Referees require rigorous management, recruiter says

There's far more to compiling a list of referees than throwing together a few names and contact details

One of the last things many job seekers do before submitting a CV is tack on the perfunctory "References Available Upon Request" at the bottom of the document.

Most don't give the statement a second thought and include it more out of habit than anything else.

But the truth is that this short sentence plays a very important part in their chances of landing the position they seek, as many companies are diligent about checking references.

Here are some questions and answers on reference checking.

Do employers really conduct reference checks? Yes. While not all companies are so thorough when selecting new employees, the likelihood of a prospective employer wanting to speak to people who can vouch for your skills, experience and quality of work increases as you apply for higher-level positions.

Who should I include on my list of referees? In general, hiring managers want to speak with people you have worked closely with in the past. That includes immediate supervisors and colleagues. The best references are those people with whom you collaborated frequently or for long periods of time, which means that while you may have communicated with the CIO on occasion, he probably knows little about your day-to-day responsibilities and performance, making him a poor choice.

Touch base with those you'd like to serve as references before giving their names and contact information to a prospective employer, to make sure they are comfortable serving this role.

Can I include my friends or family? Most hiring managers feel that relatives and personal acquaintances provide little value when it comes to reference-checking because it's unlikely that these contacts will provide an objective assessment of your professional abilities.

How many references should I list? Three to five references is usually adequate.

How should I present my list of referees to employers? List your references on a separate sheet of paper that has a similar format as your resume. Also provide a brief description of your relationship to the individual ("Supervisor at XYZ Ltd from 1999-2001") as well as a short statement explaining why you included him ("Mr Smith and I worked closely on a number of critical network security upgrades and he can attest to my knowledge of virus-detection software, attention to detail and ability to complete tasks on time").

What if a prospective employer wants to speak to my current supervisor, who doesn't yet know I'm planning to leave the company? Most hiring managers will respect your wish to keep your job search secret, but the prospective employer might insist in some cases, especially if you do not have a well-developed work history. If you find yourself in this predicament, offer to provide the hiring manager with the name and contact information of a current colleague instead.

Make sure they will be discreet about your request.

What if the prospective employer has a hard time reaching my referees? It's up to you to ensure that prospective employers can gain access to your them — they shouldn't have to chase down your contacts. Therefore, it is vital that you ensure not only that you have each person's current contact information, but also that they will be available to speak on your behalf.

Also impress upon your referees the importance of responding promptly to people who contact them to learn more about you. Do your part by giving your contacts a heads-up that you are interviewing and they may get a call from the hiring manager. Though often an afterthought, your employment references may play a key role in the success of your next job search.

So, take some time to carefully select the individuals you want to direct prospective employers to, and make sure "References Available Upon Request" is more than an empty statement.

Katherine Spencer Lee is executive director of Robert Half Technology

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