Congratulations! Your resume has landed you an interview.
But to authenticate your work history, prospective employers ask for professional references. They want to know the person behind the resume. To help them do this, they either contact the references directly, or they enlist the services of Professional Reference/Background Checking agencies. Some organizations do both. Regardless of who checks your references, your hope is to have your references support your candidacy for the job.
You want a positive reference, despite past mistakes (we all have areas we could have done better).
In this post, I will share some insights I’ve gained as a member of a hiring team who contacted references, and as a person who is contacted to give professional references.
Knowing Who Does the Reference Checking Matters.
Professional reference/background checking services are hired to call your past employers and verify some obvious things you may have stated on your application. They may have no knowledge of the career you are in. The questions they ask are generic and predictable. They ask standardized open-ended questions to get insight into your work ethic and integrity.
Examples include: How long have you known Mr. X? What was your working relationship? What would you say are Mr. X’s strongest qualities? What kind of person is Mr. X? True, prospective employers may ask these same questions. But often times, they include specific questions based on the tasks they want done. These are professionals in your own field. They may ask technical questions that will help them determine whether you are a good fit for the job.
If one of the duties in the job announcement is to interact with patients, a reference checking service will likely ask: How would you describe Mr. X’s interpersonal skills? In contrast, when I (as a member of the hiring team) contact references directly, I ask: Have you seen Mr. X interact with patients? Were the patients comfortable with Mr. X? What areas do you think Mr. X should work on? Are you aware of a time when Mr. X encountered a difficult patient? How did Mr. X react?
To increase your chances of getting a positive reference, let your reference know who will be contacting them. Personally, I tell candidates to notify their references that a member of our hiring team will be contacting them. This helps candidates to verify all contact information.
Email addresses change. People pursue other career paths. Some even leave the country. It is not always possible to keep close contact with your references, especially if your interaction was purely professional. Know your employers’ alternate email addresses (gmail, yahoo). These accounts stay with them.
Jump-Start Your References.
No matter how long you worked for an employer, or how close you were as co-workers, always remind them of who you are. Help them know where you have been and where you are trying to go. The best way to do this is by forwarding your resume.
A word of caution: do not send an attachment the first time you contact them. It automatically comes through as suspicious. The first email should be a simple inquiry, ask how they are doing, and briefly state the reason for contacting them. Let them know you will follow up with an email attachment of your resume.
Whether you hear from them or not, as long as the email address is still active, forward your resume the second time you contact them. It won’t hurt to include a one paragraph summary of the major duties of the job, and some questions they may be asked. They are more likely to speak with conviction if they are prepared. Your resume will show the dates you were employed with them, the duties you performed and publications you contributed to.
It is a fact that qualifications can land you an interview. However, professional references help get you the job. So try to master the art of getting positive professional references. What about personal references? What are best practices for using personal references? Stay tuned.
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