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6 Job References Mistakes You Could Be Making

“We love you! We just need to check your references.” Believe it or not, those references can quickly derail an otherwise inevitable job offer.

So what are you doing wrong when it comes to providing job references? It could be one of these common mistakes:

  1. Assuming references won’t be checked. One widely shared industry study found more than eight out of 10 human resource professionals regularly conduct reference checks for professional (89 percent), executive (85 percent), administrative (84 percent) and technical (81 percent) positions.
  2. Not giving your references a heads up. “This is the biggest mistake I see when it comes to sharing references,” says The HT Group Managing Partner Nad Elias. “Don’t list references without checking first to see if they would be willing to provide the reference. It seems obvious but neglecting to take this step happens all the time.”
  3. Not prepping your references first. Elias says this is the second mistake he sees job candidates make regularly. “It’s important to call each reference and explain the opportunity to them,” he explains. “This allows them to prepare their responses to be most relevant to the job.” Monster Career Coach recommends mentioning how you’d like to make it as easy as possible for the reference to respond, so for example, asking would they mind if you gave them a few pointers on what they might say about you?
  4. Focusing only on the bright side. “While you want to make sure your references present you in the best possible light, keep in mind they will, certainly, be asked about your weaknesses as well,” cautions Elias. “When prepping your references, be sure they can share a few areas of improvement honestly but also be prepared with a response if the issues are brought up in a follow up interview.”
  5. Sweeping conflicts under the rug. We all have them: Current or former supervisors who “have it out for you” no matter what. Sometimes listing them as a reference is unavoidable since many employers require listing former supervisors in job applications. If the reference can’t be reasoned with, you may need to proactively give the hiring manager a respectful, measured heads-up. If the account is wildly different from your other references, good hiring managers will take it with a grain of salt.
  6. Flat out lying…and then being caught. Consider these statistics: Half of all job applications contain inaccurate or fabricated information. One-third contain outright lies about experience, education, and ability to perform essential functions on the job. And one in 10 job applicants misrepresented why they left a former employer. If you stretched the truth at all during the application or interview process, that “little white lie” might be found out during the reference check. Take a good, hard look at the picture you’re painting for potential employers. Could any of the information be contested by a reference?

While these are some of the main reasons job references could spell disaster for a job offer, there are many more. Did you choose the right references (do they know enough about your skills and experience in that particular area)? And are they good about returning phone calls or emails? What other questions do you have when it comes to choosing and preparing references? Let us know! We’re here to help.


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