The Importance of Job References

Having a future employer call your references is an important step that could lead to a job offer in most interview processes. Why are they required after lengthy, multiple rounds of interviews? First, references help share success stories and project work on our behalf. Yes, of course as a candidate, we will be using references that represent our work best and can speak of our work in the best light.

There are also other reasons references are important. Future employers use the references to confirm that the candidate in the interview process is represented best and they can be used to clarify some areas the future employee can improve. In most cases, the hiring manager will be making the reference calls so he or she will want to know what areas their potential team member will be able to pick up fastest, or maybe, need additional training.

Here is some advice on how to handle the reference stage:

  • Take “References available upon request” off your resume. At this point, this statement has become a cliché on resumes and takes up space.
  • Give the person conducting your references as much information as possible. Having a separate reference sheet with the person’s name, company, title, address, email address, work number and cell phone number (if instructed and approved), can all be helpful in the reference being contacted.
  • Give your references a heads up. The more leg work you can do at the front, the quicker and painless the reference step will be. Give your references notice they will be contacted and try to find out what time would be best for them to have a 5- 15 minute conversation with a new potential employer. The more coordinating you do up front, the faster the references will be completed.
  • Thank your references. Your references are taking steps out of their day so be sure to formally thank them for speaking on your behalf. A thoughtful thank you is customary and can keep the door open if you need to use the reference in the future.
  • Can’t give your references from a current role? If you can’t give your references because the person managing you is not aware of your job search, you want to be upfront about this with the company where you have interviewed. If you have passed references that supervised your work, see if you can highlight those references. Another option would be to get a trusted current colleague who can be discreet and professional about your current search. If you do, be clear that the current colleague does not currently oversee your work.

As a recruiter, I have seen references make a difference in the hiring of my candidates who I represent. If you are asked, make sure to give an accurate reference and spend some time thinking of concrete examples with quantitative and qualitative observations when appropriate. A glowing reference with excellent facts can push someone over the edge to a new job.

Just last week I did references for a candidate who was awaiting an offer pending the completion of her references. Because it was a Friday, we were trying to get the references done before the weekend and so she could secure the role and accept on the spot (which she was clear she wanted to do). That afternoon, not only did the references speak about the candidate’s ‘above and beyond work’, the two references were contacted easily because they had some notice ahead of time and were aware of the situation and job. They dropped the things they were doing to speak on the candidate’s behalf, which helped confirm to the future employer about how they felt about the candidate’s interview performance and background. They formally offered the role within a half hour of completing the references, and she accepted right away.