Finding the right people for your marketing team can be a challenge, especially when you check references and find that former employers are guarded in their comments.

"[I]f a candidate is less than outstanding," says Douglas Hanna in a post at the Service Untitled blog, "a lot people are hesitant to say that much. The threat of lawsuits is always there and reference checks for employees who weren't great tend to present a lot of potential problems for very few benefits."

To get the most honest assessment, consider the strategy proposed by Pierre Mornell in his book Hiring Smart. He recommends calling references when they're unlikely to be in the office—for instance during lunch or after hours. Then, whether you get voicemail or an assistant, leave this simple message: "Jane Jones is a candidate for (the position) in our company. Your name has been given as a reference. Please call me back if the candidate was outstanding."

Those who want to rave about the candidate will be eager to return your call; those with less complimentary things to say, meanwhile, will be thankful to avoid an awkward conversation. Either way, you get the message.

"If you call five references for candidate A and get four calls back," says Hanna, "that's a good sign. If you call five references for candidate B and get no calls back, that isn't such a great sign."

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