The Importance of References in the Job Application Process

The Importance of References in the Job Application Process
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Imagine this: After months of searching you finally got a call for a job that you’re sure is a perfect fit. You do all your research about the company and then the interview goes incredibly well. But a few days later you haven’t heard anything, and when you call to check in you’re told the position has been filled.

Then you remember…your references. You haven’t spoken to your references in years. Did you even have their correct contact information? Maybe that former nitpicky boss said something negative.

The Importance of References

David Goldberg, CEO at SurveyMonkey, verifies the importance of references. Back when he did all the hiring directly himself, “If we didn’t have that direct reference to talk to, I used LinkedIn to find people who had worked with the person… Cultural fit is also important and impossible to figure out in an hour interview.”

Everyone puts down references they believe will give the most positive feedback. But purely positive feedback doesn’t tell the interviewer how you act under deadline stress, how you deal with personal issues at work and if you’re active or passive in meetings. The hirer wants to talk to a more objective person because the objective person will go beyond verifying your employment; s/he can help the hirer figure out whether or not you’ll fit and thrive at the new place. Companies spend a lot of time and money to train every new employee so they want to reduce turnover by finding out as much as possible about a person before officially hiring.

On the flip side, former employers have to be careful about what they say. “If you are not careful in your statements about former employees, you might find yourself facing a defamation lawsuit,” explain Amy DelPo and Lisa Guerin, authors of “Dealing with Problem Employees: A Legal Guide.” “An employer who makes [damaging] statements about a former employee could get into trouble.”

Due to this, many potential employers have learned to read between the lines when talking with references. Just because a past employer may be careful of saying anything negative, does not mean they have to give you glowing reviews either.

The Proper Way to Choose & Present Your References

If you’re up for a job, make sure your references are current. If you were fired from your last job, you could write-up a statement that you and your former boss can agree you’ll use to describe your time there and your reason for leaving. For other previous jobs, you might want to call the contacts and alert them that you are presently job hunting and to expect calls from a potential employer.

When you’re square with the references you’ve chosen, be prepared to give the company an official printed list—maybe even before your interview. A reference page should look clean and professional, just like a resume. To format a references page correctly, put your name and contact information at the top and then just below, centered, the word “References.” The individual listings should look like this:

  • Reference Name
  • Position
  • Company Name
  • Address
  • City
  • State, Zip
  • Phone
  • Email

Be aware that others from your past might be unexpectedly contacted as well. If you’re going on a lot of job interviews, you may want to let all former employers know they may be contacted.