Job applications are incredibly difficult processes to go through, with many hours spent perfecting CVs, writing cover letters and filling out application forms – and that’s without mentioning the hours or even days of stress surrounding interviews.
But you’ve applied for a job and, like everyone else, you’re wondering: what will they ask my old boss? What will they say about my tardiness, long lunches, or propensity to leave early on Fridays? But you needn’t be alarmed. It’s the work you do when you’re there that matters.
If you’ve worked hard and you’ve performed well or handed your work in by the deadlines, your referees will certainly see it that way. What’s more, it’s unlikely that any of the details of your work will be given away by your former employers anyway. Many companies limit the information they give about former employees, so your future bosses will only learn about the nature of your previous role.
So, why bother giving references to future employers at all? Isn’t everything they need already written on your CV?
References are still an integral part of the recruitment process and should be treated by every prospective employee appropriately, as they can have a great impact on how an employer deals with your application. Read on to find out more about what references actually are, why they’re important for you and your employer, and whether employers even check your references anyway.
Table of Contents
- What are References?
- Why Should You Provide References?
- Do Employers Usually Check All References?
- How Do Employers Check References?
What are References?
A reference can be a document, a phone call or an email, that ultimately helps build a bigger picture of yourself as a person as well as an employee so that your future employer knows exactly who you are, what your strengths will be in your new position, and in what areas you might need support. You can write your references directly onto your CV, although these days, that’s not recommended.
Ideally, after reading your CV and performing an interview, your future employer will ask for a number of references to verify the facts on your CV as well as gain a better understanding of you as a worker. By providing references, you’re allowing yourself to stand out from the other candidates your employer is interviewing, so choosing the right references is crucial.
Normally, when asking for references, an employer will ask for professional references, i.e. statements from people whom you’ve previously worked with to determine how you performed in your previous roles as well as confirm the start and end dates of your employment history as well as job titles and responsibilities, but they can also ask for character references.
Character references are more informal documents, usually in the form of a letter, that detail what you’re like to work with, what skills you possess and how you can be an attribute to the company as a character rather than specifically as a result of your skills and qualifications, as with professional references. These can be just as valuable to prospective employers as professional references as they can see how well you will fit with the company culture and gel with the existing team. Having someone you know very closely to write or provide your character reference is ideal as this will have the biggest benefit in making you stand out to the company.
Why Should You Provide References?
Although you would have started your application process by writing your qualifications and work experience on your CV, and proceeded by attending an interview, references are still a very important part of the recruitment process for a number of reasons.
Having third-parties support your application by verifying the facts on your CV gives you credibility as a candidate by confirming your reliability and trustworthiness, while having numerous opinions on your performance as an employee also allows your future employer to know what you are like as a worker. Even if your references work for companies with policies that limit the amount of information given as references, since most reference checks are carried out over the phone, a lot can be conveyed by the tone of voice of the individual giving the reference.
As well as benefiting your future employer, providing references also allows you to have some control over the information that is being shared about you, which increases your chances of standing out among other candidates by highlighting your best qualities and skills.
Do Employers Usually Check All References?
Every employer has a different recruitment process and various time constraints according to the nature of their business and how involved they are themselves in the hiring of new employees. However, the majority of employers will check all of your references, not just a couple, as it is in their best interests to gain a broad range of opinions on their final few prospective employees.
What’s more, it’s also in your best interests as a candidate to assume that employers check all references, as it would be devastating to your application to be caught in a lie on your CV. You may think they’ll choose one or two of your references to contact to save them time but each of the references you list has something different and valuable to offer them. Every job you have has different roles and responsibilities as well as different team members.
They may not be able to get every bit of information out of your references, but they’ll likely still try to obtain details of how you work with other colleagues or on your own, what programs you’re used to using, if relevant, and the reasons for which you left each job. This is to ensure that they have the perfect candidate for the job.
Employee turnover is expensive, so the more time employers spend choosing the best candidate, the better it is for them in the long run. Of course, there’s no guarantee that once you start working for them, you’ll remain working for the company for many years – you might get scouted by another, better paying, or more conveniently located company, but that’s a risk any employer has to take. Spending time choosing the best candidate reduces the chance of them employing someone who is ill-matched for the team or unqualified for the position.
How Do Employers Check References?
When companies receive a CV, or a response to a job advertisement, they are looking for someone who speaks to them. They might be looking for someone who speaks their language, walks their walk, or talks their talk, but they also want someone qualified. They’ll look into your qualifications, previous positions, and attempt to learn more about you in your interview.
Only when they have chosen you, or created a shortlist, will they take the next step of asking for your references. Whether it is your future employer themselves, or, more likely, the HR department, who requests your references, the individual will contact each reference you have provided, establish their authority, review the information they have provided and ultimately, qualify your reference.
To test your integrity, it is likely that despite asking you to provide contact details, your references will be contacted via details found through other means, to ensure that they really are who you say they are and not, for example, a friend pretending to be an old boss in order to sing your praises. You should be aware that this is easily found out by HR employees who have a great deal of knowledge of the hiring process, and so should refrain from falsifying any details in your job application, however minor they may seem to you.
Future employers will also ask for your permission before contacting your current employer, however if you are concerned about the consequences of your current employer finding out about your desire to leave the company, you should make it clear that you do not want them to be contacted.
At the end of the day, it’s important to choose real references and to choose them wisely. A reference can be the difference between getting to the final interview stage and getting the job, so always be honest, and make sure your references are going to represent you well. Crucially, make sure they’re aware that they’re your references!
Nothing says ill-prepared more to an employer than contacting a candidate’s reference and hearing stunned silence over the phone. However, you needn’t be worried if you don’t have many references, especially ones that can provide detailed information about you as an employee.
The person looking to employ you wants to see whether you made a connection with the people that interviewed you, display qualities that they feel are necessary within their teams and ultimately, that you feel like a good fit for their company.