There is an element of the reference selection process that people seeking employment shouldn’t ignore, and that’s the trust factor. If you’re advising someone who’s looking for a job and needs to line up references, tell the job seeker to make sure the references are trustworthy and, hopefully, loyal friends as well as co-workers of some sort. Friends, by definition, are supposed to be trustworthy, but that isn’t always so. “Friends” developed in a social environment are sometimes of a different stripe than those acquired in the workplace.
Considerable thought and good judgment are required in the selection of references. While a job seeker doesn’t want references to overstate skills and abilities, neither does he want them to understate skills and abilities, either. Exaggeration in either direction is a disservice to both the job seeker and the prospective employer. Worst of all, it could lead to a job mismatch.
So, the selection of references shouldn’t be looked on as a casual exercise, based on the false assumption that the prospective employer probably isn’t going to call them anyway. Each reference selected should be contacted by the job seeker and not only asked if they are willing to be a job seeker’s reference, but also advised to expect a call from one or more prospective employers. Finally, as difficult as this may seem, the job seeker should politely insist that each reference give only honest answers to the questions the prospective employer asks—as long as the questions are related to some aspect of job performance. If the question relates to some protected category, like the reference being asked to verify the job seeker’s age, the reference should be advised to decline to answer because the question has nothing to do with overall job performance.