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Checking You Out - Help Your References Help You

Updated on June 25, 2013

Once a potential employer tells you they are going to check references it usually means you are a top candidate for the job and an offer is more than likely. Since your references can play a crucial role in whether or not you get the job, it is important to choose them wisely. You want references who know you and your work style well enough to answer any questions posed to them. If your reference is struggling to answer questions about you, this could be a red flag for your potential employer.

Here are a few things to help your reference help you:

Ask – Make sure you ask if the person will be a reference. Even if they’ve been a reference in the past, don’t assume they are still willing to be one.

Inform - Once you have your references, let them know who will be calling, when to expect the call and give them information about the job. It would beneficial to discuss with your reference how the skills used in your old position relate to what is required in the new role. This helps refresh your reference’s memory, especially if it is someone you haven’t worked for in a while.

Who You Should List As References

Future employers prefer that you provide the names of past managers or supervisors. Listing your best friend, neighbor or coworkers may look as though you have something to hide in your work history. Managers and supervisors have measured your performance and have assessed you against your goals, peers and know how effective you’ve been in your roles. They can provide an objective perspective on your skills and abilities which helps the potential employer verify you have what is needed for the position in their organization.

Three Main Areas Reference Checks Address

When employers check references, they are verifying that what you've represented during the interview is true. There are questions that are core to the process.

Salary/Title/Dates of Employment – Whether you have this information on your resume or employment application it should be accurate. Don’t inflate your title or make up one. Know the month and year for the start and end date with each employer. Also, know exactly what you made in each of your positions. If you can’t remember your salary information try to find an old pay stub, offer letter or call the Human Resources Department at the company and have them provide you with the information. You don't want any discrepancies when this information is verified.

Performance – The reference checker wants to hear what your strengths and weakness are. They will ask questions to see if there are performance issues, areas for improvement or issues with interpersonal skills. Below are examples of questions that could be asked.

How did he/she perform in comparison to peers?

What strengths did he/she display while performing the role? What were their weaknesses?

Would you consider him/her a team player?

How does he/she handle constructive criticism?

Would you rehire this person?

Reason for Leaving – Always be truthful about why you left a company. If you say you were downsized because the company was having lay-offs, but your reference says you were fired, this will cause a problem and could cost you the job.

Reference Checks and the Hiring Process

You want to think of reference checks as a very important piece of the hiring pie. You will need references throughout your career so it is important to not “burn bridges” when leaving a company. If a hiring manager is trying to decide between two candidates who are equal in what they bring to the table, if one candidate’s references are better, this may sway the hiring manager to offer them the job.


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