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Many people undervalue the importance of references when looking for a job. Often times a good or bad reference can make or break your chances of landing a new job, and just because someone agrees to be a reference does not mean they will be a good reference. It is important to think through your references to make sure they will not only have a lot to say about you, but that those things are good. Luckily, there are some steps that will help you make sure you’re picking the right people as your references. To learn more about references, read below:

1. How important are references when I am looking for a new job?

2. I'm starting a job search. What should my strategy be for dealing with references?

3. What are some examples of questions that my references will commonly be asked?

4. My former employer doesn't allow anyone to give out references. Do I need to worry about contacting my supervisor there?

5. I put down the senior vice president of my former company as a reference, since we worked together on several projects and had a great relationship, yet the former employer called my direct supervisor (with whom I didn't get along so well). Why didn't the company use the reference I gave them?

6. My company is letting me go. What do I do about references from this employer?

7. Do I have any legal claim against the employer for making bad statements about me after I am let go?

8. What are some examples of reference letters?

9. I’m an employer, do I haveDoes my employer have a duty to give a positive reference?

10. What can I do to help improve my references?

1. How important are references when I am looking for a new job?

If you are like most people looking for work, you probably haven't given your references much thought. Instead, you have focused on your resume, interviewing skills, networking, and what to wear to the interview. However, in these days of tighter job markets and increased security risks, you can be almost certain that you will be investigated by a prospective employer. As a rule of thumb: the better the job and the higher the pay, the tougher the screening process will be for prospective employees. When a prospective employer has completed the first round of interviews and you are among the top candidates, its next logical step is to check your references and interview those individuals to whom you reported.

Your biggest concern should be the quality of your references and recommendations from past employers, because they can make or break your chances of finding future employment. About half of all references that get checked range from mediocre to poor, so it is very possible that the job you lost out on at the last moment had nothing to do with your skill level. It could have had more to do with what a reference or past employer said about you.

2. I'm starting a job search. What should my strategy be for dealing with references?

If you are looking for a new job, remember that a poor or even lukewarm reference can sometimes cost you the job you want, while a positive reference may help ensure you stand out above other candidates also under consideration. Here's a ten-step strategy for making sure that your references help you rather than hurt you:

  1. Make a list. Start by making a list of all of your prospective references, beginning with the first job that is relevant to your career today. You need to select those who have carefully observed your job performance, who have seen you in action and hopefully performing well in adverse conditions. But be aware that whether you list them or not, your past employers will be contacted. Other individuals that may prove to be useful as references include: colleagues; subordinates; suppliers & clients; volunteer committee members; pro bono clients. In most situations, you will not want to use relatives as a reference: do you really want Uncle John regaling a prospective employer about your antics as a youth? Be sure to gather all important contact data about every potential reference including: name; title; company; address; telephone number; fax number; and e-mail address.
  2. Narrow the list. After you have made your list of references, select those that you feel will be most willing to give you an excellent report. A typical list of references should include five to ten names, depending on the amount of experience a candidate has accumulated.
  3. Contact your references personally. It is very important to contact each of your references personally. Stay in touch over coffee, over the phone, or by sending them a note stating that you are job hunting and would like to use them as a reference. Be sure to share with your references your current resume and let them know about the position(s) you are applying for as well as the type of qualities the company is seeking. Give them the impression that their references are critical to your obtaining the job.
  4. Confirm your personal information with your references. Refresh their memory regarding the position you held, go over your past responsibilities, and remind them of solid results and accomplishments. It is also not a bad idea to visit the HR Department, if your former employer has one, and verify that all information in your personnel file is correct. Data entry or communications errors are not unusual, so be sure that your HR department's records correspond to yours. Conflicting data will be perceived as a big negative to a prospective employer, as unfortunately it may be assumed that the job seeker is lying.
  5. Conduct a personal interview. You should also try to learn what your references are going to say about you. If your references have time and are willing to do so, go over with each reference what they will say in response to questions regarding your strengths and weaknesses. Be upbeat and try not to take things personally. During the conversation, update your reference on what you are doing, and how you have been adding experience and turning old weaknesses into new strengths. If they feel you are aware of your own weaknesses it may lead them to say you are open-minded and that you strive to grow professionally. One key skill in the workplace is effective communications. Your reference will feel comfortable stating you are a good communicator if you have filled them in on the "who," "why," "what" and "when" of your career path.
  6. Be prepared ahead of time. It pays to take the time early in your job search to identify and prepare your references. You do not want to lose out on a good position because you did not have your references prepared. You can even use your references as very effective networking tools, by mentioning that you are currently seeking a new position and asking if they would mind if you used their name as a reference. Ask them if they know of any current job openings in your field. You can also tell them what you have been doing since the last time you worked with them. Not only is this the courteous thing to do, but it also keeps them updated on your career. A reference who is well informed about the progression of your career will be a much better reference.
  7. Communicate with your references throughout your job search. To avoid burning out your references, you don't need to call them about every single job opportunity. But when a specific offer or known reference check is on the horizon, let your references know the name of the company who has you under consideration and who may be contacting them for a reference check. When you advise your references of the company name in advance, they are more likely to feel comfortable giving out information about you and to understand the importance of returning the call in a timely fashion.
  8. Follow-up with your references. When you get your new position, make sure you call your references and advise them of your new position. Keep them posted about your career, so that when and if you need them in the future, they will feel warm about you.
  9. Pay attention to details. When giving out references, always check to be sure you are using the correct telephone number, area code & company name. With today's mergers and fast-paced business environment, things are changing daily. However, if you list an incorrect telephone number, or if a reference has taken a position elsewhere, it looks as though you are totally out of touch with your references. Although letters of recommendation can be helpful, you need to make sure that the information on your letter of recommendation is still correct by contacting the reference periodically and obtaining new letters if the old letters have outdated information.
  10. Consider using a reference-checking service. If you want help in providing good references or if you find that you are losing too many opportunities after several interviews with an organization, you might want to commission a professional reference-checking service. These services typically operate as follows: They will contact your reference and simply state that they are calling to do an employment verification and reference check on (name of client). Typically the reference assumes the service is considering hiring that individual or the service has been hired to check them out for a company that is considering hiring them. The service should never disclose who has actually hired them to perform the reference check, which allows you complete confidentiality and the ability to use their information in court if necessary.

3. What are some examples of questions that my references will commonly be asked?

While there are very specific questions that are mainly used to confirm that the information you’ve provided is true, such as: