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Everything You Need to Know About Job References

Posted by | February 22, 2017 | Career, Job Search, Reference

via U.S.News : Everything you need to know about job references

When an interviewer asks you for a list of references, are you confident about the names you hand over? Do you wonder what kind of questions they might be asked, or whether you’ve picked the right people? Are you supposed to list your current manager, or is it OK not to?

Here’s a quick rundown of the basics that you should know about job references.

What kind of questions will your references be asked?

This varies from employer to employer, but it’s pretty typical for a reference checker to ask about the quality of your work, your strengths and weaknesses, the reason you left the job and whether the employer would hire you back if they could. They may also ask more detailed questions, such as how well you took feedback, how you got along with co-workers and how reliable you were, and they might even ask for specific examples of times that you showed particular initiative or solved a tricky problem or resolved a customer complaint.

Some reference checkers will stick to just verifying your title, dates of employment and job duties – but that’s more typical of a background check than a reference check.

Who should you pick for references?

The best references are people who managed your work and will speak positively of you. You want to offer up people familiar enough with you and your work that they can speak with some nuance to your skills and accomplishments – and you definitely want people who will speak of you with enthusiasm. A lukewarm reference who sounds ambivalent can raise concerns for the employer who’s considering hiring you.

How many references do you need?

Typically you should have at least three references who you’re comfortable offering up. If you’re early in your career and have only had one or two jobs, employers will generally understand if you only have one or two references from managers.

Is it OK to use peers instead of managers?

Past managers will make the strongest references, because they’re the people who were charged with 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. But it’s OK to include one peer on a reference list as long as you also include several managers. (And if you don’t include any managers, reference checkers are likely to wonder if you’re hiding something.)

Do you have to list your current manager?

No! It’s very normal to ask a reference checker not to contact your current boss because most people don’t let their employer know they’re job searching. If an employer is insisting on a reference from your current manager, it’s reasonable to push back. You can point out that you can’t jeopardize your job by letting your manager know that you’re looking to leave. But if the employer keeps insisting, one option is to allow it only once you have an offer (which can be contingent on a good reference from your current job).

What if you’re not in touch with previous managers anymore and don’t know how to find them?

Try hard to find them. Check LinkedIn, check with other former co-workers to see if they know where to find the person, and otherwise do your best to locate them. Many employers will be wary of hiring you if they can’t speak to anyone who has managed you in the past. (And this is why it’s important to stay in touch, so that you don’t find yourself in this position!)

Does an employer need your permission to contact a reference?

No. Employers don’t need your permission to contact your references, and they also aren’t limited to just the names you provide. They can call anyone they’d like, including jobs that you didn’t put on your reference list. (This is more likely to happen if the hiring manager knows someone at one of your previous employers and contacts the person to ask about you.) That said, it’s considered bad form to contact your current employer without your explicit permission.

What if your old employer doesn’t give references?

Some companies have policies that they’ll only confirm dates of employment and won’t provide more detailed references. In most cases, though, it’s usually human resources who sticks to that policy, while individual managers are often willing to give more candid references, no matter what the policy says. That’s especially true for strong employees, since most managers want to help former good employees find their next jobs.

What if you’re worried about a former boss giving you a bad reference?

If you’re worried about getting a bad reference, trying calling your old boss to see if she’s willing to reach an agreement with you about what she’ll say to reference checkers. Many managers will be willing to work something out with you if you explain that you’re worried that their reference is making it impossible for you to find work – even if it’s only to agree to limit the reference to confirming your work there.

But if your old boss is outright lying about you, go straight to your former company’s HR department and explain what’s happening. HR should recognize the potential for legal problems if a company rep is lying about you and they are likely to intervene with your old boss.

Last, if none of that works, you might need to warn future reference checkers that the reference from that manager might not be a positive one. That will allow you to provide some context about why – such as that your work there suffered while you were having health problems that have since been resolved, or that you were in a job that was a bad fit for your skills.

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