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What recruiters really do with professional references

You've gathered your references, but now you're wondering just how deep do those conversations go with the recruiter? We have the answer.

What recruiters really do with professional references

This is what recruiters and your references talk about.

You’ve aced your interviews and the job is almost yours, but the fate of your employment could rest in the hands of others: your professional references. Just when you thought the hiring process couldn’t get more nerve-wracking, it does. You’re left wondering: “What will my reference say about me? What will the recruiter ask about? Did I say something wrong?”

You’re not crazy—yes, recruiters and references are talking about you behind your back, but it’s all part of the hiring process. A study by online reference-checking provider SkillSurvey found that reference checking is the second most-used candidate screening or assessment method, with 86% of reference checks being conducted before a company extends an offer.

With all that talking happening behind your back, surely you’ve been curious about what recruiters really do during a reference check—and we’ve got the answers.

Recruiters ask references to judge your skills

Reference checks give recruiters the chance to speak with your former manager or co-workers in order to learn more about your work history, performance, and professionalism. So how do they go about this? Jenny Foss, a career strategist and recruiter based in Portland, Oregon, explains that, when conducting a reference check, her agency uses a checklist that asks the reference to rank each specific skill and strength they call out, with an explanation for their rating.

“This way, the person can’t just say, 'Yes, she’s great. She will do great,’” Foss says.

Recruiters ask references to fact-check what you’ve already told them

When a recruiter calls a reference, they aren’t just looking to hear good things about you. Rather, they’re digging deep into their research to determine if the way you’ve represented yourself aligns with your previous employer’s assessment of your performance. In other words, have you been lying to them?

According to Carlie Smith, director of talent management at Circle, a crypto finance company in Boston, conducting a reference call also provides an opportunity for recruiters to ask questions about a red flag or concern that has arisen during the hiring process.

If your reference gives you a bad recommendation, this could impact your chances, which is why Foss advises you to always touch base with your professional references before having a potential employer contact them.

“Candidates should specifically ask their reference, ‘Can I count on you to give me a favorable reference?’ If there’s any hesitation, pick someone else,” she says.

Recruiters ask references what you’re like in the office

Whom you list as a reference matters. Smith explains that recruiters want to find out the reference’s relationship to the candidate to gauge the quality of the data they are providing.

That’s why it’s recommended you provide professional references who have worked alongside you or directly managed you as an employee because this helps recruiters understand what it’s like to work with you.

If you provide this type of reference, Smith says recruiters will ask the following types of questions: How would this person best be managed? In what areas will he or she need additional coaching or support? How far do you see this person growing professionally?

Recruiters just want to learn more about you and make sure that, before handing you an offer, they truly believe you are the right fit for the company.

Remember this: When a hiring company makes a call to your references, it’s almost always a good sign—so you can breathe easy. A reference check typically means a hiring manager is near-ready to extend an offer to a candidate, and they want one final confirmation that you are the right fit for their team, Foss says.

Present yourself professionally

If you're asking a reference to say good things about you, it helps to show them an impressive resume as a way to point out some possible talking points. Could you use some help with that? Get a free resume evaluation today from the experts at Monster's Resume Writing Service. You'll get detailed feedback in two business days, including a review of your resume's appearance and content, and a prediction of a recruiter's first impression. Monster's experts can show you how to highlight your skills and achievements, which you can then point to when asking a reference to vouch for your awesomeness.

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