When was the last time you touched base with the people you use as your references in your job search? If it’s been more than six months, you owe those individuals a courtesy call. It’s always good to periodically touch base with the people you are counting on to praise your skills and abilities to a potential employer.
Just recently, I received a reference call about someone who worked with me more than three years ago. We hadn’t talked since the employee left and this call was about a completely different career path than the one the individual had been on when we were working together. It took me by surprise; I said good things because this person had earned them, but it would have been nice to have a “heads up—here’s what I’m hoping to do now” kind of call beforehand.
The current job market has put thorough reference checking in the news. False and inflated information supplied by job candidates has made employers wary of resumes taken at face value. Negligent hiring can hurt an organization’s reputation, performance and bottom line. According to a comprehensive survey conducted late last year by the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM), 51 percent of companies conduct reference checks. More importantly, 64 percent of the HR participants indicated during a reference check “inaccurate dates of previous employment,” as provided by the job candidate, had the most impact on their decision to not extend a job offer.
I’m always asked, “Do references really matter?” My response is the right references can greatly improve your chances of getting the job. The right references are made up of a good set of people who can intelligently speak to your on-the-job performance. These should include: two former supervisors, a colleague and a subordinate (if you are interviewing for a management position). Better yet, if you have a reference who currently works at the company where you are interviewing, that can be gold, so make sure you are maximizing your professional network by reviewing your circle of contacts on sites like LinkedIn to see where former colleagues and supervisors have ended up. Actively work those relationships; don’t let them remain stale or forgotten. Other good references include someone you have worked with on a committee or volunteer activity, preferably a board member and for new graduates, a faculty advisor, professor or department chairperson.
If you have a good set of references, make sure you have current contact information as to their whereabouts. It looks terrible if you give someone’s name only to have the interviewer tell you that individual has since moved on and could not be reached for comments.
Be sure your reference has a copy of your current resume and knows the type of opportunity you plan to pursue. This will help them say things that can support the reasons to hire you. It also should go without saying, but do be sure you have permission to use someone as a reference. Never assume it will be OK to use a name. Some people are not comfortable speaking in this capacity.
Update a reference on any name changes, especially if you have a common first name or if the name on your resume is in any way different than what you went by during the time you worked together.
Putting “References on Request” on your resume is not necessary. Forward this information promptly by e-mail if the prospective employer requests it. You may also want to prepare a separate sheet of paper with these contacts just in case the employer requests it at the close of the interview.
Be aware beyond references, employers may do a background check that includes criminal history, driving record, credit check, academic verification, social security number, drug testing or more. They are also likely to pre- or post-screen top candidates on social networking sites.
Finally, no matter how desperate, don’t opt for creating fake references from an Internet source. HR professionals are wise to these sites and have developed ways to detect the phonies. Like my Grandma used to say, “A half truth is a whole lie.”
Nancy Schuman is a vice president at Lloyd Staffing, headquartered in Melville, and is the author of eight how-to books on career guidance and job-search techniques. Lloyd Staffing offers temporary, contract and full-time employment services on a regional and national basis. Send your career-related questions to firstname.lastname@example.org.