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Why you're rolling the dice when you don't give your reference a heads-up

This last stage of the hiring process is pretty important. Don’t blow it at the very end.

Why you're rolling the dice when you don't give your reference a heads-up

The hiring process can be long and daunting. And just when you think you’re in the clear after that third round interview—and even sometimes after you’re extended a job offer—there’s still one last hurdle to overcome: the reference.

Recruiters and hiring managers routinely conduct reference checks to weed out bad hires and to determine if an applicant is lying. (Believe it or not, more than 50% of people actually stretch the truth on their resumes.)

Now, you might figure that you don’t have to worry about these things. You’re a great hire, and you’re telling the whole truth and nothing but the truth. You assume your references will give you a glowing recommendation that will convince the recruiter you’re The One.

Don’t be so sure. Here’s what to do to make sure that one phone call doesn’t reference can sour what good will you’ve earned so far in the hiring process.

You want your references to be recent

As much as you might love your college professor, the manager from your first job, these people may not be the most appropriate for the position you’re going after.

“When selecting a reference from earlier in your career, that reference will be providing information about a person they know from X years ago,” says Adrian Ridner, co-founder & CEO of

Your strengths and weaknesses have most likely changed since your high-school days, so you want to provide your possible new employer with the most up to date, accurate information on who you are today. Choose a recent prior manager or a senior colleague, or at the very least, a co-worker who was lateral to you and who can speak to your professional skills and strengths.

You want your references to be ready

“You definitely want to make sure that you’ve communicated with any references you plan to provide in your job hunt so they’re not caught off-guard if a potential employer reaches out to them,” says Ray Bixler, CEO of SkillSurvey, an online reference checking provider.

Can you think of anything more cringe-worthy than your reference saying “sorry, I don’t remember that person?” or “wait, who?” Talk about a bad first impression.

You want to your reference to be informed

You could send your chosen reference a quick “FYI” email, but even then you don’t know the result when that future boss makes that call.

Experts say you should at the very least call your reference not only to inform him or her of your intent but also to fill them in on where your life has gone since the two of you last spoke. Also, this call gives you the chance to read the person’s tone—are they excited about giving you a recommendation, or do they sound annoyed at the thought of it?

Ridner says a phone call allows you to both ask if they will serve as a reference for you, and gives you the opportunity to explain the position and why you want the job. Providing them with that information sets them up to give you a good recommendation that is targeted at the position. You can also ask how and when the person prefers to be contacted.

Says Ridner, “The more you prepare them, the better outcome this reference check will have.”

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