When you’re aching to hire that key team member to carry some of the workload, sometimes you forget the truth about professional references.

It’s totally understandable. 

You’re in a pinch. They’re ready, willing, and able. And on paper, they seem like the perfect fit to jump right in.  


Your “perfect hire” suddenly starts to emerge from their cocoon now that the honeymoon period is over. 

Maybe a month, maybe two, and you start to see patterns of behavior they exhibit that are less than ideal.

Things like not taking accountability for speaking up when they are unclear of how to do a portion of their job.

Or, using a previously bad work environment as an excuse to be triggered when you inadvertently say or do something that reminds them of the place they used to work.

All highly inefficient and volatile behaviors that you had a much better chance of preventing if you had considered what you can actually learn about someone from their professional references.


Legally speaking, most businesses and corporations will do nothing more these days than verify dates of employment.

If you want to get actual insight into a person’s performance, initiating the call to someone in Human Resources won’t get you very far.

In fact, even if you are able to speak to a person’s direct supervisor, most times they are limited to saying they did or didn’t do their job as assigned.

Not much help, is it? 

Maybe you’ll hit the jackpot and actually get someone who is free to speak about performance on the other end of the line. Even if you do, don’t you think your potential new hire is going to share with you only the people who rave about how good they are? 

With bias like that, how confident are you that you’re going to hire the right person for the role?


Unless you know the person giving the reference personally, they cannot tell you how well the personality or behavior of your potential new hire will fit into your team culture.

And sometimes, even if you do know the person giving you the referral, they may not have deep enough insight into the new hire to speak for or against them in the role you’re looking to fill.

Even if you explain to the reference what it’s like to work in your business, it won’t make much difference.

Besides, this may be a reference that your prospective employee is still working for that has an ulterior motive. Maybe that business owner or manager wants to let go of this employee but doesn’t want to be challenged for wrongful termination or have to pay an unemployment claim if they proceed. 

Sadly for some it’s much easier to recommend them for another position somewhere else and offload a “problematic” employee than to risk potential unemployment claims.


When you consider hiring that new person, instead of asking for professional references, ask for a work history.

Get one that’s 5-10 years minimum, depending on the role you’re looking to fill. 

If there are any chronological gaps, have your applicant explain them.

Then, if your applicant makes it through your initial screening and seems like a good fit, ask them to connect you with their supervisory contacts at their last three positions. 

This connection step is a solid process adapted from Bradford D. Smart’s Topgrading System that successful clinical practice owners swear by once they adopt it.

Have your applicant call each of these supervisors to alert them that you will be calling to verify their work history, performance, and to ask questions about their suitability for the position with your company. 

Here’s the key. 

Make sure the applicant gives their former supervisors permission to speak freely about their skills and behaviors. Plus, make sure they verify a couple of available times and dates for you to call their supervisors.  


If the position you’re looking to fill is not already vacant, have your potential new hire shadow the employee you want them to replace. Otherwise, have them shadow the team member who is fulfilling the role for you currently. 

Do this before offering the job to the potential hire. Not after, when you’re having your exiting employee training them. Because, once the job is already theirs, they are less likely to have much time to do anything but learn the new policies and procedures before their trainer exits the company.

You’ll want them to be introduced to the job in real time. And, have them interact with each of the other team members a bit. 

Observe them as they interact with your team. Notice the non-verbal responses each of your employees exhibits towards them as well as how well they hold up in conversations together. Get a sense on how engaged they are.

Once the shadowing session is over, ask for candid feedback from each member of your team. Pay close attention to what they may tell you about how this person may fit into your company culture.  


If you want to get a true picture of how a new hire will work with you inside your company and team culture, get to know the truth about professional references.

Discern the information you need by creating a bridge between your potential new hire and their previous supervisors.

Observe them in your team culture during a shadowing session.

Get feedback from your team about their take on the potential new employee.

And, if you’re in need of an assist with how to set up your business for success with screening and hiring new team members, set up a free strategy session with me

I’ll help you get clear on a highly effective process for finding the right new hire without the stress of figuring out a system that works to get you “A” players.