The LLoyd blog: hidden talent.

Making Sure Your References Check Out


You had a great interview and you’re waiting for the job offer. Your prospective employer calls and says, “we just need to check references.” How do you feel? Are you confident that past employers and those people you’ve provided as references will say the kinds of things you want said about you? Will they help you get the job?

Some employers never check references, but more and more companies have created reference and background checking policies to ensure good hiring practices. Negligent hiring is a failure to use reasonable care in the employee selection process. Most employers do not want to take such risks and so they do a little fact-finding about the person they want to hire before extending a job offer. As a job seeker, you can take steps to help increase your chances of employment.

First, be aware that the prospective employer may call the references you provide, as well as ones you do not. Just because you list Mary Smith as your reference at your old job doesn’t mean they will call Mary Smith. Some firms go directly to Human Resources or a high level authority to find out about you and your performance. Know the reference policies at any firms you’ve left within the last five to seven years. Some firms will provide comments about your on-the-job capabilities, while others will simply offer start and end dates of employment and job titles. Be prepared to address any negativity you think might come your way.

If you left on a bad note, don’t be tempted to falsely provide the name of a coworker or work bestie as your report to. This can have negative repurcussions in these days of active social media networks and layered connections. – You just never know when someone will know someone at your past employer. Instead, have a past employer back up reference. This means it’s okay for a reference to be someone other than your direct manager. You can say something like, “Mary Smith was my immediate superviser and we had a sometimes tenuous relationship. Bill Johnson is another VP there and I often worked with him and I believe he can perhaps offer a more objective view of my capabilities and work ethic. I would hope if you call, you will speak to Bill, as well as Mary.”

Never list a reference’s name or number on your resume. Consider who you will include carefully such as a Vice President, Manager, Supervisor, perhaps a personal reference such as a colleague, a customer or a professor/teacher. List your reference’s name and title and the nature of your relationship. Provide two phone numbers such as a business phone and a cell phone. An email address is also a smart idea.

Ask permission to use someone as a reference before ever giving a name to an interviewer. Make sure your reference has a current copy of your resume and is aware of what information will be helpful to impart to a prospective boss. If possible, let your reference know where you are interviewing. Be sure your reference can speak intelligently about you and your skills or character and remembers you! It is amazing the number of references who appear uncertain about a candidate when called. If your name has changed due to marriage or divorce, make the reference aware.

Beyond the reference check, there may also be a background check. This may include fact checking on criminal history, driving record, credit history, education, social security number, drug testing and more. Primarily, a background check does not involve a dialogue with a reference.

Most importantly, when you interview and provide information, make sure you are accurate as to dates of employment, job titles and so on. You don’t want an employer to hear conflicting information. Do not lie about your credentials. We know of one candidate who said she had an Associate’s Degree, but an academic check verified that she was six credits shy of getting a diploma. The candidate was perfectly qualified for the position, but the employer rescinded the offer, even though a degree was not a pre-requisite to hire. The falsehood mattered more – she just didn’t check out.

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