You nailed the first and second interviews and they're showing interest in hiring you. The next step is for them to contact your references. Much to your disappointment, two weeks later the job has turned you down because the professional references you provided failed to respond to inquiries from the company. Chances are you didn't do one of a few things.
Choose Your References Wisely
For your references, you want to choose people who are reliable, confident speakers and who follow through. Your old soccer coach might be a great guy, but if he's a bit disorganized or overscheduled, he might not be your best bet on a job application. References should be professional contacts, not friends or family members. Coworkers are sometimes acceptable, but more appropriate are bosses, supervisors, managers and other superiors who can comment on your strengths as an employee. People in positions of authority are more apt to respond in a timely and professional manner. Finally, you want to list someone who can speak positively about you and your contributions, not just tick off a list of dates.
Before listing someone as a reference, always call that person to ask permission. Most people will be flattered, and asking is just a formality. But don't just assume that because you have worked for or with someone that he will naturally be comfortable serving as a professional reference for you. If a company calls your reference and she is not expecting their call, she may not pick up, or if she does, she may not remember or simply not agree to talk. Calling to ask permission is also a chance to talk to the person about the particular job you are applying for and why you believe you are qualified.
When your interviewer tells you that they will begin to check your references, get in touch with your references immediately by phone to let them know to expect a call. If they are unreachable, leave a voice mail and follow up with an email just to be sure. If an interviewer attempts to contact one of your references and she happens to not pick up or return the call in a timely manner, the interviewer may become frustrated and move on to other candidates. Calling to remind them is also a chance to let your reference know about any new things you've learned about the position and your specific qualifications.
Never Invent References
Some people believe that listing references on an application is just a formality and that interviewers will not really be checking in with former bosses to verify your performance. This is a grave misunderstanding. While some companies might not be as concerned with talking to all of your references after a particularly great interview series, others will meticulously hunt down the individuals you've listed. They might even contact other people who know you who you haven't listed. Never list fictitious references.
Parker Janney is a web developer and writer based in Philadelphia. With a Master of Arts in international politics, she has been ghostwriting for several underground publications since the late 2000s, with works featured in "Virtuoso," the "Philadelphia Anthropology Journal" and "Clutter" magazine.