Do References Matter?

Published: Aug 31, 2015


Do the professional references presented by a candidate matter to potential employers? Hank Boyer, president & CEO of Pennsylvania-based Boyer Management Group, says they do. "Negative references can present an impediment to hiring someone," Boyer says. While negative references will impact Boyer's hiring decisions, he says he is less swayed by positive ones. "Candidates rarely give out references they believe will provide anything other than excellent ratings," Boyer explains. "So if you ask a reference about the candidate, you are likely to have them tell you all the good things and few of the candidate's limitations or challenge areas."

Boyer says he has not seen anyone knowingly give a bad reference, which makes the negative references he does get all the more impactful.

Choose Wisely
According to Tracy Cashman, partner at Northeast recruitment firm WinterWyman, potential employers are looking for references that know the candidate in a professional capacity, and can comment on their skills and accomplishments. "There are occasions when companies want more personal or character references, but you should have at least 3-4 professional references at your disposal, ideally to include a past manager, a colleague, a subordinate (if appropriate), and perhaps someone from another team or division that you have worked with on a particular project." Cashman says that the professional relationship of the reference is critical. "Though one would think it's obvious, make sure that any reference you ask is going to say nice things about you," Cashman warns. Cashman says job seekers should not use references they have a bad history with, and that candidates should also make sure that references they present to a potential employer are reasonably articulate and can comment directly on the candidate's skills."There's nothing worse than a potential employer checking a reference who only answers in monosyllables and provides no detail," Cashman says.


Give References the Heads Up
Cashman advises candidates to have at least a few references lined up as soon as the job search begins, and suggests approaching a potential reference before giving their name to an employer. Cashman says this gives the candidate a chance to feel out the reference, and to ask the reference if they'd feel comfortable serving as this type of resource. Once the potential employer has been determined, Cashman recommends following up with references to let them know there is a specific employer who will be reaching out. "The only tricky part is if you would like to ask someone from your current place of employment. Make sure that anyone you ask you can trust to keep your search confidential," Cashman warns. Merry Bhattacharjee, HR manager at communications firm Annese & Associates, agrees that it is critical that candidate references are aware of the fact that they are serving as a reference. "We would expect that most references are notified in advance that they are a professional reference, and are prepared to be a contact when we reach out," Bhattacharjee says.


Come Prepared to the Interview
Cashman says that many companies have formal applications for candidates to fill out at the time of the interview, so candidates should come prepared with contact information for their references. "Most employers like to see a list with the person's name, current title and company, contact information, and your relationship to them," Cashman explains. Cashman advises that all candidates arrive at the interview with this list in hand.


Social Media: The Ultimate Reference?
According to CareerCloud CEO, Chris Russell, a candidate's various social media profiles are what he calls the "new reference", and the importance of this should not be discounted by employers or job seekers. "Many employers are now using people's tweets, blog postings, and Instagram pictures to screen them before hiring. If you think about it, a person's "social resume" can tell you a lot about someone," Russell explains. Russell says this glimpse into a potential new employee can be as valuable to employers as the classic reference. Our experts say that choosing the right references and cleaning up your digital footprint will go far in assisting candidates convert to employees.


Happy Hunting.

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