Your resume is perfect. You nailed the job interviews. And now your future employer wants to check your references. No problem …right? Well, hopefully…but who really knows what your references say about you? How do they handle the tough questions like” why are you leaving your current job” or “what could you improve on”? When was the last time you checked your own references?
If the answer is “never”, or “not in a while”, and you’re looking for a job, then the time to undertake this important activity is now! You basically need to “mystery shop” your references. Here’s what you’ll need:
An accomplice. You need to enlist the support of someone you can trust. This person is going to be the one you rely on to check your references. You probably couldn’t get away with calling your old boss yourself and disguising your voice. This is what best friends and mothers are there for!
Tough reference questions. Find a friend in HR, or simply do some googling for ideas, but come up with a list of reference questions. And not just the easy ones. You want to see how your reference can handle the heat. What will they say you need to improve on. It’s almost always asked and references typically give an answer on the spectrum between “nothing” to “nothing major”. A good reference taker will probe for a more honest answer.
Notes. Take ample notes regarding your references performance. Try to record as much as possible so that you can refer back to them when deciding what to do next.
Once you’ve checked your own references, you need to consider how they did. Discuss your vetting process with references with which you have a good relationship and coach them to how you want certain questions answered. If you don’t feel comfortable discussing the feedback with your reference, and they didn’t do too well, you should drop them off your reference list.
Yes, in today’s day and age, employers still check references as part of their hiring process. While it’s rare for a reference check to inhibit someone from getting a job, you want to make sure you know what your references are going to say. So check your references!
Mike Spinale is a corporate Human Resources leader at a healthcare information technology company located outside of Boston, Massachusetts and is an adjunct professor at Southern New Hampshire University. He has over eight years of experience in HR and management including career counseling, recruitment, staffing, employment branding, and talent management. Mike has dedicated his HR career to modern views on the field – HR is not about the personnel files – it’s about bringing on the best talent, ensuring they’re in the right seat, and keeping them motivated and growing in their careers. In addition, Mike is the author of the CareerSpin blog where he offers advice and opinion on job search, personal & employment branding, recruiting, and HR. Mike is a certified Professional in Human Resources (PHR) and holds a Master of Business Administration degree from Babson College. He is also a board member of the Metro-North Regional Employment Board, a board which sets workforce development policy for Boston’s Metro-North region, and an active member of the Society for Human Resource Management and the Northeast Human Resources Association.