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featured image showing a hiring process for checking references

Do References Matter?

The hiring process is typically made up of a hand full of elements we’ve all experienced. You find a job listing that looks perfect for you, so you submit a resume. You then continue through a series of phone and in-person interviews. If you are chosen as a top candidate, you will often be given an application that requests a list of your professional references.

This is where things can get interesting.

It may seem like a pretty trivial part of the process, so you slap down a few names that come to mind because you are too wrapped up in thinking about the nice salary, a new corner office, or the great benefits. But what if the references you picked are the reason you don’t get the job?

Believe it or not, a majority of hiring managers do, in fact, call your references. And these references may be the tiebreaking decision between you and another candidate or take you out of the running altogether. Before you get edged out of the next job you go after, consider these tips when choosing who to write down as a reference:

  1. Ask permission to put someone on your reference list. Make sure they are relevant and can speak to your knowledge, skills, and abilities (think former supervisor).
  2. Give your reference a heads up about any positions you are in the running for so they can expect to receive a call.
  3. Be sure to let them know what qualities you would like them to highlight and why you are the best fit for the role.

On the flip side, if you are a hiring manager, checking references should be a non-negotiable part of the hiring process. Creating and using a standard format is not only useful, but it also creates consistency. This is especially helpful when you might have two strong candidates to choose from, as the references’ feedback can often help you decide. Asking behavioral-based and open-ended questions are the best way to gather valuable insights into your candidate, work styles, strengths, and preferences. Consider questions like:

  1. What unique skills did the individual bring to your organization?
  2. What were his or her greatest strengths?
  3. Do you think the individual is suitable for the job being applied for?

Whether you are a job seeker or a hiring manager, it is imperative to remember that yes, references do matter. For job seekers, putting thought into who you list as a reference is just as important as the interview itself. For hiring managers, following a consistent process for checking references helps ensure you are getting the right person into the right role.

Lindsay Bradley, MBA, MSML, is a consultant with the HRinDemand team, a human resources company in Reno, NV, offering expert guidance and easy-to-use tools to help small businesses with employment regulations, compliance, employee relations, and company growth. 

Sources:

Society for Human Resource Management. (2015, Dec 16).  Reference Check Checkup. https://www.shrm.org/resourcesandtools/hr-topics/talent-acquisition/pages/reference-check-checkup.aspx

Business.com. How Important Are Job References? (2019, Jul 23). https://www.business.com/articles/importance-of-job-references/

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