How to Prepare for Reference Checks

Often overlooked, the reference-checking process can be key to landing a new job.

October 18, 2007
from Accountemps

Many job seekers focus on writing an effective resume and brushing up on their interviewing skills, but they often overlook a key aspect of the search process: Reference checks. A solid reference may make or break your chances of landing a position, especially if you are in tight competition with another candidate. Because of this, it’s important not to wait until a potential employer asks you to provide names. Instead, make it a point to nurture your references on an ongoing basis as you would any professional relationship.

Follow these tips to establish strong references:

  • Be selective. Who makes a good reference? Ideally, a reference should be a direct supervisor you worked for who can speak knowledgably — and positively — about your skills. Choose two or three former managers for your list, and always ask your references for permission before submitting their names to a hiring manager.

    If you had a lukewarm relationship, at best, with a previous manager, it’s acceptable to choose another manager at the company who can attest to your capabilities. This should be someone you worked with on multiple projects. If the new job involves a lot of client contact, consider including a former client who will attest to your excellent communication skills and ability to meet deadlines. Keep in mind, however, that the new employer will most likely still contact your former supervisor, since you were his or her direct report.
  • Be protective. The time to offer an employer your list of references is during the final stages of the hiring process. Never provide references too early or include their names and contact information on your resume. You don’t want your best sources to be deluged with phone calls and inquiries, or you will merely burn out and irritate the people who can help you the most.

    Also, make sure you have their current contact information. Keep an updated list of each reference’s name, title, company, address, telephone and fax number and e-mail address.
  • Keep them in the loop. Update your references once you give their names to an employer. Brief your contacts about the job you’re interviewing for and why you feel your skills are well-suited for the position; provide them with the most current version of your resume as well. It’s also helpful to make one or two specific notes about your past accomplishments to refresh their memory.
  • Clear the air with a potential negative reference. If you left a company on less than stellar terms and you’re expecting a negative referral, consider calling your previous boss to clear the air. Acknowledge that while everything did not go well when you worked for him or her, you are moving on and looking forward to getting a new position. It’s obviously not an easy task to call an old employer you may not have seen eye-to-eye with. At the very least, a phone conversation will tell you whether or not you can sway that person to let bygones be bygones, or if you’re in for an unconstructive referral.

    Without saying anything derogatory, let the new company where you’ve applied know there is the potential that your previous employer will say something negative. Briefing the hiring manager may help neutralize any negative comments your past supervisor provides.
  • Conduct an online search of your name. If you’ve used your own name rather than an alias to comment on a Web site, blog or forum, your words could come back to electronically haunt you. How? Many hiring managers now turn to the Internet to research potential new employees. Be aware that any photo or text you post online might be negatively misinterpreted by an employer. In most cases, you cannot hit rewind or click “go back” to edit words attributed to you. Yet it is still helpful to have the knowledge of what information may be lurking and prepare to address any potential concerns an employer may have.

Once you land a new position, let your references know. Write an e-mail, but follow up with a handwritten thank-you note and consider offering to take them to lunch. Even if you do not get the job, make a courtesy thank-you call or drop them an e-mail. And remember, even when you are content in your job and not actively looking for a new position, it’s always smart to keep in touch with your references.

Accountemps is one of the world’s first and largest temporary staffing service specializing in the placement of accounting, finance and bookkeeping professionals. The company has more than 350 offices in North America, Europe and the Asia-Pacific region, and offers online job search services at www.accountemps.com.