Reference Checks


 Particularly in recessionary times, when unemployment is higher than normal, employers have more discretion when hiring new employees.  As a result, more and more employers are doing thorough reference checking to help insure that they’re hiring the right person for the job to be done.  If you’re in the market for a job and need references, what’s the best way to go about selecting them and why is it so important?

 Perhaps the best way to explain it is to point out the types of people not to ask to be references for you.  Don’t pick friends, neighbors, relatives, friends from school, or golfing buddies.  Put another way, don’t pick people who would have no idea about how well you do your job!  It’s of absolutely no use to a prospective employer to know that you keep your grass cut, help out at the Boys & Girls Club, or take your kids to the park on Saturdays.  While those are all nice things to do, they don’t tell the prospective employer a thing about your job performance.  And you certainly don’t want the next door neighbor raving about your ability on the job when he or she has no real idea of what you do.  In other words, you don’t want non-work related references lying about you to a prospective employer.

 What you do want are people you’ve actually worked with on a daily basis within the last five to seven years to serve as your references.  Ordinarily, three references are sufficient.  An ideal set of references would be someone you’ve worked for, someone you’ve worked with, and, if possible, someone who has worked under your direction.  If you choose that set of references, the prospective employer can assess your job performance as seen from above, laterally, and from below.  Why the five-to seven-year window?  It’s really very simple, if you pick people you haven’t worked with for nearly a decade, it’s going to be very hard for them to remember the details most employers are seeking about various aspects of your job performance.  Not only that, it’s very likely that you’re not the same person today that you were ten years ago.  People grow and learn and acquire more experience – hence the reason to limit your list of references to people who have current knowledge about the quality of your overall job performance.
 Occasionally, people will make the point that they’ve worked at the same place for over seven years and that their employer has a policy against anyone serving as a reference.  There are two solutions to this apparent dilemma.  First, remember that people switch jobs, retire, move to other locations, etc., etc.  Just because a former coworker has moved to another company doesn’t make that person ineligible to serve as a great reference for you!  Second, if you’ve worked for the same employer for the last two or three years, it’s hard to imagine that you don’t have any friends among them.  If asked privately, most will be willing to talk to a prospective employer, if they believe they can help you advance your career via a great new job.  They may prefer to be called at home in the evening or on weekends, but that shouldn’t be a difficult accommodation for the prospective employer to make.
 The point is 99% of job seekers can come up with appropriate work related references who will gladly talk to a prospective employer. For most employers the red flag goes up when a candidate can’t or won’t come up with suitable references.  Remember, the burden is on you, the job seeker, to provide appropriate references to the prospective employer!
 Finally, it’s critical to tell the people you select to be references for you that all you’re asking them to do is give honest answers to any questions a prospective employer asks.  You don’t want them to say you’re great at some task you’ve never done before – a surefire guarantee of failure – just as you don’t want them to say you are incapable of doing a task that you’ve done successfully for years.  That’s why carefully selecting your references is so important.