Do references matter in a job search?

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When a company requests references with a job application, you might be tempted to skip it, thinking, “Doesn’t my work history speak for itself? Won’t my references all just say good things about me? Do employers even call references?” However, according to a new study from CareerBuilder, employers definitely pay attention to what your references say. In fact, 69 percent of employers say they’ve changed their minds about a candidate after speaking with a reference.

The national study surveyed hiring managers, human resource professionals and workers across industries and company sizes to get a better look at what matters when it comes to references. Check out what references are really saying about you, what hiring managers know and how to get rave reviews.

What hiring managers and employers know
References do matter to potential employers, and they come up earlier in the hiring process than you may think. According to the study, 80 percent of employers said they do contact references when evaluating potential employees. Sixteen percent of those employers will contact references even before they call the candidate for a job interview

What your references say about you could make or break a job offer. Sixty-nine percent of employers said they have changed their minds about a candidate after speaking with a reference, with 47 percent reporting they had a less favorable opinion, and 23 percent reporting they had a more favorable opinion.

However, not everybody is convinced references matter. Thirty-one percent of those surveyed said references haven’t swayed their decisions on a candidate one way or the other.

What job seekers should know
It may take extra time to gather contact information and include it in your job application materials, but hiring managers do notice the quality of references, as well as their existence: 29 percent of employers who have contacted references reported that they have caught a fake reference on a candidate’s application. When a reference is contacted by a potential employer, it’s not always guaranteed he or she will sing your praises: 62 percent of employers who contacted a reference listed on an application said the reference didn’t have good things to say about the candidate.

You can improve your odds of getting a great review by simply notifying your references and mentioning what type of job you’re looking for. Don’t surprise your references and risk a short, uninformative review. Fifteen percent of workers reported that they have listed someone as a reference, but didn’t tell that person.

How many references should you include? Seventy percent of workers reported that they provide three or more references when applying to jobs. Ten percent said they typically don’t provide any references, which can be a huge mistake in a job search. Leaving references off of a job application runs the risk of telling hiring managers that your past employers and clients wouldn’t recommend you.

The bottom line is that most employers notice references, which means it’s important to choose yours carefully. “You want to make sure you are including your biggest cheerleaders among your job references,” says Rosemary Haefner, vice president of human resources at CareerBuilder.  “Before choosing someone, ask yourself ‘Did this person understand my full scope of responsibilities? Can he or she vouch for my skills, accomplishments and work ethic?’  You also want to make sure that you ask your former colleagues if you can list them as a reference.  If someone is unwilling, it helps you to avoid a potentially awkward or damaging interaction with an employer of interest.”

To learn more about the purpose and benefits for references, check out our CareerBuilder video with even more info:

  1. Dear Miss Ricker! 1st off let me tell you that I liked the reference article that has been done:) However, there is a question to ask which I have been trying to get answered for the lst 15 to 20 years with NO one able to give a good solid answer to this question so here goes!! what does a an applicant do if he or she does NOT have any solid references anymore? such as moving,retired,left for another job or deceased. I myself am in this catagory because all my solid reference are NO longer available for one reason or another and I can NOT rely on former and current employer for references. So please help all of us that are in this sunken boat of NO references.

    • @Da Troll 48  I am in a similar position, one of my old supervisors is no where to be found, and the company is closed down. So I used a fellow co-worker. Do you have activities you do outside of work? Golf perhaps? or go to the local YMCA? Do you use the local library? People at those locations can easily give a reference. Also, the Grocery store manager, you might know him or her by name….at the very least by sight…etc. Ask!  The local Clergy may help too. Nothing wrong with a long time friend or neighbor either. my 2 cents

      • @troop1028
        I have absolutely NO one I can rely on to get any good references!  this seems to be the modern day job hunting problem that everyone is having problems with. I have a few friends that cannot find jobs because they cannot get or have any sound references. See we don’t live in a big city where references or jobs may come easily we live in a small or rural town where getting jobs or even volunteer work is very hard to come by these days because for every applicant for a job there are aproximatly 5000 waiting and 3000 applicants looking to get the same jobs as we are.

        • @Da Troll 48 I can understand that. I don’t live in a big town either. @theworkbuzz had a great idea about the social media outlets and people online. It has been my experience, and I have over 15 years out here working for various employers in manufacturing. Employers can understand a person’s tough times and situations, you’d be surprised at how many people are in the same boat. Willing to give someone a chance. I wish you the best of luck out there, and you may also find me on Twitter @troop1028 as we develop online relationships, I’d be happy to give you a thumbs up. I’m on LinkedIN too.

        • @Da Troll 48  @troop1028
          I feel the same way, I wish there was a Leverage firm like the group on TV, that go around dealing with these employers that tend to intimidate, abuse andharrass their employees because they have are the power.  I almost wished I had went out drinking, smoking and parting withthe clique groups at work, maybe I would still have a job. I pray that no one ever hurt’s harms or take their livlyhood away from them like they did me.

    • @Da Troll 48 Great question! You’re right, this is a tough situation. @troop1028 has some great suggestions for where to start looking, and you can also go through any social media sites you belong to; you may find people who can go to bat for you. If you still can’t find any references, look for a place to start volunteering or get involved at and start building new references. You may also try networking as an aide in your job search — sometimes meeting potential employers in person is a strong enough recommendation on its own. Also check out an earlier article by CareerBuilder, “Q&A: References 101″: Hope this helps!

      • @theworkbuzz  @troop1028
         I made a copy of the article for my own use! but it still doesn’t answer any of my questions. As for networking it of no use for me and has NO relivence for me because most of these employers where I live does NOT use networking because it’s against company policies and in recent year have been found to be an invasion of praspective applicants rights which has caused many lawsuites and even state governments banning companies from using networking for fear of invasive spying on the praspective applicant’s rights of online privacy. So in the end this brings me back to square one of my question ( what do we do when there is NO one toe give good solid references anymore especially current and former employers)? Perhaps this should be the next article writtin!!

        • @Da Troll 48  @theworkbuzz What I would do is be honest with the perspective employer, add a note telling them waht you explained to us on here. If they area not understanding, chances are you should move on to something else. So I take it you have lived where you are for a long time, then you should know the mail carrier by name then and the local librarian? or something someone? Like was mentioned, volunteer somewhere, get out of the house and get to know people.

        • @Da Troll 48  @theworkbuzz While online and using social media networks,now days, it is best to use your real name, at least outside of this forum anyhow, but my handle troop1028 is also associated with my real name on twitter and I recently changed it to Davek0101. Not to be rude but your handle is Da Troll 48? I hope you don’t use that “everywhere” some places thats fine, but not LinkedIN or Monster…and similar. I wish I could say more to help, but you seem to be in quite a situation there. Like I said, just be honest with an employer, the right employer will understand, they going to do a background check anyhow.

        • @troop1028  @theworkbuzz
           Don’t have a library nor do I know the mail carrier I live in a rural area Ya know where the only entertainment is watchin the corn & beans grow and an occational deer passing thru.

        • @troop1028  @theworkbuzz
          I use other online handles or other names on emails. NEVER EVER use your real name on the internet for any reason other than business reasons and you had better know who your doing business with on the internet these days!!. Far too easily to track by the bad guys these days.

  2. Personally in my case with the last 3 employers, they didn’t bother to check references, These employers explained to me that what idiot would even put down someone who would even potentially say something bad. If something bad is to come out worth mentioning, it will come out in the background investigation. Not all employers are the same, that should be understood.

  3. @bullhornreach @CareerBuilder Let this be a lesson, folks. If you see a reference named ‘Aloysius Rumpelstiltskin,’ it *may* just be fake.

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