Do References Matter Anymore?

When to provide references.

To reference or not to reference; that is the question. This topic seems to be attracting more and more attention since the economy has been on the downslide. So, do employers actually perform reference checks? Some employers emphasize that they fanatically check references on job seekers because they want the “cream of the crop” in today’s talent pool. Still others feel reference checks are time consuming, labor intensive, and unnecessary.

So, the job seeker is left with this and many other questions relating to references. I often hear these common inquiries: Are references really necessary? When do you provide references? Who are the best people to include as references? If the references are not checked, is this a bad sign? In short, the answer to all of these questions is pretty much up to the employer—but, overall, references DO matter.

Heather Huhman is the president of Come Recommended which is an online community that connects internship and entry-level job candidates with employers. She has found that many times employers may “fall in love” with a candidate because of their resume and interview only to have these hopes dashed by a reference check that revealed poor work habits and an unwillingness for the former employer to rehire.

References should be professional in nature, and you should have their permission to list the preferred contact information. Some would think this is given knowledge; however, a few job seekers unknowingly provide references that are inappropriate, or unnecessary. I advise to choose people that you know will give a high recommendation and work-related feedback. Typically, employers prefer someone to whom you are not related.

Something else to keep in mind is that it is not necessary to put your references on a resume. Unless you are filling out an application, or references have been requested as part of the interview process, I recommend the resume one-liner “References available upon request.” This lets the employer know you can provide them when asked, while protecting the privacy of your ‘recommenders’ until the information is needed.

Be aware that employers realize job seekers provide references that give gleaming reports of themselves, and they have gotten smarter about obtaining information from other sources. Steve Langerud, director of career development at Depauw University adds, “Sometimes, the quality of references is benign. Employers are more likely to check the informal, but tangible, behavioral reference sources like LinkedIn, Facebook, credit history [or] criminal history than the more subjective references provided by candidates. They should be much more intentional about crafting a professional identity that serves the role of a ‘reference’ but within the context of the work, profession and colleagues you seek to engage. It eliminates the weaknesses inherent in the old style of references that become so watered down they are useless.

It’s a good idea to ‘Google’ yourself to see what information pops up and what a potential employer may see. Create professional networking profiles so that you can demonstrate industry involvement while staying connected with your peers and colleagues.

Take all of this into consideration when creating your references and you will be prepared. Don’t worry if an employer does not check them, perhaps they are just a very good judge of character.

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