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If a potential employer asks for your references, you’re in luck. That means you’re onto the next step of the hiring process! Very few job seekers make it to this stage, so your odds of getting hired are high.

Despite feeling good, let’s make sure to put our best foot forward during this critical stage. It’s important that you respond swiftly with a list of quality references. Check out these tips to help guide you through the reference check process! Still looking for a job? Be sure to check out our resume tips and interview tips, too.

1. Take it seriously

It may surprise you, but professionals say that one in five job candidates lose consideration during an interview process due to their reference checks. Take this part of the job process as seriously as you take resume and interview. Every step is critical.

2. Don’t treat it as optional

Back in the day, reference checks were optional. They have evolved passed a simple formality and are now a serious part of the job process. Reference checks provide crucial information about your performance as an employee.

Always have a list of references ready when going into an interview.

3. Be prepared for reference checks at any time

The appropriate time to conduct a reference check depends on the employer. Some employers may choose to check references prior to the interview. They use reference checks as a way to weed out candidates.

Other employers may choose to conduct reference checks after the interview. Either way, it’s your job to be prepared with references at any time!

4. Keep a list

As you move through your career, keep a list of past and current colleagues, professors, bosses, and coworkers that could provide great references for you. When leaving a job, make sure to double check that these people agree to be references in the future. Keep this list handy and update when appropriate.

5. Select wisely

A good rule of thumb is to rank your choice of references in this order: your current manager(s), your prior manager(s), your current peers or clients, and finally, your prior peers and clients. This is the order that most hiring managers prefer.

6. Include the right information

A reference check document should include your references’ names, a brief description of their relationship to you, and their current contact information. Steer clear of providing potential employers with your references’ home numbers, personal emails or cell phone numbers.

Privacy is serious business and you don’t want to put the hiring manager in an awkward position. Always double check with your references that you are providing the most appropriate contact information.

7. Limit your references

Start by making a list of every potential reference you may have. Narrow it down to three to five people who can give the most well-rounded and positive references for you. Select people that can speak to your work product and your contribution to a company’s culture.

Pro-tip: if possible, select people with an upbeat personality so that they sound excited when speaking about you!

8. Ask references directly

Always ask for references directly. In person or on the phone is best so you can gauge how excited the potential reference is to refer you. Explain the job and what it requires, and remind your potential reference about your past work experience and qualifications.

Ask the person if they can give you a positive reference. If there is any sort of silence or hesitation, choose another reference.

9. Prepare your references

Provide your references with a copy of the job description, an overview of the role, and the main responsibilities you’ll have. This will come in handy when the employer calls them.

Take the time to explain some background information about the hiring manager that will be calling them, if possible. This will keep your references updated and prepared for the call.

10. Always contact potential references first

Never list people as references without telling them. This could annoy them and work against you if they give you a negative review. Giving your reference a heads up will give them time to prepare for their important role.

11. Never include references on your resume

Now that reference checks are widely accepted in the interview process, keep it off your resume. It wastes precious space and could distract the employer from your qualifications. Just keep references available in case the employer requests them.

12. Never include family members

Unless you worked directly with a family member in a company or business, avoid using them as references. Instead, choose people that can give an objective opinion based on your job performance. Family may be able to do this, but it’s much less likely.

If you’d like to include a family member as a reference, ask potential employers if it’s okay to include personal references first.

13. Never ever give fake names

This should be obvious, but don’t ever include a fake name and ask your friend to fill that role. Employers aren’t stupid. Don’t risk the chance of this coming back to haunt you!

14. Show your gratitude

Once you get a job offer, don’t forget about your references! Thank him or her with a phone call, thank you note or small gift. Always offer to return the favor, if needed.

Even if you don’t get the job, thank them anyway. This will maintain a positive relationship for future job opportunities.

15. Think outside the box

Are you a recent college graduate or someone with little work experience? No problem! Contact people that you have worked on community service or volunteer projects with.

If you just graduated, reach out to your professors or classmates in the professional world. Anyone who can speak to your ability to produce quality work will do the trick.

16. Ask ahead

Ask potential employers what they would like more clarity on from references. Be sure to specify that you are asking to help line up the best references for their specific interest. This will increase the relevancy of your reference check.

17. Be resourceful

Applying for a job with little experience in the field? Don’t fret. Think of past experiences that helped you develop professional responsibilities and transferrable skills. The people you worked with can speak to your ability to grow as a professional.

18. Establish a common ground

Try to find commonalities between the potential employer and the people you choose as references. Figure out if they have worked at the same company, went to the same university, or even share a hobby. If they are able to connect when talking about you, it will produce a richer and more positive reference check.

19. Explain negative references

Negative references should not come as a surprise. If you had a manager who fired you or someone gave you a poor performance review, be prepared to explain the situation.

Honesty in the best policy when a potential employer asks to contact these people (or does behind your back). Should this situation arise, be prepared to offer alternative references within the company.

20. If you haven’t given your notice, avoid references from your current job

If you must select references from your current job, choose wisely. Be transparent to select people about why this is an opportunity that can help you grow as a professional.

21. Provide references from within the last five years

Limit your references to people you have worked within the last five years. People mature and change over time.

Selecting references from earlier in your career might not give an accurate representation of your capabilities. People who worked with you more recently will also be able to remember important details about you to help you shine.

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