References Make a Difference

| by Beth Briggs

References have a tremendous impact on the decision to hire a qualified individual. Therefore, it is surprising that candidates often do not give adequate attention to preparing their professional references. References validate the candidate’s experience and ability to perform a job.

References of position finalists are usually presented to the hiring committee at the end of the screening process. This information always influences the outcome of a search. A negative or unflattering comment raises serious concerns about the candidate’s ability to be successful. A worst-case scenario is when the employer states he would not hire the person again.  

Unless requested, it is not necessary to list your references on your resume. The names will most likely change depending upon the position and initial interviews. When requested, promptly provide adequate information about your professional relationships along with their names, job titles, phone numbers, and emails. Email addresses are preferable as they provide greater opportunities for an introduction and suggested dates and times for a phone call. A high-profile reference who doesn’t really know a candidate is far less valuable than an individual with personal professional experience.

The possibility of litigation from recent employment legislation has created hesitation among employers to offer little more than dates and confirmation of employment. Companies are required to provide fair and accurate information but legally they are limited to what they can say about a former employee. It is imperative that information on your resume or application is correct and conforms to employment records. Sometimes these checks reveal gaps in employment that can prove embarrassing. 

Professional colleagues provide the best insight into your skills and expertise. Before you include a reference, call and ask permission to list their name and let them know about the position you are seeking. Ask if they can provide a positive reference and recommend you for the job. Send them a copy of the job description and let them know you believe you are qualified and can be an asset to the organization. If the position requires demonstrated skills, make sure the reference can address those specific aspects of your experience. References should not be caught off-guard.

The following are a few examples of an optimal reference:

  • The candidate discussed the position with their reference and reviewed the job description when they asked the person to serve in that capacity.
  • The reference is very familiar with the candidate and his/her professional experience. 
  • The reference has been a professional colleague and they share positive information about the candidate’s professional skills, integrity, talents, assets, and style.
  • The reference voluntarily offers information on why the applicant is a good candidate.
  • When there are management responsibilities, they discuss how the individual treats others.
  • They freely offer the individual’s qualifications for the position based upon specific examples.
  • They can address the candidate’s leadership and strategic skills.

A good reference often states, “You cannot hire a more qualified individual.”  The most meaningful references are when the questions are asked and the person responds with enthusiasm, respect, and excitement.    

Good positions are highly competitive, and it is imperative that references reinforce and validate the resume and interview. Use your references to your competitive advantage. The extra time invested up-front is well worth the outcome. 

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