Your References Are More Important Than You Think

When the company you’ve been interviewing with asks for your references, you can already see the finish line. After this small hurdle, a job offer is sure to follow.

Far too many people think reference checks are just a perfunctory step–merely checking off another box in the process. After all, would any candidate really give a reference that might endanger her or his candidacy?

Believe it or not, some references don’t shower praise on their former employee, and just because the company has asked for your references doesn’t mean it’s not checking references for several other candidates too. The reference checks can help distinguish between finalists and provide clarity on which would be the best fit for the job.

When you are asked to provide references, here’s the four-step process you should consider following:

1. Contact the people you’d like to use as references.

You should do this before you hand over their names and contact information.

2. Make sure you obtain current and accurate contact information.

There can be nothing more frustrating for a hiring manager than missed communications in the reference-checking process. When you talk to your references, ask for an email address they check regularly, a phone number they answer during business hours, and the best times to reach them. Also, ensure you have references’ correct titles and company information, and that you are clear on the capacity in which you worked for them. You also ought to give them the name of the company representative who will be contacting them, as well as the person’s email address, so your references will expect the email and check their spam folders if necessary. It’s also best to ask them to alert you after they’ve spoken with your potential employer.

3. Provide your reference with a copy of the job description and your current resume.

It’s much easier for your references to speak about you if they can tell your potential employer how your skills and experiences are relevant to the job in question and if they can provide specific examples from their experience working with you to support a decision to hire. The current resume will help them to be more precise in discussing job titles, education, previous experiences, and work dates.

4. Make sure they can give you a strong recommendation.

You read that right. Ask your references if they can provide a strong recommendation for you to be hired. If they can’t, move on and find someone else. Specifically, ask them if they can respond positively to questions like: How did you see this individual succeed when they worked with you?”; “What makes you think that this person can do the job?”; “Based on what you know about this person, would you hire them today for the same role?”; and Can you comment on their strengths? Weaknesses?”

There is one other issue that can be tricky–using someone you currently work with as a reference. Sometimes, a potential employer will insist on this. If you don’t have total confidence that this person will be discreet (since you have not announced your departure), I would recommend the following: tell the new employer that they can check your other references and they can call your current reference after you have accepted the position. You want to be in control of when and how you announce your resignation.

Good luck! And please, don’t assume that have the job until you have a firm offer in-hand.


Lesley is president and founder of Priority Candidates, which prepares college students and recent graduates nationwide to get hired for their first jobs.   Previously, Lesley spent more than 25 years in executive search, working with candidates from entry level to C-Suite executives in organizations ranging in size from small, family owned businesses to large international organizations.  Her fundamental knowledge of what hiring manager’s look for is the core of what Priority Candidates does to prepare college students/recent grads to get hired now.  An alumnus of Duke University who is based in New York City, Lesley has been featured in USA Today, ABC’s New York Viewpoint with Ken Rosato, ABC News with Art McFarland, The New York Times, NY Nightly News with NBC4’s Chuck Scarborough, eCampus News and John Tucker’s Small Business Report on Bloomberg Radio.   Lesley always welcomes connections via LinkedIn, on Twitter or by email or phone, available on her website.

Related posts:

  1. Reference Lists: The Other Marketing Tool
  2. There’s No Such Thing As “References Available Upon Request”
  3. 4 Tips to Succeed at the Career Fair

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