Evaluate Your Career References and Win the Job Print E-mail

by Alesia Benedict, CPRW, JCTC

Your resume did its job and won the interview. The interview went well and now the hiring manager is moving forward to check your references. Are you ready? Reference checks and background checks, Google searches and social media searches are the norm for HR managers when vetting prospective new employees. Hiring is expensive so they want to make sure they conduct their due diligence and make a good hire. It is very important to know what your references will say, what will be found about you on the Internet, and what any background checks will reveal.

When preparing your reference listing for the employer, make sure everyone listed has not only agreed to serve as a reference for you, but will also have good things to say about you. Your references are your hand-picked cheering section. Employers naturally expect to hear good things from references you provide, so if there is a dissonant note from someone you listed, it can raise a red flag. Ask your references what they will say about you; consider giving them a copy of your resume and maybe some “talking points” regarding your strengths. Help your references be prepared.

Provide references who have direct knowledge of your work performance if at all possible. Family members should never serve as references! Employers will be interested in your work performance, not just that you are a nice person. You want references who can give direct knowledge of how you perform on the job in your particular career field.

Take off your rose-colored glasses. For example, if you had a spotty attendance record at a previous place of employment, get real with yourself about it. Employers ask specific questions when checking references. They ask about attendance, performance, attitude, specific skill sets, level of responsibility and education. Talk to your references about potential problems which might be of concern to the next employer and make sure there is a solid plan to handle those problems constructively.

Consider your “developed” references, too. Employers and recruiters typically ask your references a basic question – “Who else do you know that has knowledge of Joe Smith’s work performance? Can you provide that contact information?” Developed references are people your first-line references give as also having experience working with you. Know ahead of time who your references will give as these developed references. It’s possible your first-line reference will furnish someone’s name you would prefer not to speak with a prospective employer; maybe your reference wasn’t aware of some conflict in the past, for example. Find out ahead of time who your references will cite to employers and make sure that pool is also ready to cheer you on.

Social media has a large and growing impact on reference checking. For years, employers have Googled candidates but now they are reaching further into social media sites. Be very cognizant of anything you post on the web! Your comments, blogs, photos, and even personal information is easily found with just a few clicks of the mouse. If your name has been mentioned in a newspaper, it will probably be on the web. If you are part of a group with an online directory, your name will show up. Nothing is private – nothing. It is amazing what is available to a savvy searcher who knows how to find information. It is up to you to maintain a solid online reputation.

Consider running a background check on yourself to see what comes up. Most employers run background checks on potential hires so knowing what they will find will help you be prepared. Maybe you are concerned about a DUI from years ago. Be ready to address that if the employer asks. Few people, if any, have perfect pasts so a mistake in the past will not necessarily knock you out of consideration for employment; being unprepared to respond to the concern of the employer, however, might well put you in the “don’t hire” category.

With a tight economy, employers have the “pick of the litter” when hiring. Performing your due diligence in providing references, preparing references, and making sure your reputation is sound may mean the difference of you getting the offer letter instead of the other candidate. Do not ignore this part of your job search or fail to consider it until you are asked for references at the interview. Prepare ahead and you will win out in the end.