It may be a job seekers’ market, but candidates still need to have everything buttoned up for their search — including a solid reference list — or risk being passed over. In a new survey from global staffing firm Accountemps, senior managers reported they remove approximately one in three candidates (34 percent) from consideration for a position with their company after checking their references.

Reference checks help employers get a stronger sense of whether a candidate will be a good fit, both in terms of skills and experience, as well as within the workplace culture. Specifically, senior managers surveyed said they were most interested in getting a view of the applicant’s strengths and weaknesses and a description of their past job responsibilities and work experience.

“Reference checks carry as much weight as any other point in the hiring process, and a misstep here can put you back at square one,” Michael Steinitz, executive director of Accountemps, said. “Too often, this step is an afterthought, but candidates need to treat it with care and practice proper etiquette. If a reference is caught off guard by a hiring manager’s call, it could impact the conversation or, worse, halt your candidacy altogether.”

Steinitz added, “Provide references with an up-to-date resume and job description, and make sure they’re able to speak directly to how you would make a great fit for the open position. Avoid potential red flags by discussing the strengths you offer and how you’re working to improve your weaknesses. Do your part to ensure the process goes smoothly — other candidates are.”

Steinitz offered the following tips for candidates to ace a reference check:

  • Do your homework. Invest as much care in choosing your references as you put into polishing your resume. Consider who could best speak to your abilities for the specific opportunity and whether their company policy would restrict them from doing so.
  • Ask first. Don’t let the hiring manager surprise your contacts — confirm their interest and availability to serve as a reference for you. If they agree, keep them up to date on the hiring process and let them know when to expect a call.
  • Be proactive. Don’t wait until a prospective employer asks you to provide a reference list. Early in the process, reach out to references and let them know you’re pursuing a new opportunity. The more prepared you are, the more effective they can be.
  • Say ‘thank you.’ Follow up by sending a note to let those who spoke to the hiring manager know how much you appreciate their time and endorsement. When possible, return the favor; your reference may need you to speak to their abilities in the future.

About the Research
The online survey was developed by Accountemps, a Robert Half company, and conducted by an independent research firm. It includes responses from more than 2,800 senior managers at companies with 20 or more employees in 28 major U.S. cities.