Resumes Win Interviews, References Win Job
Allison, Managing Director,
Inquiring minds want to know, and no minds
are more inquiring than those about to hire you. Rest
assured, you will be investigated. As a rule of thumb, the
better the job and the higher the pay, the tougher the
screening process. If you are up for a good job at a visible
company, your references and past employers will be checked
in great detail. Your list of references is simply the
beginning of the investigation a prospective employer will
When a prospective employer has
completed the first round of interviews and you are among the
top candidates, its next logical step is to check your
references and interview those individuals to whom you
reported. Are you certain these individuals will seal the deal
for you, or will they blow it away? If you are like most
people, you probably haven't given your references much
thought. Instead, you have focused on your resume, interviewing
skills, networking, and what to wear to the interview. Now the
Your biggest concern should be the
quality of your references and recommendations from past
employers, because they can make or break your chances. About
half of all references that get checked range from mediocre to
poor, so it is very possible that the great job you lost out on
at the last moment had nothing to do with your skill level. It
could have had more to do with what a reference or past
employer said about you. So, if you are concerned that someone,
somewhere, might be giving you a bum rap, you are probably
right. That's a frightening scenario when your livelihood is at
Here is a sampling of the damaging
comments HR people and line managers hear when they check
"Our company policy prohibits us saying anything. We can
only verify dates of employment and title." Then the
reference goes on to say something like, "Check his
references very, very carefully."
"Are you certain he gave my name as a reference?"
"After we settle our lawsuit..."
"Let me see what the paperwork says I am able to give out
"Is he still in this field?"
References and past employers
won't call and warn you that they are not going to be
complimentary. The reference situation is ever changing and
therefore very volatile because of shifting company policies
(not that many employees choose to follow them anyway), new
employees in HR departments, new laws governing references, and
company liability for giving references.
You are well advised to take more
control of your career momentum by finding out what every
potential reference will say about you. If the odds hold, as
they will, those references will range from stellar to
negative; yet when you know what someone is going to say about
you, you can pass on your best references with greater
confidence. You will also have the opportunity to stop
references from saying things that are not true or inaccurate.
Increasing Your Chances of a Good Reference.
Here are some general rules of thumb to maximize the tone and
accuracy of your references.
1. Make sure your records are correct.
Occasionally an interviewee looks bad because his former HR
department did not have the same job date and title information
in his file as he did on his resume. Data entry or
communications errors are not unusual, so check with your HR
department to ensure that their records correspond to yours.
Conflicting data will be perceived as a big negative to a
2. Maintain active and positive relationships with your
Stay in touch over the phone or over coffee. Keep the reference
up-to-date about your progress, and make sure you have the most
up-to-date information about them. If the reference's title (or
name) has changed, or if they've left their position and you've
provided old information to the prospective employer, it
doesn't look good.
3. Advise a reference about an important
To avoid burning out your references, you don't need to call
about every single job opportunity. However, if a particular
position is very important to you, call the reference and give
them details about what the company may be looking for.
4. Know reporting relationships.
Even though you've given the senior vice president's name as a
reference, the prospective employer may resort to calling the
director you reported to because she can't reach the senior VP.
Even though you have not given that person's name as a
reference, it is on the application that you probably filled
out. You may want to advise your former boss about the
potential for a reference check and explain what the company is
5. Know your company's policy.
Although federal law restricts reference information, some
states now allow more extensive disclosure. Know which
regulations and policies govern your company. In addition, be
aware that some employees will break company policy. Make sure
that works in your favor by checking with references to gain an
understanding of what they might say.
6. Don't rely on relatives or letters of
You are well advised not to let Uncle John regale a prospective
employer about your antics as a youth. Also, although letters
of recommendation can be helpful, information such as titles
and even names can change over time. Make sure that the
information on your letter of recommendation is correct by
contacting the reference periodically.
7. Use a reference-checking service.
If you want help in providing good references or if you find
that you are losing too many opportunities after several
interviews with an organization, you might want to commission a
professional reference-checking service. Check to ensure that
the service has the professional and legal personnel that can
develop a strategic use of your references. Typical service
fees range from $59 to $99 per reference checked, depending on
level of job position being sought.