Your Professional References Could Be Ruining Your Job Prospects

by Pranav Ramesh
May 26, 2021
Your Professional References Could Be Ruining Your Job Prospects

Every time you are on a job hunt, you end up spending several hours updating your résumé, drafting that perfect cover letter, and probably even pursuing a few quick courses online to suit the role you are applying for. You spend hours preparing for the interview, acing it, and getting everything right to qualify for the job. That’s when the big questions pop up from the recruiter about your professional references.

So, what are professional references, and how do you ask someone to be a reference? Why do organizations ask for professional and personal references? Do they even check these? What do you do if you don’t have any references for the job application?

We spend so much time and effort over the details like the dress to wear, the questions to prepare, the skills to highlight, etc., that we forget to think about the people who would vouch for our skills and professional accomplishments.

A glowing reference could help your résumé stand out from the rest and give the recruiter a better picture of where you stand in terms of competition.

What Is a Professional Reference and When Should You Use One?

Professional references are people who have worked with you in the past and can vouch for your qualifications and expertise. It will help identify your references based on people who would know about your work ethics, talents, and skills and would be willing to talk to your prospective employer about the same. Your professional references can change based on the kind of job you are applying for and generally includes former employers, managers, clients, and colleagues.

Should You Tell Your References That They May Be Contacted?

Around 15 percent of the respondents in a survey of around 3,976 employees said they did not inform their reference that they might receive a call from their prospective employer.

The ideal process would be to check with your reference if they would be fine with receiving a call from your future employer. It is important to give your reference a chance to bow out of the process. This would help you save face with your prospective employer and find a better person to refer you.

Let them know about the role and organization you are applying for, which particular skills would be useful in the role, etc. These would help your reference prepare some talking points when they get the call. Besides, it would also be a great way to connect with all your past colleagues, managers, and team members.

You can follow up with your references to know if they heard from the recruiter and if they were perfunctory, enthusiastic, or suspicious? This would help you evaluate your prospects at the organization, as well as your reference’s willingness to help you with your job hunt.

Should You Lie About Your References?

The temptation to lie on your resume and provide false credentials is high. Recent research also found that around 20-30% of the job seekers also providing a fake reference. This is because most people believe that employers do not check the references. However, a research report by the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) survey found that around 90 percent of the organizations do a background check on their employees.

Eighty-seven percent of the employers say that job applicants misrepresent themselves on the resume, including their references. While a few organizations refrain from hiring candidates with fake references, others sue them for providing false information. The Federation for Small Businesses, along with BBC, surveyed over 1000 organizations across the UK to understand the trends in HR and recruitment. It was found that over 76 percent of the recruiters have at some point received fake references, most of which were for entry and mid-level roles. However, it also found that around 12 percent did the same for management roles while 2 percent provided fake references for the role of a company director.

How Can a Bad Reference Hurt Your Job Prospect?

It is hard to build a good reputation with your prospective employer. One negative remark from your references could sabotage your career prospects overnight. Be careful on whom you provide as a professional reference. Make sure the person would be sharing positive feedback about you and your skills. And do not ever do anything that might ruin your career in the future. If you do not leave your previous job on good terms with your manager or the HR department, it could ruin your chances of securing a job.

If you quit your job because of discrimination, harassment, or hostile work culture, discuss it with your prospective recruiter. Let them know that they might receive negative feedback about you. In such cases, offer alternative references from the same organization additional verification. Most organizations are accommodative of such requests.

Most recruiters are using Applicant Tracking Systems to handle the hiring process. This helps them check the candidate’s experience, references, and credibility. The AI tools can spot fake references, personal references, and any employment gaps as red flags and impact your chances of securing a job. So, make sure you do thorough research on the job you are applying for, understand the skills you need, and see if you fit the role. Once you apply for the job, talk to your references and request them to highlight your

relevant skills in the domain when they receive a call. This will ensure that you do not commit a résumé fraud.

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