If your job interviews go well, the next step in the hiring process is often a background check. Employment references, the topic of this post, are the most common element of background checks.
Why Employers Check References
Because of this, it’s helpful for you to know that employers check references for 4 main reasons:
1. They’re the Only Way to Get Some Information
First, sometimes the only way to get information about a candidate is to ask other people.
- To gain insight into how a job applicant works with others. Former bosses and co-workers can provide information about a prospective employee’s interpersonal skills, style, strengths, and weaknesses.
- They can also provide critical information about their ability to work remotely.
2. To Confirm Information
Second, sometimes recruiters and hiring managers want to double-check what a job candidate has told them.
- The most common use is checking work history information, including job titles and dates of employment.
- To verify candidates’ explanations of why they left previous jobs. Hearing other people’s versions can confirm what the candidate said. It often also gives more perspective about the event.
3. To Disqualify Candidates
Third, employment reference check questions can help prevent negligent hiring. When I recruited, I used to ask these questions:
- Would you rehire this person? If yes, why? If no, why not?
- Is there anything I should have asked you about that I missed?
Every once in a while, the answer to one of those questions was a deal killer.
4. To Predict Future Job Performance
Finally, research says employers use employment reference checks to predict performance.
I prefer to rely on resume reviews and behavior-based interviews for that. However, I would love to hear what others think in the comments below.
95% of Employers Conduct Background Screens
Now, how can the information above help you?
It’s good for starters to know that a 2018 survey found more than 95% of employers always perform a background screen when hiring.
Thus, be sure your references:
1. Will verify any information you have given to future employers.
2. Understand the job you have applied for well enough to discuss your fit:
- Send them the job posting.
- Give them time to read it.
- Then, call them to talk about the job.
3. Won’t share disqualifying information about you:
- Don’t list references who don’t like you.
- But, if your future employer insists on talking to people who aren’t on your list, know that employers don’t like to give bad references.
Should I List My References on My Resume?
Many people ask about listing their references on their resumes.
While it was a common practice a couple of decades ago, it has fallen out of favor unless an employer specifically asks for them in a job posting.
Think about the prep work described above, it would be hard to impossible to do that outreach every time you share your resume.
Even when requested, if your job search is confidential, explain that in your application and say that references will be provided at a mutually agreed point in the selection process.
Should I Put References Available on Request on My Resume?
Again, this was a last-century practice. Employers know they can ask you for references. You don’t have to tell them.
Prepare, Then Relax
As you can see, it pays to understand the reasons for employment reference checks and prepare for them. Once you do, relax — you will be ahead of most of the competition.
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Updated January 2021
© 2010 – 2021, Donna Svei. All rights reserved.
Donna Svei, an executive resume writer and former C-level executive, retained search consultant, and CPA, authors all of AvidCareerist’s posts. She has written for and been quoted by 100+ business and general media outlets, including Forbes, Mashable, Fast Company, Inc., Entrepreneur, the New York Times, USA Today, Time, CBS, the BBC, Lifehacker, Social Media Today, IT World, SmartBrief, and Business News Daily.
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