Do references matter in a job search?

When a company requests references with a job application, you might be tempted to skip it, thinking, “Doesn’t my work history speak for itself? Won’t my references all just say good things about me? Do employers even call references?” However, according to a new study from CareerBuilder, employers definitely pay attention to what your references say. In fact, 69 percent of employers say they’ve changed their minds about a candidate after speaking with a reference.

The national study surveyed hiring managers, human resource professionals and workers across industries and company sizes to get a better look at what matters when it comes to references. Check out what references are really saying about you, what hiring managers know and how to get rave reviews.

What hiring managers and employers know
References do matter to potential employers, and they come up earlier in the hiring process than you may think. According to the study, 80 percent of employers said they do contact references when evaluating potential employees. Sixteen percent of those employers will contact references even before they call the candidate for a job interview

What your references say about you could make or break a job offer. Sixty-nine percent of employers said they have changed their minds about a candidate after speaking with a reference, with 47 percent reporting they had a less favorable opinion, and 23 percent reporting they had a more favorable opinion.

However, not everybody is convinced references matter. Thirty-one percent of those surveyed said references haven’t swayed their decisions on a candidate one way or the other.

What job seekers should know
It may take extra time to gather contact information and include it in your job application materials, but hiring managers do notice the quality of references, as well as their existence: 29 percent of employers who have contacted references reported that they have caught a fake reference on a candidate’s application. When a reference is contacted by a potential employer, it’s not always guaranteed he or she will sing your praises: 62 percent of employers who contacted a reference listed on an application said the reference didn’t have good things to say about the candidate.

You can improve your odds of getting a great review by simply notifying your references and mentioning what type of job you’re looking for. Don’t surprise your references and risk a short, uninformative review. Fifteen percent of workers reported that they have listed someone as a reference, but didn’t tell that person.

How many references should you include? Seventy percent of workers reported that they provide three or more references when applying to jobs. Ten percent said they typically don’t provide any references, which can be a huge mistake in a job search. Leaving references off of a job application runs the risk of telling hiring managers that your past employers and clients wouldn’t recommend you.

The bottom line is that most employers notice references, which means it’s important to choose yours carefully. “You want to make sure you are including your biggest cheerleaders among your job references,” says Rosemary Haefner, vice president of human resources at CareerBuilder.  “Before choosing someone, ask yourself ‘Did this person understand my full scope of responsibilities? Can he or she vouch for my skills, accomplishments and work ethic?’  You also want to make sure that you ask your former colleagues if you can list them as a reference.  If someone is unwilling, it helps you to avoid a potentially awkward or damaging interaction with an employer of interest.”

To learn more about the purpose and benefits for references, check out our CareerBuilder video with even more info:


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