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Resume References, what HR thinks and how they really check your background

resume references

I am checking your resume references, just not what, or where you think I am

Resume References 

I receive a lot of questions in regards to resume references and I thought a blog post might help.

Here are some common questions I receive on the topic of references:

1. Do you really call on my resume references?
2. How many should I have?
3. What do you think about my endorsement and references on LinkedIn?
4. Are you going to call my current employer? I don’t want them to know I am looking for a job till I receive an offer.

Before I answer the above questions, a few data points on references

  • I personally don’t put too much stock in resume references provided by the candidate. This doesn’t mean I don’t call on them, I do. (Just answered bullet number 1.) I just don’t put too much stock in them. Only a dumbass would list a resume reference that will say negative things about their candidacy. 99% of the time, resume references are glowing and I don’t expect anything less. Anything less than a stellar review is a red flag for me. For further evidence, see this short clip from a classic Seinfeld episode
  • More often than not, references are listed at the bottom of the resume. Sometimes, they are listed on a separate page. 3 names and 3 phone numbers looking lonely and naked on an otherwise empty page. This my friend, is a very sad presentation. During the interview stage, I am not paying attention to references and I always counsel the folks I work with to use valuable space on the resume to list additional accomplishments. At this point, we are trying to prove to the hiring manager and the department head that you are worth bringing in for an interview. At this stage in the game, checking resumes is the last thing on my mind. You have heard the phrase, “If I want your opinion, I will give it to you”. In HR-speak, if I want your references; trust me, I will tell you to round them up.
  • If you can’t come up with a reference, that is a flag. No shoes, no service. No references, no job.
  • I personally don’t believe that references offer very much value. Job performance will differ from company culture to company culture, manager to manager, industry to industry and based on the amount of personal growth (or lack of) a candidate has experienced. Poor fit between manager, company culture, and product can all have an impact on job performance. Let’s face it, only a dumbass would offer up a reference that was going to have negative things to say about your performance, and yes it has happened and yes I pulled the offer.
  • When I check on resume references, I am digging on the culture of the company, the management style, and the manager as much as I am digging on the candidate. When they are similar to our management style and culture, then references can really be leveraged. I ask all references to give us the advice to help us make the new hire successful.
  • The resume references I do put stock in are the ones I dig up on my own. These are resume references that were not provided by the candidate. Through LinkedIn, I can look within my professional network and see how I am connected to the candidate. These connections are the references I call. These resume references were not prepped, they were not coached, and I will probably get a more realistic picture of the candidate because I know them as well as the candidate. Again, I need to take the company culture, manager, and product excitement into consideration.

Back to the questions:

1. Are you going to call my current employer?

I don’t check references until the job offer has been made. If I call your current employer for a reference before I have you locked down and your signature on the offer letter, I am just telling your current manager to give you a raise so they can retain you.

2. Do I call references?

No, I don’t call them. I just schedule time on my calendar to call references so no one will bother me. With some “me time” set aside, I shut my HR office door, pour myself a shot, and surf porn on company time. Of course, I call them! The hiring managers can’t wait to hear what prior managers have to say about their candidates and are skeptical until they hear the glowing reports. They hound me like a girl wondering if her BFF called her new-found crush. Instead of “Did you call him yet? Did you call him yet?” I hear “Did you call the references yet? Did you hear from the references?” Yes, I abso-frickin’ call them.

3. How many resume references should I have?

Have as many as you possibly can. When someone provides me with 2 references, I always grimace. My first thought is “Really, that’s all you got?” The chance of me getting ahold of both of these references in a timely manner is nil. I feel much better when someone provides me with a half a dozen and provides AND provides multiple ways of contacting them. I like the following format:

Name – Relationship – Title –  Company –  Phone – Email

If I receive 6 references, I will probably only call 3 or 4, but having a choice is nice and the ability to get this done in 24 hours is really nice. 6 references will allow me this opportunity. Remember, I want to get an offer out to you, and if I only have 2 references and one is on vacation or isn’t returning messages, your offer is getting held up!

Lastly, a full-page of references which ranges from the manager, to direct report, to vendors, to customers, to mentees, and to colleagues sends all kinds of trust signals.

I just talked with a good friend and prior CEO who I reported to. He took the above format to the next level and added links to LinkedIn the references profile. Very Nasty!  Thanks, JM.

4. LinkedIn references and endorsements:

I personally don’t put too much stock in endorsements or references on LinkedIn. There are a couple of reasons:

These are requested by the candidate more than they are volunteered unsolicited by the reference. When someone has half a dozen LinkedIn endorsements all within 1 – 2 month of each other, my suspicion is that someone held out the hat asking for donations. These references lack credibility. If the person providing the reference just decided “I respect this person so much, I am going to give them a reference” that would be an entirely different matter, but I am not able to differentiate the two. Hence, it doesn’t mean much. Very few people will want to be the asshole and give a negative reference to a public profile.

Hopefully the above gives some insight into references. If you want to lock down your references, here is a post on how to coach references to be stellar on your behalf.

See you at the after party,


nasty: an unreal maneuver of incredible technique, something that is ridiculously good, tricky and manipulative but with a result that can’t help but be admired, a phrase used to describe someone who is good at something. “He has a nasty forkball”.

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