Employers Really Do Check References

By Jill Berman Levy, RIMS Director of Membership and Chapter Services

There tends to be a general feeling among job applicants that they are “free” to enhance their resumes by using titles they did not receive, quoting compensation figures that exceeded what they actually got or listing degrees or certificates they have not completed.  Why?  Because there’s a general belief that companies seek out information ONLY from those listed by the candidate as references and that’s not the case.

References Do’s

Of course, references are important and you will want to spend time making sure the references you are listing are appropriate.  First, there is no need to provide personal references;  you need only provide professional references who are familiar with your work. 

Second, the more recent your references, the better.  If it’s been five or six years since you worked with a reference, their ability to provide insights on your current skills is limited.  And the question of why you can’t provide a more recent reference may stick in the mind of the HR person.

Third, it is rarely necessary to provide more than two-three references.  You don’t need to provide more than that but ideally, the references will be chosen to map to the type of position you are applying for.  For instance, if you are applying for a risk management position, references from risk managers will have more impact than references from an accounting professional unless you and the accountant have worked hand-in-glove together.

Fourth, reach out to your references and ask them to be very candid with you.  If they don’t feel they can give you an outstanding reference, you don’t want to use them.  If they are so busy or out of the office so frequently that they cannot respond to a reference request quickly, don’t use them.  And whenever you provide their name to a potential employer, make sure to let your references know to expect a call (if possible, provide the name of the person and company that will be contacting them) and provide them with as detailed a job description as possible so they will know what the inquiring person will want to know about you.

Fifth, while it is likely that a potential employer will not call your references until they have reduced the candidate pool to one or two top people, don’t assume that that’s the only time they will reach out for information about you.

Other Information Sources

In this era of instant communications and social networking, it’s likely that a potential employer will check you out, even before you are called in for an interview.  Are you listed on LinkedIn?  Do you have a Facebook  or MySpace page? Have you been blogging on LiveJournal? 

While social networking sites can be a great way to network without ever leaving your desk, remember that if you can see other’s sites, they can see yours too.  Is there anything on your site(s) that you wouldn’t want a prospective employer to see?  If so, now would be an optimum time to revise your site, remove personal photos and hide or delete the kind of postings that might reflect poorly on you as a professional.

While you may be asked for references, don’t assume that those are the only people a prospective employer might contact.  In today’s litigious society, many companies bar their employees from giving references.  At RIMS, any request for references is automatically directed to our HR manager who will only verify that the individual was a RIMS employee and confirm the dates of employment;  she will provide no additional information.  So hiring managers will seek out other opportunities to obtain background information about a candidate.

Ours is a global economy and people change jobs and network quite a bit – it’s likely that a prospective employer or someone in his/her company would know someone who knows you professionally – either at your present employer or through networking.  And if you think they won’t reach out and inquire about you from someone who knows you but is not a formal reference, think again!!  One way to limit this is to maintain control of your resume – know to whom you are sending it and ask for confidentiality.  A phrase such as “As I am still a valued employee at my present firm, I would appreciate your keeping this application in confidence” will make the recipient think twice before violating your privacy.  But if you are responding to “blind” ads, either online or through a publication, there is no way to control who is seeing your resume. 

If you are working with a recruiter, make sure he/she does not send out your resume about any openings until they get your permission.  If you are still working, you will want to be careful about where your resume is sent.  In addition, if you have already sent your resume to a company, let the recruiter know as she is unable to collect a fee from the company if she is not the first one to send your resume in for a particular position.

You would be wise to see what’s online about you, too.  You should use the most popular search engines to see how you are listed on the Internet.  You certainly should conduct searches using Google, Yahoo, Live Search and ask.com to see what’s out there;  and don’t forget to use a variety of search names if you use different variations of  your name (with or without a middle name, with or without a middle initial, etc).

Forewarned is forearmed

Applying for a position is much different now that it was just a few years ago.  Networking has become global and it seems that there is more and more personal and professional information available on most of us than ever before. While references still play an important role in the job search, be aware that the information that is obtained more informally may play a significant role in what a prospective employer knows about you.  The more you can control what he might know, the better off you will be.

© 2009 Risk and Insurance Management Society, Inc.