What is included in a reference check?

Many employers check references as part of the hiring process. A reference check is when an employer contacts a job applicant’s previous employers to learn more about his or her employment history and qualifications for a job. An employer may contact the people you list as a reference or they can contact people through back door reference checking. Back door reference checking is when an employer checks with people you don’t list as a reference. Those people could be former colleagues or managers or other sources the company finds who can speak to your qualifications. However way your references get contacted, here are some tips on how you can be prepared and what to expect when you give a list of references.

Who to pick?

The best people to pick for references are people who will speak positively of you and people who are familiar enough with you and your work that they can speak highly of you. You should always use people who you have worked for directly vs using friends or those that didn’t have any direct interaction while working at the same company. Past managers will make the strongest references, because they're the people who were responsible for evaluating your work. Peers can talk about you as a co-worker, but most reference checkers will want to hear the assessment of the person responsible for evaluating you.

You do not have to add your current boss to your list of references and it is okay for you to ask a reference checker not to contact your current employer since most people don’t tell their boss they are applying for jobs.

How many people should you use?

Typically you should have about three references that you are comfortable listing as someone to be contacted. If you are early on in your career, it is okay to only have two people listed.

What will be asked?

Reference checker asks about your quality of work strengths, weaknesses, the reason you left the job and whether the employer would hire you back. A recent study from Monster asked hiring managers what the most important information they would hope to receive while conducting reference checks and their responses are as follows:

Description of past job duties and experience: 36 percent
A view into the applicant's strengths and weaknesses: 31 percent
Confirmation of job title and dates of employment: 11 percent
Description of workplace accomplishments: 8 percent
A sense of the applicant's preferred work culture: 7 percent
Other/don't know: 7 percent

When to submit references

Job references should be submitted later in the hiring process and only submit references after you have been asked about them.

Other Helpful Tips

Make sure to email the people who you have chosen to be references for permission before you start the interview process and it’s always helpful to provide a copy of your resume for reference purposes.

Review and update your reference list from time to ensure that your references are current. Having a manager from 10 years ago won’t be as useful as they will have a harder time remembering your work habits and will be less likely to speak to who you are today.

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