, clarification, illustrative stories.

To the Reference (after you’ve introduced yourself and the nature of your call):

  • Is this a good time to spend 20-30 minutes or so in referencing ______? If not, when?
  • What’s the correct spelling of your name?
  • What’s your exact title?
  • What’s your background?
  • In what capacity have you known _______?
  • How long and how well have you known _______?

Information Check:

  • What was the nature of his or her work?
  • What were the main goals to be accomplished upon his or her hiring?
  • If s/he managed an organization, how many and whom?

Perspective AND Evidence


  • What is your open commentary on _______? * (Seek illustrations for any assertion.)
  • How were his or her results, compared with others?
  • Did s/he earn any particular recognition or awards?
  • How did she get along with [peers, supervisors, reports, customers….]? *(Get stories.)
  • What are his or her greatest strengths? * (Seek illustrations and testimonials.)
  • If s/he came to you and asked your counsel on how s/he might improve, what would
  • you advise? * (Seek illustrations of where this feedback would apply.)
  • What might his or her [subordinates, peers, boss…] advise?
  • Has s/he grown to improve in any of these areas recently?
  • [If applicable.] What were his or her reasons for leaving / having left?
  • Were his or her previous references checked? Do they gibe with your impressions?

The Match:

  • Describe the skills, knowledge, and qualities you seek for this position. Then ask, where does s/he fit and not fit into this description.
  • Describe your company — its culture, the relevant personalities, the short and long-term challenges. Then ask, how would and would not s/he fit in.


  • Is there anything else you can tell me in helping me get a balanced view of _______?
  • How high is your overall recommendation of _______?
  • Might I call you back if I need clarification on anything?
  • [“Thank you for your time and insight, etc.”]

Interested in learning more?Get in touch