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The Art of the Reference Check

Here at JBC, we’ve mastered the process of checking references.  Probably because conducting a thorough reference check is essential to being a recruiter.  Below, ten things to keep in mind when choosing and sharing your references.

1. Don’t list the names of your references on your resumé.  There is no need to offer references to an employer until they are requested.  Instead of listing the names on your resumé, list them on a separate sheet of paper (matching your resumé) titled “References.”  Bring the list with you to job interviews.

2. Choose references who are relevant to the job in which you are applying.   For those who have taken the straight and narrow career path, this shouldn’t be a problem.  However, for the career-hopping job seekers out there, references should be catered to the role.  For example, if you are applying for a retail job, your references should be able to speak to your retail experiences.  If you are applying for a role as a designer, your references should be able to speak to the skills you possess that would make you the right fit.

3. Variety is good.  A list of three to five references will suffice unless otherwise requested by the employer.  Because you will want to choose people who can speak to all facets of your experience, listing a superior, a peer, and a subordinate is recommended.  Also remember to choose references who can speak highly of your accomplishments, work ethic, skills, education, performance, etc.  You may also choose to list an educational (mentor) or personal (character) reference in addition to your professional references.

4. Get permission.  Although most people will be flattered when asked to be used as a reference, some may decline.  It’s also a good idea to ask so the person isn’t caught off guard and has to take a moment to recall who you are.

5. An informed reference is a good reference.  This is different from getting permission.  Provide each reference with a copy of your most recent resumé and make sure they are aware of your career goals.  A good reference knows who you are and can give the employer sincere feedback.

6. Provide detailed and correct contact information.  There should be no work left to the employer as they attempt to contact your references.  Include the full name, current title, company name, business address, and contact information (daytime phone, email, cell phone, etc.) for each reference.

7. Unless specifically requested, letters of recommendation are not recommended.  Pun intended.  These generic letters from the past may have accumulated for you and they may provide you with a document filled with positive feedback from the writer, but that is where the weakness lies because they have to be positive.  Employers want to hear from people in the present day who can answer the questions they feel are relevant to the role.

8. A reference is someone you’ve known for one year or more.  That’s pretty cut and dry.  The employer will let you know if the length of time in which you have known the reference must exceed one year.

9. Diversity is good.  References shouldn’t all come from the same company.  Mix it up and give the employer something to look forward to by offering a diverse list of people to contact.  See #3 if you don’t have a multitude of previous employers to choose from (that’s not necessarily a bad thing).

10. Say thank you.  Once your job search is complete, be sure to thank the people who agreed to be used as references.  Employers may not call your entire list; but regardless, a “thank you” is in order.