Reference checking is a critical step in the hiring process. To help ensure they are hiring reliable and dependable employees, employers need to verify the facts you gave them about your experience, education and employment history.
To make sure the process goes smoothly, select references who can verify your experience and are willing to recommend you. That sounds like a no-brainer but, repeatedly, I've met applicants who have spent little or no time making sure their references are appropriate, available, and willing to recommend them.
A few years ago I was in the process of hiring a fund-raiser. From a field of 125 applicants, I narrowed it to two. They were equal with one exception: one candidate lived in another state. To save money on relocation, I chose the local candidate. Before making an offer, I checked her references. The process was a bust. Of the three people she had listed: One was a former employer who didn't have a working phone number or email address; One was a former co-worker who said she hadn't worked closely with her and couldn't answer my questions; and one was her most recent supervisor who was difficult to track down. That should have been my first clue. When I finally spoke with him, he said he was busy and would call me back. I never heard from him again.
Needless to say, Candidate Number One didn't get the offer despite the fact that she had a strong resume and cover letter, her thank you letters were professional, she’d interviewed well, and impressed me and the search committee. To have hired her solely on her word, without confirmation, would have been irresponsible of me.
Candidate Number Two got the job. Her references were impeccable; they were prepared to take my calls and confirmed the education, work history and accomplishments she had described during her interviews. They erased any doubts about paying for her relocation. She proved to be an outstanding employee and is still with that same organization.
That said, here are this week's DOs and DON'Ts FOR CHOOSING YOUR REFERENCES.
DO choose people who can verify your work, volunteer, church and/or community service experience.
DO choose people who themselves are reliable and dependable.
DO ask permission to list them as references.
DO ask if they are willing to recommend you. Verifying your experience is one thing; recommending you is something else altogether.
DO ask for their phone number and email address, if they have one, to list on applications.
DO notify them whenever you know a potential employer is checking your references. Give them the company name, job title, and the name of the person who's going to call them.
DO make sure you obtain, from your current or most recent employer, the correct name, phone number and email address of the person who can verify your dates of employment. Most likely, it will be the human resources office.
DO ask your current or former supervisor what they will say about you if contacted. Even if you don't list them as a reference, most potential employers will contact them for verification. If they are going to say something negative, you want to know that so you can prepare potential employers.
DON'T list relatives as references unless you worked for them and that experience is listed on your resume. If you did work for relatives, explain the relationship. If you hide it and later on it's discovered, it will destroy your credibility.
DON'T make up references and/or ask people to misrepresent anything related to your work history, education or training. Recently, it was discovered that a college dean at MIT made up her degree and credentials. Despite more than 20 years on the job, when MIT found out she'd lied, they had no choice but to fire her. I'm guessing it's pretty much destroyed her chances of getting another job.
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