What Employers Want in a Reference

Your resume is sparkling; your interview skills are polished. You feel ready to go after that great job. References should be part of your job search strategy, too. Hiring managers are placing increasing importance on references to help whittle down the list of applicants by process of elimination. For many employers, references become the deciding factor in choosing a new hire.

What Employers Want

A 2010 survey of more than 1,000 managers by staffing service OfficeTeam (a Robert Half company) provides some insight into what employers are looking for when contacting references:

  • A large percentage (36 percent) of hiring managers contact references to confirm a candidate’s skills
  • Thirty-one percent of employers want to get a feel for an applicant’s strengths and weaknesses
  • Managers who want to verify titles and dates of employment make up 11 percent of the respondents

The survey also revealed that managers eliminate more than one in every five candidates (21 percent) from consideration just based on the information they receive from provided references. This means that applicants must be very careful whom they list as references. Before sending your resume to a potential employer, here are a few suggestions on how to gather the best references:

Handpick Your References

Be sure that your references will be honest, but present you in a good light. Your best allies are those who have knowledge of your ability to perform particular skills. Consider people who can call out the specifics of different functions to provide the potential employer a well-rounded perspective. For example, one former coworker may be able to speak about your skills as a liaison; another who was under your supervision may be able to answer an employer’s questions about your management style.

Ask First

Enthusiastic references are the best ones, so ask your intended references in advance and get a feel for their willingness to be listed as a contact. Once you have secured great references, send each one a copy of your resume along with the job description you’ve applied to and the name of the person who is likely to make the call. If you plan on using your reference over time, express your gratitude in the form of a note, gift card or other boon, including returning the favor should they be looking for a new job.

Be Thorough

Be prepared to provide all pertinent information on your references at the time of the interview. Include names, titles, contact information and a brief overview of your relationship with each one. Help the hiring manager get a big picture view of your skills by providing as many references as you can. Employers don’t have time to wait for a callback from a reference if one isn’t available. Give the hiring manager more than enough to work with so he or she can use another contact if one can’t be reached.

Social Network Connections

These days, managers search the Internet to get additional information on potential hires. Perform an Internet search on your own name to see what a potential employer might see. Assume that a hiring manager will check out your LinkedIn or other social network profile to gain information. Make sure you’re on good terms with your social network contacts and consider removing those with whom you are not, because you never know who a potential employer will contact.

The job market is very competitive these days. It pays to use every tool in your arsenal to land the job you want. A great set of references could mean the difference between being one of many or standing out from the crowd.