Recently someone asked me why employers ask for references. I couldn’t help but guess that the person didn’t have any which, as it turned out was true.
“Do they really matter? I mean are they going to talk to them anyhow? What if I just make some up and tell the interviewer that the companies moved and I don’t know where they are? Would that work? What if I just got some friends to pretend I worked for them?”
The short answer to this question is, “No! Don’t do it!”. Employment references are as equally important to an employer as they would be to you if you were looking for a Child Care Centre for your own children, or were hiring a Contractor to remodel your kitchen. The more you know about people, the more confident you are going to be in your decision. You want to increase the odds of ending up with a good experience for your child once in care; be happy with the renovation work done by your Contractor. Fail to ask or check for references and you run a higher risk of making a poor decision and regretting it. Well the same is true when employers are hiring.
Now a very good idea is to think about references long before you actually need them. You might be content at the moment in your present job, not seriously contemplating any change in your employer or looking for a promotion. Now is the very time to get all the contact information on the people you might need in the future. It should be easy enough to get the proper spelling, title, phone extension and email address of your boss and a couple of co-workers without raising suspicions. If something suddenly happens such as a plant closure or they take a leave of absence, you’ve got the information tucked away.
Traditionally, 3 professional (work-related) references are the norm, and possibly 1 personal reference. It raises concerns if you don’t use your most recent employer as a reference, so if things are strained in any way, try to smooth things over now before you actually need them in the future.
References are usually contacted – but not always. There are some employers that like applicants so much, they just don’t bother to contact everyone and trust their own instincts. That’s usually not the norm, but I have to acknowledge it does happen. Don’t bet on it in your own case however. Employers are protecting themselves more than ever these days, and one way they protect themselves is checking into the backgrounds of the people they hire. After all the interviewer only has your word for all the wonderful things you say you’ve done and are capable of doing. References back up your claims of performance.
No references? Look at things from the other side of the table. You’re in your 30’s or 40’s and you can’t name a single person over the course of your lifetime that can vouch for your work history or your performance in any of your jobs? That’s pretty poor if you look at it objectively.
Say you got fired from your last job and are worried the ex-boss will not be willing to say anything good about you. Just to complicate things further, let’s say you have no contact information on any of your co-workers either; co-workers who just might attest to your work. This becomes a testament of your problem-solving skills. For starters, you should contact the company, leave your name and number and ask them to pass along a request for a return phone call from the people you worked with. When they do call, ask them to be a reference for you. As for the ex-boss; swallow your pride and speak directly with him or her. Tell them you are moving on, looking for other employment and need a reference; not a glowing endorsement, just confirmation of your start and end date. You’ve got nothing to lose and a whole lot to gain.
Some organizations actually don’t give performance references at all to protect the company itself. They have polices that just confirm start and end dates. If this is the policy where you worked, stop sweating and put the contact information for Human Resources down on your references sheet. On the other hand, if the boss is going to roast you alive if someone calls looking for a reference, you can warn an interviewer, briefly explaining the circumstances and what you’ve learned from the experience. The potential employer will appreciate your honesty.
Of course create an online profile through a social media platform such as LinkedIn. It has a section on your profile where you can publicly share recommendations others have made about you and your work performance. By sharing the hyperlink with employers right on your resume, they can look up these recommendations in advance of your first interview, see what others are saying about you, and this can motivate them to have you in over other applicants.
Invest in some volunteer work as another option. Whoever supervises you where you volunteer might be an excellent future reference.
The key is to think about your references now, especially if you are working. Stressing about having no references isn’t something you should be doing as the interview is winding down for a job you really want and need.