Some time after your job interview and before any offer can be made, most employers will try to get in touch with your references. But what if they can’t contact them? Will that keep you from getting a job offer? Is there anything you need to do beforehand to make sure this doesn’t happen?
Some reasons an employer can’t reach your references
As someone who has done reference checking, this can be a real make or break moment for a potential hire. Even candidates we love still have to get past the reference-checking part of the hiring process.
So what kinds of things can get in the way of a successful contact?
- The reference’s phone number is wrong
- Their alternate contact information (such as email) is wrong
- The person doesn’t work there any more and no one knows how to contact them
- The employer reaches them but they don’t remember you
- No one returns the voice mail message
What you need to do to prevent this from happening
Even if you’ve done all you can to make sure that you are giving a potential employer a list of current and valid references, things can happen. But there are some things you can do to increase the chances of the employer actually reaching your references – and of getting a solid reference that will help!
- Make sure you have at least 3 people you worked for who can speak to your qualifications. (A co-worker can sometimes be a good alternative, but do your best to list mostly former or current bosses.)
- Pick people whom you know for sure will speak well of you, if at all possible.
- Contact each one before listing them, and make sure they are willing to be a reference for you.
- If they’ve changed jobs, they can still be a reference; just make a note of that on your reference sheet.
- Check carefully to make sure you have the right phone number(s)/email address for each one.
- Let them know which specific job(s) you’re interviewing for and/or the general job category so they won’t be surprised.
- Ask if there’s any interview advice they’d like to give you.
- Thank them for being a reference. (And make sure to let them know and thank them again if you get the job.)
A few more thoughts
Although some people look at a reference sheet as just something to throw together, a reference list needs time and attention. How you prepare your list (even the look of it), how accurate the information is, and how reachable the references are all reflect directly on you – and the type of effort you might put into your work if hired.
Is it a legal requirement to give a reference? No. Your past employers are not legally required to give a reference, let alone a good reference. Remember to speak with each reference before you share their contact information – you don’t want to catch anyone off-guard and cost yourself a great employment opportunity.
Can you get a bad reference from an employer? Getting a bad reference from an employer is rare, but it’s not illegal to give a poor review. Most employers and colleagues are unlikely to give a poor reference. However, you can increase the likeliness of a glowing review by asking your former supervisors and coworkers if they’ll be your references. Letting your colleagues know ahead of a recruiter’s call give them time to focus on your past successes.
What can an employer say about former employees? An employer should, at the minimum, confirm your dates of employment. However, a reference can legally share as much information as they choose about you and your tie with their company. Therefore, it’s important that you maintain a strong work ethic and positive reputation in order to ensure a strong reference.
So do your best to find good references who can be contacted. Double check the contact info. And prepare each one for the calls so they will be more likely to take the time to get back to the employer – and give you a reference you can be proud of.