40 Reference Questions

So, you have a candidate for your open sales position (or even better – for your talent bank) and you’ve made it far enough down the road with her that it’s time to see what other people are saying. You could go the traditional route and ask her for a couple of references to check… but we should probably assume that she’s going to give you a few slam-dunks, so let’s just skip that step.
Instead, consider launching an investigation of your own. Talk to others in the market and see if anyone knows her, connect on LinkedIn and message the connections you share, and reach out to former clients or coworkers that you have relationships with to seek their thoughts. The best way to gain useful insight into your candidate’s potential fit for this job is to learn as much as you can about their consistent behaviors.

Here are 40 great questions to ask when speaking with a “real” reference. These questions are unique and more effective than others because they will uncover patterns of behavior and provide you with important information related to the talents that are most critical to success in B2B sales.
During your investigation, choose one or two questions from each of the categories below to help you determine whether your candidate might have the right stuff. Once you feel convinced, make sure to use a validated talent interview instrument to confirm whether you should move forward to an offer!

Productivity and Focus:
1. Would you say that Susie considers her work more as a “very important job” or as a “way of life?”
2. How would Susie’s productivity and energy compare with others?
3. Compared with other people that you have known, how well-defined would you say Susie’s goals typically are for her?
4. Has she usually remained on-track when working toward her goals? Tell me more.
5. Would you describe Susie as more intense… or more laid-back?
Organization and Structure:
6. On a scale of 1-10 with 10 high, how organized would you say Susie is?
7. Is Susie typically more effective when she is able to concentrate on fewer tasks or when she is juggling many projects at once?
8. Most of us don’t get everything on our to-do list done by the end of the day. Have you ever known Susie to not finish a project by quitting time? How did she feel and what did she do?
9. How would you characterize Susie’s expectations of herself as compared to others?
10. Would you say that Susie leans more toward being a perfectionist or begin carefree?
Courage and Persuasion:
11. On a scale of 1-10 with 10 high, how assertive would you say Susie normally is?
12. Would Susie prefer to be the one in charge? Or would she feel more comfortable making collaborative decisions?
13. How likely would it be for Susie to speak her mind – even when her opinion might be contrary to others?
14. Would you consider Susie a highly persuasive person? Why is that?
15. Is Susie a strong closer? Why do you would describe her that way?
Strategic and creative thinking:
16. Which one of these styles sounds most like the Susie you know – “Don’t fix it if it’s not broken” or “Never leave well enough alone?”
17. How quickly would you say Susie learns things? Can you tell me something that she learned to do well in a short period of time?
18. Would you ever describe Susie as a detective? Why?
19. If Plan A didn’t work, would Susie usually have a Plan B that she could turn to? How about a Plan C or D?
20. Would you consider Susie to be more practical and conservative in her thinking or more creative and out-of-the-box with her ideas?
Optimism and Rapport:
21. Would you describe Susie as highly enthusiastic? Why?
22. Has her enthusiasm ever been highly contagious to others? Tell me more.
23. If Susie were in a room full of new people at a non-work function, would she likely be the one introducing herself to everyone else or would she spend more time talking to people she already knows?
24. On a scale of 1-10 with 10 high, how well does Susie deal with change?
25. How does she generally respond when something unexpected happens?
People skills:
26. Would you describe Susie as a chameleon? Why?
27. Would you say Susie is more task-oriented or people-oriented?
28. How quickly does Susie become friends with people?
29. How empathetic is she?
30. Could you describe a typical client relationship that Susie might have for me?
Ego Drive:
31. On a 1-10 scale with 10 high, how self-confident is Susie?
32. How likely is she to take a risk in order to accomplish a big challenge? Do you have any examples to share?
33. Which description sounds most like Susie – “independent and self-reliant” or “a team player?”
34. How important is recognition and reward to Susie?
35. How growth-oriented is she? Can you tell me a little more about that?
Competitive Nature:
36. Would Susie typically know her performance numbers off the top of her head?
37. How competitive is she?
38. Would you say that she has to win in order to really feel good about the work she has done?
39. Would Susie tend to set goals that are higher than others? Or would you describe her goals for herself as more reasonable?
40. How did she do under pressure? Can you tell me more?

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