References, just like an Offer Letter, seem to have received a negative perception over the last ten years. There are more job seekers than ever who wrongfully do not spend a moment’s thought on their professional references. This is similar in strategy to sending a resume without a corresponding offer letter.
As a job seeker, this is yet another example of where you should listen to your instincts, rather than be overly influenced by others. About the only thing that has really changed about references, is that a listing of them is no longer included on the bottom of your resume, Rather, they will be sought out separately by a recruiter or hiring manager. This is because it is assumed that you will have a reference list available if asked. It also helps keep the contact information of your references private to only those who will truly need and use it.
There are a number of myths out there regarding references. Let’s examine some of them and outline what reality really looks like for you.
Myth #1: References aren’t checked anymore – Let’s start with the most basic and broadest of the myth statements. There is a belief that for a variety of reasons ranging from not enough time to potential litigation employers no longer check references. While some companies may have decided to take the approach to not do them most employers will still do it especially for leadership positions. Recruiters are very busy people, so you do want to make checking as easy as possible, so select people that you know will be easily available to reach.
Myth #2: I can assemble my references if/when asked – If you wait until you are asked, then you are too late. A request for references is a terrific sign that you are a company’s top candidate. Once a company lands on a finalist and seeks to reference check, they don’t want to wait long, and neither should you. You don’t want them to get “cold feet” regarding you, have an internal candidate surface, or just decide to delay the process a little longer to save budget money. When a company asks you for your professional reference list, then you should have it ready to go. In fact, having a reference list immediately available will send the message that not only are you prepared, but that you have others eager to vouch for your performance.
Myth #3: There is no long-term value in maintaining a network – Not only is your network invaluable for potential job leads, but it is also this group that you will source your professional references. So, it is in your best interest to keep some type of regular contact with the key individuals that you may select for your reference list. You don’t want the first time you reach out to them in five years to be when you want something from them (in this case a reference).
Myth #4: Any reference will do – This one is so wrong on many levels. First, you want to maintain professional/academic references. Employers do not want to hear from your grandmother to tell them that you are such a good grandson. Second, different references carry more weight, such as former managers possessing more value than most others. I personally have always liked to give a professional mix of individuals. For example, if I am being asked for 3 different people, I will provide 1 former manager, 1 former direct report (someone I managed), and 1 co-worker (usually someone whose business I supported in my HR role). The other key point to note is that you should select people that not only will advocate for you, but can do it effectively from a verbal standpoint.
Myth #5: All you have to do is list your references – You might think you are done once you land on your list of professional references. That is when, however, you should reach out to them to let them know they are going to be contacted and by who (remember from above we don’t want the recruiter to have to chase after someone). You should also coach the reference a bit on the position you are seeking and how specifically you match up well to the role. This way your reference can work this information into the conversation. Don’t forget, when this is all done, to thank your references as they played a critical role in you landing your new position.
Myth #6: A reference list is informal – You should take as much care in assembling your reference list as you do your cover letter or resume. Please make sure your formatting, grammar, and spelling are perfect. Provide the information regarding the references that the requestor needs. I recommend including First/Last Name, Current Contact (preferably e-mail and mobile number), their current role, and a description of how you know the person (where you worked together, type of professional relationship, etc.).
While reviewing references may not have 100% compliance, most employers will still use them to some degree, especially for non-entry level positions. It is important to have a list of professional references ready to be used in case you are asked for them.
As always, best of luck in your job search.
The following has been prepared for the general information of RochesterJobs readers. It is not meant to provide advice with respect to any specific legal or policy matter and should not be acted upon without verification by the reader.
WNY Human Resources Professional
Feel free to contact Joe Stein regarding questions or comments at: