Checking a candidate's professional references is often one of the final steps in the hiring process. If you encounter a request for references before a job interview, you must make a decision: provide the information and potentially waste your contacts' time, or risk being cut from the applicant pool. With communication and preparation, you can make the best choice for you and for your references.
Saying no is a viable option if you're uncomfortable providing professional references in advance of an interview. To avoid burning bridges, proceed with professionalism. Explain that your references are exceptionally busy, and you'd prefer to respect their time by not providing contact information until the later stages of the hiring process. Alternatively, say you're uncomfortable handing over personal data without having the chance to decide whether the company is a good fit. If the employer is truly interested in you for a position, he may decide to wait until after the interview. If not, you can move on to a company that's better suited.
If you're extremely interested in a position, there's no need to turn down an early request for professional references right off the bat. Instead, ask for the reason behind this unconventional approach. An employer that cannot provide a valid and satisfactory answer isn't worth your time. If you find the reasoning compelling, you can decide to move forward. Either way, you can proceed knowing you did your due diligence.
Most professional references expect to be called after a company has met you and conducted one or more interviews. Before you hand the list over early, take time to call or email each person and ask permission. Provide any background information, and explain why you think the job is worth it. Be prepared for rejection, each person may have a strong opinion about this practice, and don't be offended if you get a firm "no." Whatever the answer, offer a genuine thank you. Asking permission demonstrates a respect for your professional relationship, and offering advance notice ensures the person isn't caught off guard by a potential employer.
Prepare Each Person
Once you secure permission from your professional references, it's important to prepare them. Let each person know which contact methods you provided so he can look out for an unrecognized number and also provide updates if necessary. Email a copy of your resume, cover letter and the job posting for the position in question to provide a reference point. If you are trying to emphasize a specific aspect of your professional history, such as leadership or hard skills, let your references know. This background information helps your contacts make connections between their experience with you and the needs of the new position so they can tailor their comments appropriately.
Although it's unconventional to ask for professional references before an interview, the practice is becoming increasingly common. With a thoughtful approach, you can maintain positive relationships with your contacts and potential employers.
Image courtesy of Bart at Flickr.com
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