The 411 on References

Q. I am senior level employee looking for a job and I know references are important. At this level, when are the references checked and are they looking for certain people to speak on my behalf? Do I ask people who worked for me to act as references? Is there any such thing as a personal reference any more?

A. The days of providing three to five references to be the only references contacted at the end of the recruiting cycle, with one being the personal reference to vouch for your character are gone. References play a significant role in all successful job searches; they can be contacted at any point in a job search by a hiring manager or human resources. With the significant use of LinkedIn in the hiring process, anyone you are linked to is fair game to be approached as a reference.

At the senior levels, most hiring organizations will review your contacts or try to do an informal check on “who you are” before they even consider inviting you in for the first round of interviews. Making sure that all social media information is as positive as it can be is the first step you can take as you prepare references. Do not assume that anything online is private.


Take the time early in your search to develop LinkedIn recommendations from all levels of your contacts and have these posted to your profile. To do this effectively, have a conversation with your contact about the area, experience or skill you would like him or her to address. You may offer specific, quantitative information about a success, or you may ask your contact to assess your personal attributes. Be as specific as you can so you can ask him or her to be specific as well. Your goal is to have enough recommendations to showcase your talent from many different angles from diversified professionals. People may have worked for you, been peers, vendors or customers. Hiring organizations are looking for consistency in themes, not identical words or a shallow “great guy” comment.
In addition, you will want to prepare references who you will be asked to provide. Many job seekers put together a list of names, titles and phone and email contact information on a sheet with their own resume information on top. That’s a good start; I recommend adding what the relationship was, over how many years or what companies.
Before you decide who you will use, ask a few people if they can be a great reference for you. If there is any hesitation, you can decide not to use this person. You want commitment for a great reference. You can ask more people than you actually use each time based on the role and the impact you think the referrer will have.
Prepare each person every time you provide his or her name by providing information on the job and any issues to speak to that might have posed as an obstacle in the interview process. Be sure to ask your references to contact you after they have spoken on your behalf to let you know how the conversation went.
References aren’t random and their preparation can make the difference between getting an offer and being a second choice.
Elaine Varelas, Managing Partner, Keystone Partners

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