Chances are good that your references will be checked by a prospective employer.  According to a survey report on reference and back ground checking conducted by the Society of Human Resource Management (SHRM),  96% of  HR professionals stated that they always  conduct reference checks.  A further look at the breakdown by company size, indicates that:

  • 92% of small employers ( 1-99 employees) conduct reference checks
  • 96% of medium employers (100-499 employees)  conduct reference checks
  • 99% of large employers (500+ employees)conduct reference checks

In regards to type of position, the breakdown is as follows:

  • For executive/upper management positions – 86% of companies always check references
  • For other management positions – 89% of companies always check references
  • For non-management salaried positions – – 83% of companies always check references
  • For non-management hourly positions – 75% of companies always check references

On average, employers check three references for each candidate.  This is how many you should be ready to provide.  Put some thought into your reference selections.  You need to choose responsive people – it will do you no good to use them as a reference if they never make contact with your prospective employer.  They will need to be able to confirm

1)      you worked at the companies that you claimed you did.

2)      your period of employment

3)      your title

4)      your job responsibilities

5)      your reason for leaving

Talk to your reference before you provide their name in order to

  • obtain their permission to be used as a reference – some companies prohibit their employees from giving references
  • inform them of the type of job you are applying for
  • inform them of what types of questions they might be asked

It is perfectly acceptable to ask them what response they would give to the questions, but many people are not able to be that forthright with others, either in asking or answering.  If that describes you (or your reference selection), use the conversation as an opportunity to glean as much information as you can.  It is always (always) better to find out that your reference will not be stellar before the prospective employer contacts them.

Former bosses, co-workers, customers and vendors all make good professional references.  In fact, most prospective employers require that the majority of your references come from this category.  However, if you are newly graduated (or just starting your career/job hunt)  it is perfectly acceptable to use college professors or other character/personal references, such a member of a professional or collegiate organization.   Think about someone that you have “wowed” in your life as a volunteer or student,  ask their permission, and then make sure that they can speak about the skills and attributes that you can bring to the job.

Finally, don’t lie. The SHRM survey found that 53% of prospective employers did find falsehoods/inconsistencies in regards to former job titles, while 48% found problems with past salary information and former job responsibilities.  Fifty-seven percent found inconsistencies around listed certification/licenses while half found discrepancies around the listing of conferred degrees (Hello, Scott Thompson with Yahoo!)

So do not become a media spectacle, like Scott Thompson.  Put some thought  into your reference selections.  Remember, the hiring process does not end with the interview – that is only the 2nd of 3 steps in the hiring process.  An employer’s decision to make a job offer usually comes after talking with the final candidates’ references.  Many a candidate has been turned down because  of  poor references, and many have been offered a job strictly because their references provided better and more accurate information.

NOTE:  A full-color, downloadable PDF of this blog is available.