Getting a Second Opinion

Published: May 23, 2011

An important adjunct to learning how applicants rank themselves and their capabilities is learning how their present and former employers rank them. Seeing applicants as former employers have seen them can help prevent many a hiring blunder, so always ask applicants to bring copies of the performance reviews they've received. If applicants don't have copies, they can still tell you how they were rated and how they felt about those ratings. For applicants who haven't received performance reviews, reframe the question by saying something like, "As you know, we perform reference checks. When I speak with your former manager, what do you think she will say about your abilities to follow directions and reach your job objectives?"

Which brings us to the this essential hiring question: "Let's talk about your performance review."

Ask This Question Because...

A good hire requires corroborating evidence for the capacities, skills and achievements the applicant has told you about thus far and the best source for references is sitting right in front of you.

By now, you have ascertained whether or not the applicant's former employer did a performance review and provided a copy to your applicant. Even if the applicant's former employer didn't do a performance review, you can still use this question by tweaking it slightly, as in "If I were to talk with your supervisor about your performance, how would he/she rank you in working with others? Why? Give me some specific examples that tell me why."

What to Listen For...

Listen for evidence, evidence, and more evidence that will support hiring or not hiring this candidate.

Begin by identifying the measuring scale. What did the former employer measure? Look at overall job performance, reaching goals and objectives, dependability, initiative, working well with others, etc.

Ask applicants if they agreed with their managers' reviews, why they think they were ranked as they were, what parts of the job they would perform differently now, what they think they could do to improve and where they are satisfied with how well they performed. You can also ask them to estimate their former supervisors' rankings or provide them in the pre-hire paperwork. This allows you to ask subset questions such as: "You said your previous supervisor at XYZ will rank you above average in customer service. Please give me some specific examples of why you think you'll receive this rating." Now is the time to remind applicants you will check each and every reference they give. You can also ask applicants how they think their friends, relatives, and co-workers will rank them in promptness, reliability, etc.

During the pre-interview paperwork, obtain applicants' written permission to check their references. Assuming the performance appraisal and references meet your standards, you're ready to move on to the final interview question of the "essential five" in next month's May 2011 issue.

Mel Kleiman CSP: Helping companies build a frontline that will help them build their bottomline. Visit and

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