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5 Reference Mistakes That Can Cost You the Job

5 Reference Mistakes That Can Cost You the Job

By Catherine Conlan
Monster Contributing Writer

Your carefully crafted resume got your foot in the door, and you nailed the interview. Don’t mess up your chances of getting hired by making these common mistakes with your references.

Don’t tell your references to expect a call.

While this seems like an easy mistake to prevent, “there are always the reference checks where candidates forgot to tell employers they would be receiving a call,” says Julie Kline, SPHR, executive HR consultant at Prastmark Consulting. It’s a professional courtesy to ask people’s permission to use them as a reference, so they know to expect a call sometimes in the future. If your references respond with surprise and confusion when a potential employer contacts them, it gives the impression that you are unprofessional or disorganized.

Give references that have little relevance or are inappropriate.

An example, Kline says, would be listing the CEO when you were actually 15 steps below C-level on the food chain. Or worse: “I had a candidate who listed his mother as a reference,” she says “I didn't know whether to ask if he made his bed every day or if he was a good listener at home.”

Giving a reference who barely knows you -- or knows you a little too well -- makes potential employers question your judgment, professional networking abilities and past performance. After all, if you don’t want potential employers to talk to past managers, they will automatically wonder what those past managers might say.

Make it hard to contact your references.

“If you don't list different ways that your references can be contacted, it could cost you the job,” says Cheryl Palmer, owner of Call To Career. “It is standard to list phone numbers on your references sheet, but it can also be useful to list email addresses and even Skype usernames if your references are outside the country. Giving employers different ways to contact your references can speed up the process.”

Be sure that your references will be there when you need them, as well. Anastacia Kurylo, president of Fortified Communication Consulting, says she pushed to get some references from a job candidate, but “they would not call us back after leaving several messages. Admittedly we were making the decision quickly; they could have been on vacation. We hired him after finally securing better references and he was fantastic for what we needed. We almost missed out. Candidates should know that their references may not be available to speak when the employer needs them in order to make a hiring decision.”

Don’t prepare your references.

Your references might be from jobs you had a while ago, and they might not know what you’re doing now. If your potential employer feels like you’re not in touch with your references regularly, they may wonder why you listed them.

“If it has been a couple of years since you worked with the people who serve as your references, you may need to update them on what you have been doing as well as what your job target now is,” Palmer says. “A recent copy of your resume can fill in the gaps for your references, and vacancy announcements that are representative of the type of position that you are seeking can give your references more specific information about what aspects of your background they should highlight when talking with employers about you.”

Give a reference without knowing what they might say.

“You should never ask someone to be your reference if you are not sure what they will say about you,” Palmer says. “Employers usually check your references as a last step before they make you an offer. You can't afford to be in a position where you have to guess what your references will say. You should know that they will speak glowingly of you.”

Kline says she called a reference on a candidate once and got the response, “Oh, that [guy]? We canned him three years ago.” Kline says, “The candidate didn’t get the job.”

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