Reference Checking: What You Need to Provide

As you near the finish line of winning an offer, references authenticate your accomplishments and achievements. One of the last steps in the recruiting process is a reference check. Litigation worries and questions around the veracity of reference statements have cast a shadow over this practice, yet, despite the caution, they remain an important and necessary part of the interview process. For you, they can be a great opportunity to reinforce your strengths and solidify your position.

This article guides you through the reference process and what you need to provide.

Be forthcoming with your references

Your ease or level of comfort with which you offer your references, is an indicator of how comfortable you feel about yourself and what people will say about you. If you appear to be reluctant about producing references, it doesn’t necessarily mean you have something to hide, but it may be a signal to employers to further scrutinize your tenure and reasons for leaving your previous companies.

So why would anyone get worked up about producing references if you have nothing to hide? The most common reason is if candidates did not have the greatest relationship with their previous boss. The companies you are interviewing with are interested in talking with your most recent supervisor, so leaving him or her out of the equation can be a mistake and might even look suspicious. It’s important to be honest. If you know your boss can be difficult or hasn’t provided great references for others in the past, let the interviewer know about your concerns ahead of time. Make sure you can also provide other great references from bosses with whom you have had a good relationship.

Who are the ideal references, and how far back should references go?

Your most recent supervisor is the most ideal reference. If you are currently working and your employer doesn’t know you’re looking to leave, contact former bosses either at your current company or previous companies, and ask them if they will act as a reference. You can also ask a former boss who worked with you at your current company but who’s now left the organization.

You shouldn’t source references further than 5 – 7 years ago. Recycling references from people you worked for 10-15 years ago is not as relevant because, more than likely, your skills will have changed dramatically.

If you have been a contractor at a company for a reasonable length of time (6 months), at the end of each assignment ask your supervisor if you can use them as a reference. These type of references should not date back more than three years.

If you know you work at a company where you can only get a standard human resources reference that simply confirms your title, salary and how long you worked there, its tricky. Your best bet is to ask your boss or a previous boss if they would be prepared to speak on your behalf, off the record. They may not be able to, but it’s definitely worth checking out.

Providing peer references can be important. Some companies insist on them. In the majority of cases, it will be references from supervisors that count the most, but peer references can really come into play when it’s hard to get a “full” list of references. A peer reference should come from someone that you’ve worked very closely within the same department or have been part of a project team you have both worked on. It should be someone who can clearly speak to the quality of your work and how you handle interpersonal relationships.

Character references are less called upon as individual’s progress through their careers and build up their primary references. They are very useful for entry level candidates and usually come from respected members of the community.

Written letters of reference

Written references are always useful. They do need to be from current / recent employers and most interviewing companies today, will telephone the author of the written reference to check their veracity.

It’s very impressive to present a list of references to an interviewer at the end of the interview. It shows that you are confident that previous employers will speak highly of you.

Get Permission

Remember to always let your references know that, with their permission, you’ll be using them. It is an excellent idea to tell them who the company is and what the role is, so they can reflect on your suitability for that particular position. It also helps them understand the need for speed in terms of getting back to companies who call. They can be on watch for any messages asking them to call and speak on your behalf.

Always thank your references. It’s a great service they do for you and, if they get quite a few calls, it means they are investing lots of time.