Getting references is something that people usually dread about the hiring process. They may feel awkward asking a former coworker to speak positively about their work experience. That said, references are a normal part of getting a job, so you need to develop an effective strategy for getting them.

What Are References?

References are a testimonial from someone you’ve worked with in the past, testifying to your character, abilities, and professionalism. The words “recommendation” and “reference” are often used interchangeably.

Checking someone’s references is one of the most important parts of the hiring process to confirm dates of employment, titles, why you are no longer at your previous company, and whether you are eligible to be rehired. This information, often called a verification, will usually come from the HR department, a recruiter, or a hiring manager.

Who Can Be A Reference?

A reference needs to be someone who was part of your professional life and could provide insight into the quality of your work. Personal references, such as pastors, family, or friends, are not suitable for a job interview. It needs to be someone that you’ve officially worked with in the past.

In regards to the quality of references, there is a clear hierarchy:

  • 1st choice: Your current direct supervisor
  • 2nd choice: Your current indirect supervisor
  • 3rd choice: Former direct or indirect supervisors
  • 4th choice: Professional peers
  • 5th choice: Staff who reported to you
  • 6th choice: Sometimes it might be appropriate to ask a key vendor or customer for an outside perspective

Should I Put Reference Names On My Resume Or LinkedIn?

Absolutely not! They should be separate from your resume and only provided when requested later in the interview process.

How Do I Get Someone To Be A Reference?

When considering references, you need to be strategic about who you ask. First, be confident that they will provide you with a positive reference. Make sure to tell them about the prospective job so they know your qualities they should emphasize when they’re called.

Confirm that you have their permission to use their contact information and always give them a heads up when you go in for a job interview so a call doesn’t unexpectedly ambush them. If they do receive a call, ask your reference to contact you afterwards and give you some feedback about the conversation.

What If I Can’t Find Anyone Who Can Give Me A Good Reference?

If you’ve left a job, it’s your responsibility to keep in contact with people who may be potentially useful references. LinkedIn can be a helpful tool to contact former coworkers who you otherwise might not know how to get in touch. With modern digital networking, saying, “My old company went bankrupt and I can’t find anyone,” is no longer a viable option.

What If My Former Company Doesn’t Allow Current Employees To Give References?

Sometimes, company policies can get in the way of getting a good reference. The best way to get around this is to contact former coworkers who are no longer employed by that company and are not bound by that policy.

What If This Is A Confidential Search?

Tell your prospective reference that the search process is confidential and request that they honor that by telling no one they were contacted.

What If My Former Boss Won’t Give Me A Good Reference?

You might be nervous about asking a former boss to provide you with a reference. How can you be sure what they will say about you? You think that they held a favorable opinion of your past performance, but what if you were mistaken? You have to be sure.

If you’re feeling nervous about what your former boss may say to a prospective employer, call the HR department of that company to find out what’s in your official records. If there were problems when you left your job, you need to know about them before you use that person as a reference. If you discover something negative that you weren’t previously aware of, then an interview coach may be able to help you frame those issues more positively.

Checking references is one of the most critical parts of a recruiter’s job. When I was a recruiter, the process often took up to an hour of my day to call a single reference and thoroughly document their thoughts. That’s how important references are to getting the job. An excellent reference can make the difference between your getting the job or not. If you need help putting together an interview strategy where you feel rock solid about your references and how to best utilize them, contact me today!