The Reference Check Removes One in Five Job Candidates From Consideration

Your resume may get your foot in the door at a company and a strong interview can advance you to the next step in the hiring process, but before you land your next position, chances are the hiring manager will perform a reference check. and this step in the hiring process may be the biggest hurdle of all.

According to a recent survey of 1,000+ senior managers developed by OfficeTeam, a staffing service specializing in the placement of administrative professionals, reference checks can catapult a candidate to the winner's circle or instigate their demise.

Managers interviewed claimed they remove more than one in five candidates from consideration after speaking to their professional contacts. When it comes to what hiring managers are looking for when speaking to references, more than a third said they are most interested in getting input on an applicant's past job duties and experience. Learning about the individual's strengths and weaknesses came in second.

Here's the breakdown on the important information hiring managers hope to receive when speaking to an applicant's job references.

Description of past job duties and experience


A view into the applicant's strengths and weaknesses


Confirmation of job title and dates of employment


Description of workplace accomplishments


A sense of the applicant's preferred work culture


Other/don't know



"When hiring managers narrow the field to a few potential candidates, the reference check often becomes the deciding factor," said OfficeTeam executive director Robert Hosking. "To distinguish themselves from the competition, job seekers should assemble a solid list of contacts who can persuasively communicate their qualifications and professional attributes."

OfficeTeam offers five tips for creating a reference list that works in your favor:

  1. Choose wisely. Select individuals who can discuss your abilities and experience that directly relate to the position, not just those with the most impressive job titles. Offer a mix of contacts who can address different aspects of your background; for example, a former peer may be able to describe your interpersonal skills, while a past direct report can talk about your management style.
  2. Check in beforehand. Always call potential references first to gain their permission and evaluate their eagerness to serve as a contact. Be sure to give all references a copy of your resume, the job description and the name of the person who will likely call.
  3. Be prepared. Provide clear contact information for your references, including their names, titles, daytime phone numbers and e-mail addresses. Also, offer a brief explanation of the nature of your relationship with each individual. Consider supplying more references than are requested, so you won't miss out on the job offer if the hiring manager can't get in touch with one of your contacts.
  4. Think outside the box. To learn more about potential hires, it's not uncommon for employers to seek out additional contacts, either online or through their own networks, who can serve as a reference. Since you never know who a hiring manager might reach out to, you should not only remain on good terms with your past supervisors and colleagues, if possible, but also be selective about who's in your online network on sites such as LinkedIn.
  5. Give thanks. Express your gratitude to those who agree to serve as references, even if they aren't contacted by employers. Keep them updated on your job search progress and offer to return the favor by providing a recommendation should they need one.

Another tip I recommend regarding references is to do an audit of your online presence. Type your name in quotes into a search engine and review the information about you online. Check for accuracy and update any incomplete or incorrect information when possible. Researching candidates online before even calling their references has become a more common practice, so be sure your online presence is up to date and squeaky clean.

Next: Employment Reference Checks: What You Need to Know >>

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Michelle Cubas

Recommendations to my business coaching clients when using references are simple:
—Notify the people you list about what job you're seeking and sample what they may say about how you worked together. Add things from your perspective you'd like them to include if appropriate.
—Use references applicable to the position you are seeking; or, when you speak with the reference, indicate how this experience generalizes to the job description.
—Send thank-you notes to people you've contacted and listed as a courtesy. You don't know who will be contacted.
—Be aware of how your reference speaks—tone of voice, language use and energy level. Select a person who will do you justice.

Best of luck. Use your job-seeking experience as an audition. When you shift the energy from defensive, you'll be happily surprised at how well you focus on the task at hand. -MC

October 21 2010 at 6:02 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

nice post. smith

September 24 2010 at 3:50 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Addison DeWitt

Such advice is fine IF your former employer does not have a confidentiality policy in effect. I worked for IBM. When I asked for references, I was told that supervisors could not comment on former employees' job duties. This, presumably, was meant to protect current IBM managers from being accused of bad-mouthing or otherwise being responsible for former employees not getting new jobs. Of course, this policy was parroted by - at least from what I saw - those IBM managers who were miserable in their jobs (to put it another way, I got references from those IBM employees who were happy with their jobs and therefore saw no reason to hold back despite company policy).

September 15 2010 at 3:40 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

I've never been asked for references and I usually get a phone call the next day with a job offer. I'm sure they verified basic information.

September 15 2010 at 3:30 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

I am a contractor and employer

in oregon who rarely checks someones past references except the applicants identity and background through a background check agency. Anyone who applies for a job can utilize fake past references. The main problem with most applicants is when i ask them one question WHEN CAN YOU START WORKING IF I HIRED YOU? Most workers do not want to work immediatly. They just do not want to work.

September 15 2010 at 3:16 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

Employers are largely hypercritical today of anyone applying to any job. Some of these employers need ethics courses yesterday, should be mandatory.

September 15 2010 at 2:56 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

The idiots who write these articles know nothing about the subjects they write.

NO previous employer would give ANY information about an employee other than to confirm he or she worked there and the dates. Some won't give anything. They could be sued.
No employer is going to discuss previous duties, etc.

I wish the people who pay the writers would hire people that can actually research and write knowledgeably.

September 15 2010 at 1:29 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to msfun's comment
Addison DeWitt

EXACTLY susieq!!!

(refer to my post)

September 15 2010 at 3:48 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Lynn Mcguire

SMH @ all of the responses. WOW! If someone calls me for a reference, I answer short and sweet. I think it's unfair for any potential employer to ask long and drawn out questions about a potential employee. People (no matter your level @ the company) amaze me! Karma is real...what goes around DEFINETELY comes back around. I would never say anything negative about someone I know is trying to find work - how could could anyone?

September 15 2010 at 12:11 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

How is it that this writer, with all her personnel experience doesn't want to tell you that most employers refuse to give references anymore because a poor reference can get them sued? 99% of the time they will give out only your job title, length of employment and rehire status. The only way to get around it is to tell the exemployer that you understand their position and ask if he/she could give a personal reference based on his/her social interaction. I know. I was a personnel recruiter for many years, both "in-house" and for agencies. Give references only when requested in person or on an application and be POSITIVE you know what your reference will say about you.

September 14 2010 at 11:06 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

I worked for 20 years for a reputable social science research company. I was an excelllent employee, super at my job, but just needed something with benefits, so I decided to try to get a job in the "real world." I used my references who were people I thought would give me an excellent reference and I would be assured to be hired for the job of my dreams (same sort of work, benefits etc.) It wasn't until I didn't get the job, that I found out from my references, that all they are permitted to tell a prospective employer is that I worked for them and that's it! I was stunned! No dates of employment, nothing further. Evidently there is some law that states no former employer can say anything bad about a former employee when they try for another position, but my company took it to the extreme and doesn't allow the supervisors to say anything more than they worked for them! Needless to say, I did not get the job and changed my references to people who are willing to give me a good reference because they no longer work for the company and don't have to be concerned about losing their jobs by not following company policy.

September 14 2010 at 10:41 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

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