References: More Important than You Think

referencesYou’re down to the last line on your resume and just typing in the words makes your stomach flutter: “References available upon request.” You know you’re going to need them, but who are you going to get? Do you really have to ask them first? Maybe you can just throw some potential names on a list for now and deal with it later…

According to a Harris Interactive study conducted for CareerBuilder back in 2012, you’d be better off to go ahead and do your due diligence right now and make sure you have some folks lined up who will speak well of you should they be contacted by a potential employer. Here’s why—

  • In their study, 80% of the 2,494 hiring managers and human resource professionals surveyed said they do contact references when evaluating a job candidate; 16% contact references before they even set up an interview.
  • 62% said that when they contacted a reference listed on an application, the reference didn’t have good things to say about the job candidate.
  • 69% said they have changed their minds about hiring a job candidate based on the input received from a reference.
  • 47% said they had a less favorable opinion of the job candidate after speaking to a reference; just 23% reported having a more favorable opinion.
  • Only 31% said references didn’t sway their opinion of job candidates one way or the other.
  • 29% reported catching a fake reference on a candidate’s application.

The take home message is to make sure the references you choose are people who will truly help you along in your search for a job. Consider these some tips—

  • Ask your references for permission to use them as references before you put them on your list. Also ask whether they would be comfortable giving you a good recommendation. If they can’t answer “yes” with enthusiasm, move on to someone else.
  • Confirm the reference’s contact information and be sure to ask whether they would like to be contacted at work or home, or if both are okay. Find out if sharing the person’s cell phone number would be acceptable as well, and ask if there are specific times of the day when they would prefer to be contacted. Then make that clear on the reference list you provide to prospective employers.
  • Make sure your references will be available to speak with potential employers before you put them on a specific job application. For example, if you know someone will be on vacation during the critical time, don’t use that person for the current application.
  • If you plan to apply for a number of positions, don’t burden 3–4 people by having them serve as references for all of them. Have a list of 7–10 references you can choose from and spread them out over the positions you’re applying for. That way no one will get burned out answering calls from your prospective employers.