Who you list as your references can have a big impact on your ability to land the job and possibly on your ability to get a promotion at the company where you already work!

According to a Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) survey, 92% of employers conduct background checks, usually during pre-employment screening (87%). Some even repeat checks on an annual basis (15%) or when an employee is promoted (10%).

When hiring managers narrow the field to a few potential candidates, the reference check can become the deciding factor.  Outstanding references will count when a hiring manager is wavering between you and another top candidate.  

Reference checks go beyond the usual verification about dates of employment, job titles, and salary history. Hiring managers are looking to verify any information that you’ve provided, such as key responsibilities and statements about results that you’ve delivered to learn what it is like to work with you. 

Be sure to select relevant job references who are familiar with your work and can convincingly communicate your abilities and attributes.  Include a mix of professional references who can confirm different attributes. For example; a supervisor can attest to your punctuality and abilities to meet deadlines, a co-worker can attest to your teamwork skills, a client can speak on behalf of your customer service skills. Additionally, someone you have supervised can comment on your management style.

It is unlikely that a hiring manager will refuse to hire you based on one poor reference, however it is not impossible. Employee defamation laws discourage employers from giving “bad” references. Instead, a poor reference is typically someone who is ill-prepared, quiet or unresponsive. If a reference speaks in vague terms or gives short responses, it could negatively impact your chances of getting the job. 

If you are currently employed and applying for a new job, it’s OK to exclude their information from your reference list until the final interview stages.  You can ask for a firm job offer to be made first, which can be subject to a good reference from your current employer.

Always call potential references first to get their permission and evaluate their eagerness to talk to hiring managers. Be sure to give all your references a copy of your resume, the job description, and the name of the person who will likely call. Tell your references what you think the employer might want to know, and then ask them what responses they would give.

It’s common for employers to seek out additional references for new hires—either using LinkedIn or through their own networks. Since you never know to whom a hiring manager might reach out, you should be selective about who’s in your online network.

A list of solid references should always be a tool in your job-hunting toolbox, even if there is a slight possibility that your references may not be contacted, depending on the company you are applying to. 

Though it may make sense to think of references as another piece of information to provide employers when first applying for a job, it is better to leave references off your resume. However, it is acceptable to include references if the job description not only requires you to include references, but explicitly states that they should be included on your resume.

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