Most job-seekers understand that the application process requires them to provide potential employers with a wide variety of details about their education and work history. Applicants are also typically asked to provide the names and contact information for several references that the hiring manager or recruiter can call to learn more about the potential hire.
Have you ever wondered what types of questions hiring managers and recruiters ask when they call your references? It’s an important thing to know, to ensure that you only list references who will provide answers that boost your chances of getting hired!
(By the way, keep in mind that you shouldn't list references on a resume. More on this below).
Why Are References Needed?
Your potential employer really doesn’t know all that much about you. Resumes and interviews do provide some insight, but they’re no real indication of how well you might perform in the actual job setting. After all, applicants are typically so well-rehearsed these days that it’s only natural for hiring managers to want to learn more about you from other sources. By calling your references, that hiring manager can learn more about your real work history and record of accomplishments.
Will the Hiring Manager Really Call those References?
Of course, references are not always called. Some companies almost never call your previous employer. Others always make that call. That’s why it’s important for you to always assume that the references you list on your application will receive a call.
So, make sure that you include accurate contact information to ensure that the hiring manager can connect with any of those references he or she decides to call.
What Questions Will They Ask Your References?
You should familiarize yourself with some of the most common questions asked by hiring managers, so that you only list references who are most likely to give favorable responses.
While there can be a great deal of variance in the actual wording of the questions that get asked, most hiring managers and recruiters are seeking information about three main areas of interest:
Specific questions employers usually ask your references:
Can you please verify the employee’s employment dates, role in the company, and title?
What was the employee’s salary when hired, and how often did he or she receive increases in that salary?
What responsibilities was the employee given during his time of employment? Were those responsibilities completed to the company’s satisfaction? How often did that employee exceed expectations?
What specific strengths did that employee bring to the table? Did he have any weaknesses?
How well did this employee get along with your other employees? Did he or she fit in well with the company’s culture? Were there any disciplinary problems or other disruptions caused by his employment?
Please describe the employee’s advancement progress within your company. Were there promotions, or was he in the same position during his time there?
Why did the employee leave your employment? If given the opportunity, would you rehire him today?
How Should Your References Respond to Those Questions?
As important as those questions might seem, their importance pales in comparison to the answers that your references provide. After all, answers that paint a negative impression of your work record could be devastating to your chances of getting hired for that prime job you’re seeking. So, how should those references respond to these and other questions? That’s simple: you want your references to provide positive answers about your time with their companies.
Of course, that’s easier said than done, right? At first glance, it might seem as though you have few options available to you when it comes to managing the reference process. Thankfully, nothing could be further from the truth. There are some steps that you can take to ensure that the references you provide work in your favor, helping you to lock down that job you so desperately want. Always remember to do the following:
Make sure that your references are expecting a possible call. That can help to avoid a situation where a surprise call results in ill-considered comments about your work record.
Only give out the names of people with whom you’ve maintained some sort of contact over the years. If it’s been some time since you’ve been in touch with an ex-employer, be sure to update that person on your career advancement, and specific areas of accomplishment and growth. This re-connection can help to ensure that your reference has a positive image of you when that call comes through.
Never list someone as a reference if you’re not totally certain that you know what that person is going to say about you. There’s an old adage in the legal profession that says that lawyers should never ask questions when they don’t already know the answer. That same principle applies here as well.
Don’t be afraid to provide some subtle coaching to those references so that they know which traits your prospective employer is interested in seeing. That prior preparation can help to guide the answers that your references provide to those important hiring manager questions.
When an employer calls your references does that mean you are likely to get hired?
Although there is no grantee that you're going to get hired - it is a good sign. It usually means they're seriously considering making you an offer and they're just trying to verify a few things before they do.
In short, never take the reference portion of your application process for granted. Solid reference responses could make all the difference in the world when it comes to helping you win the job of your dreams!
As we mentioned before - Never include references on your resume. You should instead have a separate references pages ready should the employer ask. We wrote a good post with a references page template you could use.
The ZipJob team is made up of professional writers located across the USA and Canada with backgrounds in HR, recruiting, career coaching, job placement, and professional writing.