Professional references can be very valuable to an employer in evaluation a candidate’s potential to do the job well and fit in comfortably with and organization’s culture. This is one way that companies gather information on an applicants character traits, reliability, demeanor, strengths and attitude.

Since past performance is often the best predictor of future performance, the best way to verify an applicants background and job suitability is to conduct thorough reference checks. Contacting professional references is the most common method; letters of recommendation are often used to supplement the vetting process.

So, do employers really check references? The answer is YES! The days when employers ignored or didn’t think references were important are long gone. The best thing to do is plan ahead; don’t wait to put together a list of professional references at the last moment when you think a prospective employer might ask for them.

As soon as you begin looking for a job (if not before), you should begin collecting your professional references. If possible, also secure letters of recommendation from professors, mentors, former employers, and co-workers. Along with references, you’ll want to keep a list of potential contacts that can give verbal confirmation of your skills, experience and work ethic. Candidates need to give their references notice that potential employers may contact them. The content of the reference phone call or letter of recommendation should also be discussed and agreed upon in advance. Hiring managers may use a candidate’s current or most recent employer as a reference. The candidate should let the prospective employer know whether a current or former employer should be contacted or not. If the perspective employer does not ask if they can contact a former employer, the candidate should address this matter proactively. This could be done ate the end of the first interview or in a thank you note.

According to a Society for Human Resources Management (SHRM) survey, more than eight in ten human resource professionals said they regularly conduct reference checks for professional (89%), executive (85%), administrative (84%) and technician (81%) positions. Regular reference checks were less likely, but still probable for skilled-labor, but still probable for skilled-labor, part-time, temporary and seasonal positions. On average, employers check three references for each candidate. It’s important to be prepared to provide them. You need responsive people who can confirm where you worked, your title, your reason for leaving and other details. The people who you list should be able to attest to your performance and your responsibilities, so keep references as current as possible.

Personal vs. Professional References for Job Seeking

The main purpose of obtaining references is to understand how someone performed in a work setting. Personal references do not accomplish this; professional reference is much more valuable tan a personal one. It is perfectly acceptable to use references other than your employer. Business acquaintances, customers, consultants and vendors can all make good references.

Final Note

On the list of professional references, it is important to not only include the basic elements (name, title, contact information, ect.), but also a line about how you know this person. Was she a co-worker ore a supervisor, and what is  the relationship now? For example, “Mr. Smith was my supervisor for eight years and he helped me learn the key functions of the accounting department.”

Remember that professional references are as important as a good resume. You should continuously update your reference contact lists. You can also provide content for written recommendation letters. Today, a LinkedIn profile should contain good information that could be used in a reference. Be mindful of your online presence since most employers will investigate that area as well. When appropriate, you could provide a template with keywords and phrases, and let the letter of recommendation writer customize the document to his or her liking.


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