What employers want from job references

The reference check can really be what makes (or breaks) a job search. Here's what employers want to know from your references.

What employers want from job references

Your references should speak to the value you bring to a job.

A great resume and solid interview skills may place job seekers in the running for a position, but a survey conducted by OfficeTeam, a leading staffing service, finds that the results of a reference check can really be what makes—or breaks—a job search.

Hiring managers interviewed for the survey said they remove about 21% of candidates from consideration after speaking to their professional references. 

Managers also were asked, "When speaking to an applicant's job references, what is the most important information you hope to receive?" Their responses:

  • Description of past job duties and experience: 36%
  • A view into the applicant's strengths and weaknesses: 31%
  • Confirmation of job title and dates of employment: 11%
  • Description of workplace accomplishments: 8%
  • A sense of the applicant's preferred work culture: 7%
  • Other/don't know: 7%

"When hiring managers narrow the field to a few potential candidates, the reference check often becomes the deciding factor," says OfficeTeam executive director Robert Hosking. "To distinguish themselves from the competition, job seekers should assemble a solid list of contacts who can persuasively communicate their qualifications and professional attributes."

OfficeTeam offers five tips for creating a reference list that works in your favor:

Choose wisely

Select people who can discuss your abilities and experience that directly relate to the position, not just those with the most impressive job titles. Offer a mix of contacts who can address different aspects of your background; for example, a former peer may be able to describe your interpersonal skills, while a past direct report can talk about your management style.

Check in beforehand

Always call potential references first to get their permission and evaluate their eagerness to talk to hiring managers. Be sure to give all references a copy of your resume, the job description and the name of the person who will likely call.

Be prepared

Provide clear contact information for your references, including their names, titles, daytime phone numbers and email addresses. Also, offer a brief explanation of the nature of your relationship with each individual. Consider supplying more references than are requested, so you won't miss out on the job offer if the hiring manager can't get in touch with one of your contacts.

Think outside the box

It's common for employers to seek out additional references for new hires—either online or through their own networks. Since you never know to whom a hiring manager might reach out, you should not only remain on good terms with your past supervisors and colleagues (if possible), but also be selective about who's in your online network.

Give thanks

Express your gratitude to people who agree to serve as references, even if they aren't contacted by employers. Keep them updated on the progress of your job search and offer to return the favor by providing a recommendation should they need one.