How to stop references from costing you the job

Don’t let the wrong referral sabotage a job opportunity.

Many job seekers underestimate the power of references and referrals in the hiring process. Who you know — and what they have to say about you — can be the difference between landing your dream job and being shut out.

Companies are openly embracing referred candidates now more than ever to save on costs and time. According to the 10th Annual CareerXroads Source of Hire Report, nearly 65 percent of all job openings are filled through internal movement and referrals, with referrals as the No. 1 source of external hire.

To harness the hiring power of your contacts, you must understand the difference between how to build up your references and referrals. Here’s how to first grow your network of referrals:

Tap into your network.

Look to your family and friends to connect you with key contacts. If you’re employed, focus on the relationships within your current firm. You can also build mutually beneficial relationships within other departments. Look for ways to help these contacts with their goals and demonstrate to them that you’re someone they want to refer when an opportunity does become available. Internal movement is the No. 1 source of hiring. If your network includes contacts in multiple areas of your firm, this lateral move will be much easier to come by.

Be thoughtful about how you use your network. Don’t overextend yourself with every networking opportunity — selectively choose where you place your focus and don’t always go back to the same people time and time again. Most importantly, be sure to let your network know that you are interested in receiving referrals!

Grow your network.

Your alumni association is a great resource. Fellow alums look out for each other and will have more incentive to help you find an opportunity.

If you want to grow your network in a specific industry, go where these people spend their time. For example, take a class on a related topic or volunteer your time for an organization that is run by people you want to meet. Always make sure you do not come across as insincere in your motivation. If you sign up for something, do it with a genuine interest and dedication, not just to find a job.

In contrast to referrals, references come into the hiring process much later. According to SHRM, 96 percent of organizations use reference checks as a way to screen and select candidates. More important is their influence: One in five candidates are removed from consideration as a result of their reference checks.

How can you be sure that your references are giving you a glowing review to potential employers? These two tips should point you in the right direction:

Carefully choose your references.

References hold the power to help you land your next job, but they also can ruin the opportunity if you’re not careful. Strategically choose contacts that can speak to the qualifications of the job for which you’re applying. Don’t blindly assume that your contacts are ready to rave about your work ethic and leadership skills. You might be dumbfounded when you find out that their review of you came across less than stellar. Look for people who will provide genuine, honest information, speak with passion and confidence, and provide specific answers to the recruiter’s questions.

Additionally, speak to your reference before they are contacted by your potential new employer. Explain the role for which you’re being considered, why you want it, and be specific about why you think are you a good fit for it. It is a good idea to ask your reference’s opinion of your suitability up front — get an idea of what they might say and address any potential obstacles before the reference checker gets involved.

Your reference must fully think through the role and be prepared to give a meaningful and effective reference for you. Putting in the time to make sure everyone is on the same page is well worth it when you’re so close to getting the job. Give your pitch to ensure they’ve given it some thought and are in agreement before they receive the call.

Know what employers are looking for. Recruiters and hiring managers want to see references that can bring different perspectives on how you operate. You should choose four types: someone you have reported to, someone who has reported to you, someone you have worked with as a peer, and a client or contact from outside your work network.

One key question recruiters like to ask references is, “Would you hire the candidate again?” Think about how each of your references may answer this question — or even ask them yourself. Employers are looking for confirmation from a third-party source in order to make a final decision and put an offer on the table.

By carefully fostering meaningful relationships with potential references and referrals, you will gain a competitive edge in the hiring process and be one step closer to landing your dream job.