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6 Reasons to Check Your References Before Embarking on a Job Search

The Street logo The Street 18-04-2016 Brian O'Connell
6 Reasons to Check Your References Before Embarking on a Job Search © TheStreet 6 Reasons to Check Your References Before Embarking on a Job Search

There is something of a myth making the rounds in career management circles that former employers aren't supposed to say anything negative about you in a job referral situation. 

But that really isn't so, notes Allison & Taylor, a Detroit-based reference checking firm.

According to the company, half of the thousands of reference checks the firm manages, have "some form of employer negativity -- typically from either former supervisors or Human Resources personnel." In Allison & Taylor's words, "what you don't know can - and almost surely will - prevent you from getting new employment at some future date."

It's not always intentional. According to the firm's data, former employees often "inadvertently" provide information that goes against things you've written and said to potential employers (especially on a resume.)

To mitigate any career damage, there are a few things you should know about "why" you need to check your job referrals, so you can make to ensure you get the best possible referral, when you need one:

1. Know the risk of being unaware of a referral -- "If your reference is offering any negativity about you whatsoever, it will put you at a disadvantage against other candidates whose references are either glowing or neutral," Allison & Taylor states. "Your odds of landing that job will be negligible at best." 

2. Potential employers won't tell you about a negative referral -- Instead, they will simply tell you that they have "decided to go in a different direction" or - more likely still - you will simply never hear from that company again," the firm states.

3. Calling a confused reference convinces hiring managers you will be a bad employee -- "If you can't get your references in order, how will you do when you're under real stress at the job?" says Pierre-Renaud Tremblay, director of human resources at Dupray, a steam cleaner and irons services firm. "Frankly speaking, if I don't get absolutely glowing words of praise from the reference, I do not hire that candidate," added Tremblay, who has called 400 to 500 references in his career.

4. References can make up for gaps in your resume - Tremblay says getting a glowing reference from a reputable source is a surefire way to convince the recruiter that you can do the job and that you would be a good fit, especially if you're lacking the necessary experience or technical skills. "It's also validation of your previous work," he adds. "Sure, you can claim that you did amazing things in your previous role. But if nobody can substantiate that claim, it has absolutely no value."

5. Referrals make you a reliable resource -- Priya Jupudi, founder and CEO at 99Artisans LLC, an online marketplace for services professionals, says most companies rely on references and employee referrals, as it's a cheaper way to hire, a faster way to hire, generally produces a better hire, and lowers the turnover rate at a company. "In the 2014 fiscal year, approximately 44% of its experienced hires came from referrals," Jupudi states. 

6. Referrals have additional benefits -- Asking someone to be a reference in advance shows respect, says Susan Peppercorn, executive and career coach at Positive Workplace Partners in Boston. "It also offers you the opportunity to have a discussion about the aspects of your work you'd like your reference to mention and gauge their willingness to do so," she says.

In actionable terms, the "what-to-dos" come after the "whys" on a job referral.

Alyssa Gelbard, founder of Resume Strategists in New York City, says checking references before starting a job search is vital. "The potential employer determined that you're a finalist for the position, so at this point, you don't want to do anything that can jeopardize the opportunity," Gelbard explains. If a person has agreed to serve as a reference, reconnect and let the person know he will be contacted in the near future, so he is not caught unaware by your potential employer's call or email. "The last thing you want to do is catch someone off-guard who is supposed to be your champion," she adds.

Also, make sure you have current contact information for the reference, including email, phone number, title and company.

"It's also important to check the person's availability, in case they won't be on vacation or traveling for an extended period of time," says Gelbard.

You also don't want surprises, so checking with a reference beforehand is a no-brainer. The last thing you want to happen is to give the name of a referral, which turns out to be negative or even neutral about your performance, notes Peppercorn. "As the job seeker, you need to ensure that your references will be positive," she says.

Don't let an unchecked reference poison your new job search. Be ready and be cognizant of what your reference-giver will say about you - or against you - before the referral gets into the hands of a would-be employer.

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