Is it a good sign if they call my references? The answer is a resounding yes! If you get to the point of the interview process where the employer is putting time and effort into reaching out to your references, you are definitely a solid contender for the position. For that reason, it makes good sense to put some thought into WHO you choose for a reference and HOW to prep them for that call. Our recruiting team conducts reference calls on a weekly basis. Here are a few tips that can help you maximize your reference choices.
1) Your boss makes the best reference.
Your peers can certainly speak about your work ethic, character, etc., but try for a superior if at all possible. Some companies insist on it. If you can't use your boss as a reference (since you are still employed at the company and it would raise suspicions), what about your boss from a previous position? Good reference checkers notice if you can't provide solid references from previous employers. It can be a red flag that you didn't have or were able to maintain solid professional relationships at those organizations.
2) Be prepared
Some companies won't be as thorough at reference checking as others, but you want to be ready either way. Assume the employer will be calling all your references and asking them probing questions about you.
3) Ask your references permission to be used as a reference.
This is just common courtesy. Some people may not feel comfortable being a reference and you need to respect that. You never want to blind side people. It doesn't look good if a recruiter or hiring manager calls a reference who has no idea they were going to be one.
4) Prep your references.
Give your references your resume and tell them a little bit about the position(s) you are going for and the time frame they can expect the call. Mention the qualifications you would appreciate they would mention. For instance, say you're interviewing for a sales position. You could ask your reference to talk about the success you had on a certain sales initiative. You don't want your reference to sound rehearsed, but a few reminders of your skill sets and accomplishments gives them a base for the discussion.
5) The reference checker is listening to what the reference DOES say as well as what they DON'T.
A good reference check call is a conversation between the reference and recruiter. The recruiter is looking to see if the person is a cultural fit and can do the job. They can sense when a reference may be holding back. Lulls in the conversation or hesitations can be red flags to them.
6) Avoid the "perfectionist" line.
Saying someone is too organized or too dedicated isn't fooling anyone. No one is perfect, and we all have areas to work on. Employers know this. Being too glowing in a reference discussion can backfire. It's best for your reference to focus on your strengths, but they should never lie or exaggerate.
7) Be willing to be a reference for others, if appropriate.
It's good practice to return the favor (at a later date), if you can. If you're not a boss or superior, you can always endorse the person who was your reference on LinkedIn or write a testimonial about them. This is another way to maintain good relationships and network. The truth is - you should always have your radar on as far as who you could potentially use as a reference, whether you're currently employed and not looking or actively pursuing new opportunities.
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