Posted December 06, 2016 by

Reference checking: Secrets employers won’t tell recent college graduates revealed

Business woman unhappy with resumes of applicants and throwing them on the table courtesy of

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References – job seekers submitting them – and employers checking them – seems like a simple process. Unfortunately for the recent college grad embarking on that first or second job, the reference checking process is anything but simple, and clear.

Why? Because just because a job seeker submits a list of references, it doesn’t mean those are the references employers will contact. In fact, the days of providing three references to employers and expecting those to be the only sources employers check with are long gone, says Chris Dardis, VP of HR Search and Consulting for Versique, a Minneapolis-based search firm. Many employers may not even check the references job seekers submit, and it’s perfectly legal, because a prospective employer does not require permission to check any references. Employers are also relying on new tools and tactics to research potential candidates’ backgrounds.

“Social media sites such as LinkedIn, Facebook and Twitter are the first place hiring managers tend to explore candidate information,” says Dardis. “Whether you think it’s right or wrong, potential candidates need to be aware of the brand they are displaying on the Internet.”

Jeff Shane, spokesperson for Allison & Taylor Inc., an employment verification and reference checking firm, agrees.

“Don’t assume that employers will only check with human resources or your former supervisor for reference purposes,” says Shane. “Employers are increasingly scrutinizing less-traditional references such as peers and co-workers.”

Employers also use tools like Checkster, to conduct the legwork on reference check gathering, says Dardis. Checkster is a tool that provides hiring managers with quantifiable data on the hire-ability of the potential candidate. Employers also use their own network and conduct what is known as “backdoor reference checks.” Hiring managers learn about the candidate’s previous employers, identify where they have connections and call around within their network to simply inquire about their reputation – all of this being done without the candidates knowledge.

“These days, it doesn’t necessarily matter what your official references are saying,” says Dardis. “What matters is the kind of reputation you are leaving in the marketplace.”

So how can recent college grads be sure they are providing references the right way, and that backdoor reference checks won’t hurt them? Follow these tips from Lynne Martin, Executive Director of San Francisco-based Students Rising Above, an award-winning nonprofit that helps low-income, first-generation students get into – and more importantly graduate – college The organization also offers their free, online College2Careers Hub which offers personalized assistance via online advisors that provide real-time answers and support on such themes as reference advice.

According the Lynne, recent college graduates should consider the following:

Ask the right person: Try to submit references of people who know you in a professional or leadership setting and can speak to your skills as well as your character traits as they directly relate to the position applying to. Think former supervisors from internships, jobs, and volunteer work, or facility supervisors from organizations and clubs on campus. Be sure to pay close attention to the reference specifications on the job description, sometimes employers will specify what kind of reference they want to hear from (previous supervisor, previous colleague, and professor).

Provide your reference with information: When asking someone to be a professional reference give them the job description of the position you are applying to, the resume used to apply to the position and a few bullet points as to why you would be a good fit for the position. Provide the reference with some context about how this job fits into your overall career goals so they can be prepared to talk highly about you, and the value you bring to an employer.

Be sure not to burn bridges: You never know when your burnt bridge might catch up with you and it may be during a back door reference check. If there any ‘burnt bridges’ lurking in your past, get in front of it and be prepared to address the past situation in a professional and non-emotional manner.

Be a good gate keeper for your social networks: Do not connect with anyone on social media that you wouldn’t trust to give rave reviews about your work ethic, skills and character. Also, review your current social media connections and delete anyone who you feel wouldn’t give be a fair and favorable reference for you.

One of the struggles college students and recent college grads face is they may have limited work, volunteer, or internship experience. Even managers or supervisors from part-time campus jobs, work study programs, or that part-time off-campus job are all appropriate as needed.

“References can be selected from any part of your life excluding family, friends or peers,” said Greg Stiffler, MS, Director of Career Advancement at Northwood University in Midland, Michigan. “As a recent college grad, references might include current or former managers, athletic coaches or campus club advisors, faculty members, or supervisors from volunteer activities.”

References need to be individuals who personally know you, your abilities and your style of working. “It is someone who can verify and quantify your ability to do the job you are being interviewed for,” says Stiffler. “This includes not only the task at hand, but also other skills and traits such as organizational skills, time management, the ability to work as a team and your level of professionalism.”

How to provide references to an employer: When writing a resume avoid the dated “references available upon request” line that was once popular on the bottom of resumes. Why? Employers know references are available upon request – it’s part of the job search process. So before an interview, write down references on a piece of paper and bring it to the interview. Give it to the employer only if requested. If not, that list is ready for when it’s requested – and can then be sent via email.

How to list references: Provide correct contact information for each reference, including their name, company, title, email address, and phone number. Include a short description of how the reference knows you or the context of your relationship. Consider providing more references than requested in case the interviewer is not able to contact one of your other references, says Stiffler.

Review your digital footprint: Are those Facebook security settings in place? Did you Tweet, Instagram or Snapchat something borderline inappropriate? Be cautious – employers are checking.

“We all have a digital footprint,” reminds Stiffler. “Be prepared for employers to research your social media accounts as an alternate reference check. Make sure your virtual profile represents you in a positive light. Delete inappropriate photos or posts, untag yourself from friends’ photos and don’t allow others to tag you automatically in their pictures or post on your timeline.”

Recent college graduates should follow these tips to prepare for a reference check – and avoid backdoor reference checks that can derail the chances of landing the job.

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