The reference checking process can be quite nerve-wracking.
In a sense, what someone will say about you is out of your control, but by being strategic, you can make the process much less stressful.
In this post, we answer common questions we’re asked about references to help put your mind at ease.
Should I list employment references on my CV?
We don’t recommend listing references on your CV.
You also don’t need to mention that "references are available upon request," as recruiters assume that you’ll have references to provide when asked.
In the early stages of the application process, hiring managers are simply looking to get a high-level understanding of your work experience.
Recruiters will usually ask you to provide references and request your permission to contact them later on in the hiring process.
It’s uncommon for an employer to contact your references prior to speaking with you directly.
You don’t need to feel pressured to provide sensitive information upfront, either: remember that the interview process is a two-way street.
You should be evaluating the employer just as they are evaluating you.
Should I provide references on an online application?
If you are filling out an online application form that requires you to input references right away, you’ll want to provide them.
Large organisations sometimes ask for your referees’ contact information right away, but HR likely won’t reach out to them unless you make it through the initial interview stage.
What should I do before I list someone as a reference?
Before you list someone as a reference, be sure to ask for their permission to do so.
By asking in advance, you’ll be able to gauge if someone sounds excited to speak on your behalf.
If your potential referee is inclined to provide a strong reference, they’ll likely be honoured that you asked and say yes anyway.
If they’re not going to provide a good reference or don’t sound particularly enthused to do so, it’s probably a better option to seek out other alternatives.
Who do I list as a reference if I didn’t leave my last job on good terms?
Bad bosses exist, so it’s completely understandable to leave a job because you were being put under too much pressure, forced into unethical situations or because you simply didn’t see eye to eye.
If this is the case, you might be concerned about who to list as a reference instead.
We encourage you to think about the following acceptable alternatives:
Was there another colleague or supervisor you trust who could vouch for your performance ability?
Do you remain in touch with any of your managers from your previous roles?
Is there a trusted community figure who could attest to your character or work performance?
If you are a recent graduate, are there any former professors you could reach out to?
By the time you are asked to provide references, you should have already established rapport with your hiring manager or interviewers.
If you are specifically asked for a reference from a job that you did not leave on good terms, simply provide a reasonable explanation for why you cannot provide one (without aggressively throwing punches at your former employer).
Any reasonable employer should understand, especially if you provide alternative references.
How do I present my references?
We recommend preparing a reference sheet that outlines the following information for each of your referees:
Brief sentence explaining your relationship ("Mark was my supervisor in my Manager role at Wells Fargo.")
You can print out this sheet and bring it with you to your interview – just in case you are asked.
Even if you end up providing their contact information over the phone or via an online form, it’ll be helpful to have it all in one place and ready to go!
Why do employers ask for references, anyway?
The reference process is simply one additional way for the employer to confirm that the information you provided during the application process is truthful and that the positive impression they gained of you is accurate.
Sometimes a reference check ends up being a quick online form or even a simple confirmation of "did this person work for you between X and Y dates?"
As long as you trust the individuals you provided and have nothing to hide, there isn’t much to be worried about!