Successfully completing the reference check is often employers' final step before offering a job to someone. While there are many debates regarding the value of this long-standing practice, the fact remains that many employers still rely on a third party validation of your skill set.
As the job seeker, here are some tips to make sure you get the maximum benefit from the reference check process:
1. Have readily accessible references. This is as important as what those references actually say about you. The reference check process is relied upon as a way to minimize hiring risk. The premise is that when a previous supervisor can vouch for your skills, experience, attitude and reliability, a prospective manager can feel confident that you will be a productive hire. In reality, a third party endorsement doesn't actually mean you will be a good hire. However, the fact that you can line up two or three managers or colleagues that remember you and are willing to take the time to talk about your work is a feat unto itself.
Many hiring managers recognize that a candidate who can maintain positive relationships from their professional past and keep up to date with contact information will most likely collaborate well within their organization. In other words, by recognizing that it is ideal to leave a job on good terms and building business relationships that you can leverage later, you are exhibiting key networking skills.
2. Aim high. It is easy to understand that the higher level the reference, the greater the weight given to that reference check. However, securing several high-level managers as references can be challenging. Senior executives may have more carefully guarded contact information and busy schedules away from their desks. There are some things you can do to increase your chances of a reference from a high-level manager.
-- Get noticed: Look for projects or initiatives in your current role that will get exposure or be helpful to your manager's manager. If the senior professionals in your company do not know who you are, they certainly cannot be a future reference. Impressing senior management is a networking investment that can result in building long-term relationships that can be leveraged later. No matter how much you love your current role, you will look for another job again. You will be glad you thought about networking up so you have contacts for the future.
-- Get connected: It is easy to lose touch of previous colleagues once you leave a firm. If you left on good terms, connect with previous supervisors via social media. LinkedIn is a great place to start. You can see where the manager works today and get a sense of how active she may be on LinkedIn or other social media platforms. Once you are connected, send a brief message to thank the person for accepting your connection request, inquire about how she is and maybe pass on an article or something else that she might find interesting. In short, re-establish a mutually beneficial relationship. If you need to use her as a reference immediately, it is best to be direct and ask if she would be available and interested in providing a reference for you.
3. Maintain the relationship and valid contact information. If your previous manager or colleague is willing to be a reference, keep the relationship alive. Whether it's sending an occasional email or making a check-in call once or twice a year, it is critical to stay in a relationship if you hope to leverage it later. Your first line of defense was to be an excellent employee. Keep the goodwill going by being an interesting and nice human being, and you're likely to have several outstanding references.
4. Make it easy. Before providing the contact information for any reference, make sure you verify the following with each reference first:
-- Willingness: Things change, and a manager that felt he could talk about your performance three years ago may now feel too much time has passed to add credible value. You need to know how a reference will respond when contacted, so make sure all contenders are able and willing to assist.
-- Contact information and schedule: Clarify the best ways to reach this person and the preferred times and days to do so. The key is to make this easy for the reference and your prospective manager to connect quickly, so no one gets stuck in phone or email tag.
-- Preparation: To the best of your ability, outline who is likely to contact your reference, what the new role is for which you are interviewing and any additional details you think would aid in providing a beneficial reference.
In a perfect world, we would all have three previous supervisors who would be our contacts forever and will always have outstanding things to say about us whenever needed. While this is not the reality for most job seekers, you can be creative about finding additional credible references when supervisors are in short supply. Consider clients, neighboring managers with whom you interacted, high-ranking colleagues, vendors and other business professionals from task forces, special projects, nonprofit endeavors or associations where you may have been involved.
The key to a great reference check is to provide a solid list of respectable business professionals who are interested in being an advocate for you. With preparation, you can make sure these connections are easily accessible and ready to discuss exactly how you are the best hire a company can make.
Robin Reshwan is the founder of Collegial Services, a consulting/staffing firm that connects college students, recent graduates and the organizations that hire them and a certified Women's Business Enterprise (WBE). She has interviewed, placed and hired thousands of people across a broad spectrum of companies and industries. Her career tips and advice are used by universities, national clubs/associations and businesses. A Certified Professional Résumé Writer, Robin has been honored as a Professional Business Woman of the Year by the American Business Women's Association. She graduated Phi Beta Kappa and as a Regents Scholar from University of California, Davis.