References checks are often treated by employers and job prospects as an afterthought. Much more emphasis is placed on the interview process itself. However, glowing references can occasionally help you get a job, while negative ones might prevent you from getting a job. In some cases you might be asked to provide references at the end of the interview, so it's a good idea to bring a list of references with you just in case.
The first time an employer asks for references is often in the employment application. In some cases, the application specifically asks you to list three or more references or to attach a list of references. Most applications also ask for your employment history. In that section, you might be asked to include your supervisors for each job, which means they essentially serve as references. If you are asked to submit a resume instead of fill out a job application, you don't have to include the references on your resume unless the job listing specifically requests that you do.
It is a good idea to prepare a list of references before you actively search for a job. Ask several professional contacts if they are willing to serve as references -- and if they are comfortable speaking about you in a positive manner. Give them a copy of your resume and let them know potential employers might get in touch with them during your job search. A preplanned list lets you select the best references for a given position. These should be people you have worked with or who can vouch for your professionalism, rather than friends and family.
After the Interview
Many employers will ask for references after the interview, especially if you are a finalist or preferred candidate for a position. While some hiring managers never call references, those that do are usually very interested in you as a job candidate. When giving an interview, it is important that you provide accurate information about your work experience and your skills so your references don't contradict what you have said.
The primary purpose of reference checks is to confirm your work history. References should be able to confirm that your work experience aligns with what you indicated in the interview and application or resume. The hiring manager might also try to find out whether you left the job on good terms. This is why it is important to avoid burning bridges when you leave a job. If you are currently employed, there's always the risk that the company you are interviewing with will want to call your current employer's human resources department to confirm your work dates and job titles. If you are uncomfortable with them doing so, let them know during the interview.
Neil Kokemuller has been an active business, finance and education writer and content media website developer since 2007. He has been a college marketing professor since 2004. Kokemuller has additional professional experience in marketing, retail and small business. He holds a Master of Business Administration from Iowa State University.