The days of written references for job seekers are mostly over with the majority of employers now preferring to talk to two or three nominated referees.
Career management specialist/coach Kay Avery suggests that your most recent or current manager is the obvious choice as a referee because they know best how you work and the quality of your work and can advise if you are the right fit for the role you are applying for.
"An applicant might interview very well, however, how they actually perform at work under certain situations and with different personalities or tasks may not be drawn out at interview. A reference check essentially confirms the selection choice - or disputes it."
Two verbal referees are usually required but it's good to have three in case someone is not available.
Jane Kennelly at Frog Recruitment is noticing employers deliberate a lot longer during the hiring process - "or to put it another way, they are being very 'particular'. So now there is even more reason to appreciate the importance references play as a clincher in obtaining a position. Taking the time to manage this part of the process carefully is smart."
She says typically referees are required from someone with whom you've reported to: a former director, manager or team leader. At times, depending on the role, someone you've supervised or a direct report may be requested. Others to consider include vendors, customers or those whom you've worked with at a volunteer organisation.
"Referees provide a valuable dimension that lets a potential employee know about your work history, your skills, strengths and experience from your on-the-job performance. The information they provide will reinforce what you have written in your CV," she says.
Avery says referees will be asked to speak off the cuff about role descriptions and responsibilities; how you performed; what you achieved; examples of your behaviour under stress or challenge; how best to manage you; what your strengths and weaknesses are; would they hire you again; would they recommend you for the role as described and why.
Kennelly says recruiters and hiring managers are often looking for a referee to offer a glimpse of how you will perform in the future role.
Comments about your personality and factors such as your reliability and punctuality are questioned.
"Given the importance of 'team fit' these days, the way you conduct yourself on the job, your manner and style, are vital ingredients in making sure you will fit this new environment.
Whoever you choose must be able to provide a detailed account of your working style, skills, personality and abilities.
"Think about what each person can say about you and whether their knowledge of you is relevant to the particular job you're applying for."
Avery says it is important to supply both phone and email contact details for referees but recommends not to give these out until you are sure your referees will be contacted - and after the interview and not before. You should also contact your referees to prepare them for the reference check and tell them about the role you are being recruited for and why it would be good fit for you.
"Make sure any contact information you provide is correct and up-to-date. And importantly, make sure they will be available."
References can be completed at various stages of the recruitment process. For example, a recruitment agency may complete one or two references after first meeting you. But, typically, referees are contacted after job seekers have been shortlisted for a role and have had at least one interview. And Kennelly advises not to take your chances on a manager or colleague you didn't get along with.
"Whoever you choose should be willing to support you in your employment quest.
"And remember to keep in regular contact with your referees in case they move on and you find it hard to track them down. This is where adding your referees to your LinkedIn network is a smart idea!"
How honest should referees be?
The best policy is to be honest, always. Recommending someone who turns out to be awful will reflect on you and your judgment, and could harm your reputation, says Jane Kennelly at Frog Recruitment.
"Turn down the request if you are uncomfortable being a referee for someone, or warn the employee in advance that you won't be able to provide a positive reference.
"If you do choose to carry out a reference for a poor performer stick to objective facts you can prove.''
Questions referees are asked ...
* What was your working relationship with the candidate?
* Key responsibilities and duties?
* How would you summarise their overall performance?
* Principal strengths and areas for improvement?
* What is their communication style?
* Reaction to constructive criticism and feedback?
* Ability to be proactive and to solve problems?