In an era where there are more qualified people than open positions, reference checking has become an inevitable process to help growing companies sort prospective hires into reject and accept piles.
As a job seeker, you should be surprised if you don’t hear the question, “Can you please provide a list of references?” A great employer will want to know your background and verify past interaction with other teams.
It’s important to think about the above question well before you commence your search. Why, you ask? The reasons might be multi-faceted, but most important of all; it will help you become a better employee.
Most companies reach out to people in your past that are not listed on your reference list. (Yes, they really do.) They might search your LinkedIn profile and reach out to close connections. They might call a past employer, hiring manager or co-worker even if you do not list them as a reference.
Don’t hyperventilate yet. Have it in the back of your mind that everyone, and we mean everyone you have worked with internally or externally, could be called at any point in the future to chat about you. They might call that manager you failed to follow through on something, that junior-level employee you treated poorly or an external vendor or broker. You can’t go back and redo your actions with people. That app hasn’t been made yet. But, you can be better starting now.
Thinking about references through this lens will help you frame how to conduct yourself as an employee. Do a good job, have integrity and do right by the company. Sure, there might be a few people who don’t like you that the company might call, but that’s okay. Is there a bridge you can mend with a phone call or a thank you note for a great learning opportunity? Go ahead and try. However, it’s safer to avoid burning bridges all together. Your reputation and skillset will follow you everywhere you go.
If a prospective employer requests a reference list, include a mix of people for them to talk with. You could choose to have an assortment of people – from bosses, peers and even clients you served. Check in with your references beforehand to make sure they are genuinely willing to provide a solid assessment of your character and potential.
So even if you aren’t looking for a job right now, do you know whom you would put on your reference list? Does it include just a few people, or lots of people? Who are the people you wouldn’t want a prospective employer to call? Can you anticipate what the company might hear from that person?
Your reference list shows what kind of professional relationships you’ve built throughout your career. Make it count by doing it right.