The Job Coaches: Plan for references, background checks

photoQ: A company that interviewed me wants references and is going to do a background check. What do I do?

A: Most companies check references and do background verifications for security and legal reasons. They also want to assure that your resume and application contain the facts. References are a make-or-break part of getting a job offer. Successfully handling this part of your job search requires some prior planning.

Who should be on your list of references? Prospective employers want to talk to people who can vouch for your work accomplishments. Excellent choices include former supervisors (ideally your most recent), indirect supervisors (your boss’ boss), customers, vendors, professors/advisers, clients, colleagues and direct reports. Employers will question your credibility if you include close friends and relatives as references.

How do I know what people will say? Always invite someone to be a reference. A first-rate initial question is: “Are you familiar enough with my job performance to give me a positive reference?” If someone hesitates or is lukewarm with their response, that’s a good sign to pick someone else. You must know in advance that your references can confirm the content of your resume and speak confidently of your contributions, strengths and performance. If your references work for a company that limits the information they can share to just dates of employment, job titles and salary history, you need to be aware of that; so ask.

Is there a way to prepare my references for calls? Provide your references with a copy of your current resume along with a list of companies or people to whom you have given their name. Secure current information from your reference: current job title, company, address, telephone numbers (home, work and cell) and e-mail address. Ask them if they prefer a phone or e-mail contact, and include that information in the list you give to potential employers.

Will I have to sign any releases or waivers? Don’t be surprised if a possible employer asks you to sign a release so they can check your references. They are simply protecting themselves from possible liability. If a company is using an outside company to conduct a background check, you must provide written authorization to them before the review happens.

What kind of information is included in a background check? While the list of items checked varies from company to company, any of the following (and even more!) could be researched: criminal history, previous employment, driving record, military experience, Social Security number, court records, credit history and education.

What do I do if something bad turns up? Upfront honesty works best. Employers typically check your background once they are interested in you. So disclose that DUI from your college days. Tell the truth on your resume – don’t inflate job titles or college degrees. If you were fired or involved in other difficult situations, work with a job coach to develop an interview response. More and more companies are also checking you out online — Facebook, Twitter, etc. — so clean up anything that could be embarrassing or compromising.

With some thoughtful preparation, you can ace the reference and background check part of your job search.

Jane Perdue is the principal/CEO of The Braithewaite Group.

The Job Coaches are experienced volunteers from the Center for Women’s Job Counseling Program. Ask them a question by calling 843-763-7333 or e-mailing If you would like further assistance, make an appointment. A donation of $20 is requested for appointments.

First appeared in the Moxie section of The Post and Courier Friday, August 28, 2009.


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One Response to “The Job Coaches: Plan for references, background checks”

  1. Says:

    I think that is very normal many companies will ask you to give names of your previous company as their reference. No need to worry as long as you have clean records. It is better that you practice transparency every time you apply for employment.

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