Why You Should Reconsider Your Reference List Even if You’re Currently Employed

Reference checking is an important part of the hiring process.  There’s no avoiding it (unless the hiring company is lazy).  As a job seeker, you should be prepared for the question of, “Can you please provide a list of references?” 

But if you aren’t looking for a job right now, do you know who would be on your reference list?

It’s important to think about this question well before you’re searching for your next position.  The reason is multi-faceted, but if you think about it while you’re employed, it will help you become a better employee and co-worker.  It will help you reframe your current engagement in your job and engagement with your co-workers.

Allow me to explain…

Most prospective employers reach out to colleagues from your past who aren’t listed on your reference list.  It’s called back-channel reference checking.  Those are often the best reference calls for prospective employers.  If they know someone who has worked at one of your previous companies, they might call that person.  They might search your LinkedIn profile and reach out to close connections.  And they will likely call a past employer, hiring manager or coworker even if they aren’t listed by you as a reference.

If you have in the back of your mind that everyone, and I mean EVERYONE, you work with internally or externally could be called at some point in the future to be asked about you, it will make you think more about your actions.  It will make you want to put your best foot forward every day in everything you do.

Unsolicited reference checking will occur.  Know that now.  Know it before you apply for a job and realize that the company you’re interviewing with might call that manager you failed to follow through on something for.  They might happen to speak to a peer you didn’t get along with, or that junior-level employee you treated poorly.  They might even call an external partner like a vendor or broker.   You can’t go back and redo your actions with people.  But you can change right now going forward.

Thinking about references through this lens will help frame how you are as an employee and how you want to be.  I’m not talking about politicking.  I’m talking about just doing a good job.  Having integrity.  Doing right by the company.

Can you reframe your day-to-day actions in this manner?

Can you make it your goal to feel good about a prospective employer calling any person you’ve ever worked with?  That’s right.  If a prospective employer wants a reference list from you, you might rank order a few important people for them to talk with, but would you be okay providing a list of literally anyone you’ve ever worked with?

Sure, there might be a few people who don’t like you who the company might call, but that’s okay.  Most importantly, can you explain each of those relationships?

So even if you aren’t looking for a job right now, do you know who you would put on your reference list?  Does it include just a few people, or lots of people?  Who are the people you wouldn’t want a prospective employer to call?  Why?  Can you reasonably (and not defensively) explain what the company might hear from that person?

I encourage you to think about it now.  It will help in more ways than just your job search.