Reference Checking: What If One of Your References Is Not Available?
A reader wrote to ask what to do about one of her references who is no longer available, although she was when the original reference list was first put together. Similarly, you might be dealing with a reference who said he would help but then becomes mysteriously unavailable when the employer tries to contact him. So what if anything can you do in these circumstances?
When a reference disappears
Not literally disappears of course, but sometimes a person you're counting on may become unavailable for personal reasons, and they tell you about it. In the case of my reader, she had a former manager who was happy to vouch for her. But when it was time to get the call from the potential employer, that person wound up being scheduled to go to the hospital for an operation. She and the hiring manager played phone tag right before the surgery, but then there was silence – from the reference as well as the hiring manager.
And my reader wasn't sure if the hiring manager was satisfied having called her other two references, or if she was waiting until that third reference became available again. Or did it knock her out of the running?
Other job seekers have told me that, despite having taken the time to check with their references (a must for any job seeker), when it was actually time for the reference checks, their reference didn't return the call. After all that waiting for an interview and then waiting some more for a real job offer, this would drive any job seeker crazy! (Having been on the hiring side many times, it also drives us nuts.)
So what should you do?
My reader felt that she had been in touch quite a bit and was worried that she would be pushing it to try to get some feedback from the hiring manager at this point. She felt very uncomfortable that the reference she gave was causing problems. So there she was, stuck in "not knowing" land. But this is not the same as a pleasant thank you or follow-up note. This is about making sure that the employer has what they need to proceed – and that you get what you deserve. Your best bet is to try to minimize misunderstandings and help solve any problems, but ONLY if the employer wants your help. So tread lightly here … but definitely take action.
While it's essential that you check every reference and their contact information right BEFORE you submit them (see sample reference sheet below), things do happen. So as soon as you find out there is a problem with the availability of one or more contacts, get in touch with the hiring manager or the person you connected with most during the interview process and let them know.
Then ask what (if anything) you can do to help them get what they need, should they feel another reference is essential. Show them that you are positive and resourceful – and help them get what they need as quickly and smoothly as possible. These things happen, and a good employer makes room for flexibility. Then again, if they are unwilling to bend, you may have lucked out by finding this out now.
Need more help?
It helps to present yourself well all the way through the interview process. And if there are some potential reference issues, it's even more important to be informed and to leave the best impression possible. Here are some more articles to help you, plus a professional references sheet to use as a template: