Trying to gain valuable information about an applicant from their former employers can be nearly impossible. Certain laws are in place protecting the former employee, so companies are very careful about what questions they answer and how. In fact, some managers refuse to answer questions about former employees at all. If that’s the case, how will you get the information you need about a job applicant’s previous job performance?

There are ways of communicating with former supervisors legally and successfully. Here are a few suggestions for how to make that happen in a professional manner.

  • Contact Human Resources – You could start with the Human Resources department of the job applicant’s former employer. HR acts as the middle man between you and the supervisor, making sure all communication is legal and handled properly. This method would give you employment verification, and maybe some job responsibilities and salary details but very little more than that.


The manager you’re reaching out to still might refuse (or be told to refuse) to answer any questions about the employee’s performance. Even if they wanted to, the HR department would likely need something in writing from the former employee first before giving permission to give out certain information.


  • Ask the job applicant to set up a phone meeting for you – This method requires the applicant to make the call to their former manager to ask if they would speak with you – the prospective employer – about their former employment. If the applicant sets up the call, they are giving permission for you to ask questions to their former supervisors. Those supervisors still have the right to refuse to answer any of your questions, but this puts you in direct contact for a conversation.

Here are the steps we suggest for this method in gaining past performance information about prospective employees:

  1. Explain to the prospective employee that part your interview process is to have applicants set up brief phone meetings with former supervisors.
  2. Pull out a calendar and tell the employee that you’d like them to set up the best timing for this call.
  3. When on the call with the former manager, ask basic employment verification questions and then ask “Was this person an A-Player?” An A-Player is a salesperson who is a strong asset to a sales team. The employer could give a simple yes or no answer or elaborate further within the boundaries of the law.

With an answer to that key question – if the applicant was an A-Player for the former supervisor – you will have all the additional information you need. You definitely want the answer to be “yes” to that question before hiring the applicant. Trying to take a B-Player (or further up the alphabet) and turn them into an A-Player won’t likely be successful. Committing to only hiring A-Players is how you find the top sales performers you need to succeed. If you receive a “no” answer from the former supervisor, it is best to pass on this applicant.

It’s important to know the laws in place regarding sharing information about former employees. Treat those laws with respect and you’ll still get some answers you need to hire great A-Player salespeople.