Here's How to Prepare Your References for HR's Call

The HR Department Will Appreciate Your Advance Preparation

Woman who is prepping her references for HR's call to check references.
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Prepping your references can make all the difference in whether you get the job you want—or not. A positive reference check is a priority in the hiring decisions of many employers. A reference check is their only opportunity to receive, hopefully frank, direct feedback about you and your history of job performance.

This information is essential as your prospective Human Resources department makes the determination that your skills and experience will be a good fit for the job.

They also need to know whether your professionalism and work style are a good fit for their company culture.

How to Properly Prepare Your References

Several steps can significantly help you prepare your potential references to truly reinforce your professionalism and competence when they are contacted by prospective HR departments or bosses.

  • To prepare your references properly, ask to make sure that the individual wants to serve as a reference for you. If the person agrees, tell them what areas of your strengths and contributions you'd like them to emphasize when they are called by prospective employers. This will help them know what to say so that they can help you land your dream job.
  • Ask your references what they will say about you when the call comes from HR. You will appreciate knowing what your reference believes positively about you. Their thoughts also tell you what the background checker will find.
  • Do make sure that your references are prepared to respond favorably when the potential employer calls to do a reference check. Ask your references if they'd like a heads up from you when you expect HR will call them. Some will so that they feel adequately prepared; others are comfortable talking off the cuff when called to support your candidacy. Most won't, but asking is smart.

    Your call to your references to discuss these three matters gives you the opportunity to emphasize how important their timely response is to your job search. It also gives you the opportunity to describe the job, why you want the job, and how they can help you obtain the job.

    Reference Checking Gone Awry

    A midwestern manufacturing company had eliminated the competition and settled upon two candidates for their open job. Both candidates were superficially well-qualified. However, reference checks and background checks are a critical component before making any job offer.

    They started with a reference check of their preferred candidate. She had the field to herself until it took the company three weeks to check her references. A second qualified candidate had also come to their attention during this extended reference check time period.

    What did the primary candidate do wrong? She included no reference phone numbers on her application nor on her resume. Her listed references were coworkers, not bosses, so HR had to dig for the numbers of her former supervisors.

    Indeed, HR had to dig for the phone numbers of her listed references. Several references never returned the company's phone calls for over two weeks.

    HR finally had to loop the candidate in to get her help to contact the references. She should have been on this before HR started calling to check the references. Her references should have known that they would receive calls.

    They should have been informed about how important their participation was in the decision about whether the candidate would receive a job offer. The reference checks and their preparation should have been a priority for the candidate.

    Instead, she let another candidate get her foot in the door and she lost her stated dream job. The primary candidate truly blew it. The second candidate, who was identified during the reference checking delay, was hired for the position.

    The employer kindly provided feedback to the candidate who was initially their first choice. Hopefully, she took it to heart and changes her approach to managing and sharing her references.

    Final Thoughts on Prepping References

    Prep your references. Make sure they know that you expect the potential employer will call. According to Alison Doyle, Job Search Expert:

    "According to a Society for Human Resource Management  (SHRM) survey more than eight of ten human resource professionals said that they regularly conduct reference checks for professional (89%), executive (85%), administrative (84%) and technical (81%) positions. Regular reference checks were less likely, but still probable, for skilled-labor, part-time, temporary and seasonal positions. Information routinely provided to references checkers by surveyed employers included dates of employment, eligibility for rehire, salary history, and employability."

    These are the types of questions the potential employer will ask when they call your references.

    Make sure that your references are ready to answer these questions—in a timely, optimistic, positive, honest, open manner. Tell your references to please chat up your strengths. They can make all of the difference in whether you get your dream job.