Effective Use of Personal References

Prospective employers faced with the challenge of hiring qualified employees routinely check job references and interview past employers to verify the employment history and qualifications of their applicants. Checking references is one of the real means of verifying the truthfulness of the information provided on a resume or during a job interview.

Your resume may get you an interview, but your references will get you the job. Don't underestimate the power of your references.  When choosing job references for your resume careful consideration should be given.  One bad, lukewarm, or incomplete reference could be the deciding factor between you and another qualified candidate.

A good reference candidate is someone who has known you for at least one year - preferably three - and should include four or five of the following:

Former/present bosses, supervisors, managers, colleagues, subordinates, former customers or clients, former professors, or professional colleagues from work-related associations or volunteer work.

Bear in mind that even if you do not list a former employer as a reference, they may be contacted and interviewed, which makes a very good reason to include one or two on your list.

A good reference candidate should be someone who bolsters and confirms the details of your resume and offers positive feedback regarding your work or educational skills and experience.

Basic Reference Check Sample Questions

Below are samples of the types of basic questions that reference checkers might ask. The phrasing of each question is just an example, but the gist is typical.

  • What were the beginning and ending employment dates for this individual?
  • What was this individual's beginning and ending salary?
  • What positions did the individual hold?
  • Did this individual earn promotions?
  • What were the individual's most-recent job duties?
  • Why did the individual leave your company?
  • Is there any reason why your company would not rehire this individual?
  • Would you recommend this individual for a position at another company? Why or why not?
  • How did this individual's performance compare to other employees with similar job duties?
  • In your opinion, what are the individual's strengths? Weaknesses?
  • Did this individual get along well with management and peers?
  • Was this individual a team player?
  • Was this individual a motivated self-starter?
  • Did any personal problems affect this individual's work performance?
  • Do you think this individual will perform well as a [job title]?
  • What kind of job is best suited for this individual's abilities?
  • How would you describe the individual's overall performance?
  • Is there anything of significance you'd like to add?

Additional Reference Check Sample Questions

Below are samples of the types of questions that reference checkers might ask for professionals, managers and executives, in addition to the basic questions above. As with the basic questions, the phrasing is just an example, but the gist is typical.

  • How would you describe the individual's leadership, managerial or supervisory skills?
  • Is this individual able to think strategically?
  • Does the individual communicate well orally and in writing?
  • How do you rate the individual's ability to plan short-term? Long-term?
  • Did the individual make sound and timely decisions?
  • Did the individual get along well with management, subordinates and peers?
  • Did the individual plan, administer and make budget well?
  • How would you describe the individual's technical skills?
  • Did the individual demonstrate honesty and integrity?
  • How well did the individual manage crisis, pressure or stress?
  • Describe the individual's ability to attract and counsel top talent.

Once you have chosen four or five potential references, you should call them and ask if they mind providing a reference for you. If it has been awhile since you have talked to them, this is a great opportunity to bring them up to speed on what you have been doing, and also to confirm their phone number, address, and preferred method of contact. Prospective employers are not detectives and will not waste time tracking down outdated information. No reference could be just as harmful as a bad reference. Therefore - verify your contact information.


Headhunters secrets revealed!

Our experience with recruiters revealed that they are most impressed when candidates are able to provide 3 references covering all levels, i.e. their immediate superior, their peer and their subordinate.  This represented a good spread of coverage, i.e. the candidate displayed ability to work well with all levels.


 Make it easier for your references!


Bear in mind that your references are doing you a favour and therefore, you should make it easier for them to say yes!  It also makes sense for you to save them time by providing a write-up of yourself to them as reference material.  We came across good candidates who provide very comprehensive write-ups of themselves and impress their references further to show that they are proactive.

Imagine the confidence you will have when you walk into a job interview knowing your references are going to speak positively about you.

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