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The Role of References in the Hiring Process


When looking for a new job, you may be asked to provide references from previous employers or others who can vouch for your skills and abilities. References are a crucial part of the hiring process and can be pivotal in helping a company decide who gets the job. However, many job seekers do not pay enough attention to this important step and may miss out on opportunities because of poor or incomplete references. In this blog post, we will discuss why references matter, who to use as references, and how to ensure positive references.



Why References Matter

References are a way for employers to verify the information you provide on your resume and in your interview. They can also give employers a fuller perspective of you as a candidate beyond what they can learn from your application materials. References can help employers answer questions such as:

  • How do you perform in the workplace?

  • How do you interact with others?

  • What are your strengths and weaknesses?

  • How do you handle challenges and feedback?

  • How reliable and trustworthy are you?

Employers typically contact references toward the end of the hiring process when they narrow their candidate pool to just a few choices. They use these references to help them decide between the last few candidates and ensure they hire the right person for the job.

“The greatest indicator of what someone WILL do is what they HAVE done.

Genuine, authentic, and engaged references provide potential employers that you can deliver on your promises.

Who to Use as References

A reference is someone who is willing to vouch for your performance and potential personally. A connection can be just about anyone, although some are better options than others. Some possible reference options include:

  • Previous managers or supervisors

  • Professors

  • Co-workers

  • Teachers

  • Supervisors at volunteer organizations

  • Athletic coaches

  • Family, friends, or long-time friends

Who you can use as references usually depends on where you are in your career. For example, someone starting may rely on high school teachers and coaches, while someone with decades of experience will use former managers.

When choosing your references, you should think strategically and tailor them to the job you are applying for. You should use references who speak to your relevant skills and achievements and have a positive impression of you. It would be best if you also used connections for those who are credible, professional, and can communicate well with the employer2.

How to Ensure Positive References

To get a positive reference from someone, you should follow these tips:

  • Opt for professional over personal: Choose professional connections over personal ones when possible. Employers prefer to hear from a past employer rather than a family member, teacher, or friend1.

  • Ask for permission: Before you list someone as a reference, ask them for their approval and confirm their contact details. You should also explain why you are applying for the job and what skills or qualities you want them to highlight.

  • Provide context: Give your references a link to the job description and the company website before they talk to the employer. This will help them prepare and tailor their answers to the specific role.

  • Help facilitate: Make sure your references are available and responsive when the employer contacts them. You can also follow up with them after they have spoken to the employer and thank them for their time and support.

  • Be transparent: If you have any concerns or issues with your references, such as a bad relationship with a former boss or a gap in your employment history, you should be honest with the employer and explain the situation.

References are an essential part of the hiring process that can make or break your chances of getting hired. By choosing the proper references, asking them politely, providing them with relevant information, and following up with them, you can ensure that they give glowing recommendations that impress any employer.

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