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How to Pass the Reference Check

You did it!  You managed to get the employer's attention with your carefully-written resume and you wowed them at the interview.  They just need to check your references and the job is yours!  You are so close that you can taste it!  Don't crack the champagne yet; you still have some work to do.  The reference check is a very real part of the selection process.  Here are a few tips that will help you be successful:

Get good quality references.  Put yourself in the employer's shoes; who would you consider to be the most credible references?  Chances are, your family and friends would be willing to say anything to get you the job!  However, a previous employer or professor might be more objective.  Try to find at least two supervisor references.  If you don't have two, a previous colleague is also considered to be a professional reference.       

Talk to your references first.  Give your references a heads up before you pass on their contact information.  Make sure that they are okay with being your reference and tell them about the key skills and attributes of the position you are seeking.  This allows you to ensure that your reference is reachable (not away on vacation) and it allows your reference to prepare for the employer's call. 

Ask your reference for their feedback.  It is not a good idea to have a reference speak about you to potential employers without having at least some idea of what they will say.  When you are letting them know that you are using them as a reference, ask for their feedback.  What do they perceive to be your strengths and weaknesses?  How do they think you will perform at this particular job?  Just because they seem to like you does not mean that they will give you a good reference.  You need to ask the question.     

Show appreciation.  Your references are invaluable to you.  They are usually the last hurdle you have to clear before you get offered the job.  You need them and in addition to giving you their valuable time, they are putting their credibility on the line by recommending you.  Don't forget to show your appreciation.  Send them a thank you card whenever they give you a reference (whether you get the job or not). 

Stay in touch.  Nobody likes the person who only calls when they need something.  Don't be like that.  Reach out to your references every once in a while just to say hello.  Send them a birthday card and ask about their lives.  Also, you want to make sure that you always have their up-to-date contact information so that you don't lose touch with them. 

Getting to the reference-checking stage is a huge accomplishment.  You had to overcome a lot of barriers to get here.  Just stay focused and a job offer won't be far behind. 

(Written by Karen Bivand, Image Courtesy of David Castillo Dominici at