1. Speak with the candidate’s direct supervisor –
When you ask the candidate for references, be sure he/she provides at least a few previous direct supervisors. (Note: It is understandable, however, that the candidate may be reluctant to provide his current supervisor as a reference if his boss isn’t aware that he's looking.) Ask to speak with references from the Security Industry.
2. Verify lines of reporting –
Be sure to determine whether the reference was indeed the person’s direct supervisor, rather than just another manager in the same organization. While other managers or executives may know the candidate, there’s nothing like direct, relevant experience with the candidate’s day-in, day-out work. (Note: Again, be reasonable. If the candidate’s former manager has retired, been laid off, or is deceased, these may be your only available contacts for that time period.) Be careful about friends. There are certainly times when a former employee and boss become friends. It’s just a part of life. However, do be sure to take their input with a grain of salt: it can certainly be biased.
3. Probe for More Details –
If the candidate doesn’t provide the contact information for a previous supervisor at a specific IT security company, don’t be afraid to ask why. Sometimes there are perfectly legitimate reasons (e.g lost contact). However, if you do suspect there may be a poor situation with the supervisor, ask for details. How the candidate handles your question will sometimes tell you as much as what you could get from the supervisor!
4. Do some research –
Using your network, talk to people who work at the same IT security company where the candidate did. While they may or may not have had direct experience with the candidate, they may be able to shed light on issues or situations within the firm that explain the candidate’s position, role, or experience as a sales security talent.
5. Honesty is the best policy –
Ask similar questions of the candidate and his/her references to see if you get similar answers. For example, who the person reported to or what their job duties were should be fairly consistent. However, be careful – references can let their bias creep in.
6. Ask questions in different ways –
Rather than asking directly about a skill (Is the person trustworthy?), ask the reference for situations (Can you describe a time when the sales security candidate had to display good judgment?). This will give you a more complete picture about his/her performance. What is their reason for leaving?
7. Ask both the sales security candidate and the employer for the reason for his/her departure –
While there shouldn’t be too much discrepancy between the parties, take into account whether the employee provided more palatable, less confrontational reasons for leaving (e.g. wanted to spend more time with family/needed better work/life balance).
8. Don’t forget to ask about weaknesses –
While most references may not be crazy about answering this question, you can always ask this in a less direct or in a non-threatening way. Couch the question: “As we all know no one is perfect …” or “If there was one thing you wish he or she could have been better at, what would it have been?” Asking the reference to compare the candidate to their other Sales Security employees in the company is also a good alternative.
9. Ask where the candidate would be the most successful –
You can learn a lot from this answer. For example, if the candidate did not do well as a manager at his or her previous job, but is a fabulous individual contributor – and that’s what you’re looking for – you may have a great match! Conversely, if the candidate did not attain quota as a salesperson and yet they are applying for a sales job, you may need to probe further as to why.