Inquiring minds want to know, and no minds are more inquiring than those about to hire you. Rest assured, you will be investigated. As a rule of thumb, the better the job and the higher the pay, the tougher the screening process. If you are up for a good job at a visible company, your references and past employers will be checked in great detail. Your list of references is simply the beginning of the investigation a prospective employer will conduct.

When a prospective employer has completed the first round of interviews and you are among the top candidates, its next logical step is to check your references and interview those individuals to whom you reported. Are you certain these individuals will seal the deal for you, or will they blow it away? If you are like most people, you probably haven’t given your references much thought. Instead, you have focused on your resume, interviewing skills, networking, and what to wear to the interview. Now the focus shifts.

Your biggest concern should be the quality of your references and recommendations from past employers, because they can make or break your chances. About half of all references that get checked range from mediocre to poor, so it is very possible that the great job you lost out on at the last moment had nothing to do with your skill level. It could have had more to do with what a reference or past employer said about you. So, if you are concerned that someone, somewhere, might be giving you a bum rap, you are probably right. That’s a frightening scenario when your livelihood is at stake.

Here is a sampling of the damaging comments HR people and line managers hear when they check references:

  • “Our company policy prohibits us saying anything. We can only verify dates of employment and title.” Then the reference goes on to say something like, “Check his references very, very carefully.”
  • “Are you certain he gave my name as a reference?”
  • “After we settle our lawsuit…”
  • “Let me see what the paperwork says I am able to give out regarding _______.”
  • “Is he still in this field?”

References and past employers won’t call and warn you that they are not going to be complimentary. The reference s