I’m usually not a big fan of asking leading questions of a referee. But when I’m doing reference checks for sales candidates, I’m all for priming the “witness” before conducting the interrogation. Why? Because it helps avoid getting those sometimes ill-deserved, glowing reports during your reference-checking process.
By telling the referee in advance the concerns that you might have about the salesperson, you’re priming the person to be truthful with you about information that might impact the candidate’s ability to do the job.
For example, telling the referee that you have a concern that Mr. Candidate may be over-social and might waste time chatting often gets the person to admit to a trait that he might not have otherwise mentioned.
Remember, the main purpose for checking references is not necessarily to get a glowing report but to find out potential problem areas and management challenges. You want to ensure that you’re hiring a possible performer, not a problem. A glowing report is an added bonus.
So prime the witness and get to the truth.