Job interviews are intimidating. More often than not, you spend hours preparing yourself, ensuring you have all the answers to any question they could possibly ask - then, they ask you something you somehow don’t have the answer to.
In this series, you’ll get insight into the true meaning behind some of the toughest interview questions out there, as well as a few different options for how you can best answer them.
Today’s question - “Can you provide me with some references?”
References can be tricky in that many people don’t know how to respond or even if they should expect to be asked at all. The only time you should expect to be asked about references is at the final stage of the interview process. If you’re being asked this, you can assume they’re at least thinking about presenting you with an offer.
References shouldn’t be used as a tool to help an employer decide if you’re worth interviewing.
References exist as a way for a hiring manager to confirm a decision that they’re already making. When they’ve decided that you’re the right person for the job and are prepared to make an offer to you, that should be when they decide to ask you for references.
Think about when you get a haircut. When you get a new haircut that looks fantastic, you’re already confident in the fact that it looks great. It still feels good to get home and have your spouse tell you that your hair looks great, even though you already knew that.
The same applies to hiring. The hiring manager wants the final seal of approval that you are a great employee and someone they want on their team.
This doesn’t mean reference checks are merely a formality - it has happened that offers have been rescinded following a bad reference check. Because of this, you want to make sure that anyone you offer up as a reference is prepared to speak to the best of your experience. If you’re concerned about giving your current supervisor as a reference because you don’t want your colleagues to know you’re leaving, consider where else you could find people willing to vouch for you.
If you don’t have a prior boss you can list or any current colleagues you feel comfortable listing, here are some other ideas:
A colleague from a prior role that you’ve kept in touch with
A friend who works in the same field that you discuss professional or industry matters with
Someone you’ve collaborated with on research or an initiative
Someone you know from a professional society or group
Before listing any of these people, you should check in with them to let them know that you’re in the market for a new role and that you were hoping they’d be willing to be a reference for you. In most cases, if you’ve remained on good terms professionally, you’ll find that most people are more than willing to speak up on your behalf.
If you get asked for references and you aren’t sure what stage of the interview process this is, feel free to ask.
“I would be happy to provide some references, provided we’re at the right stage. Would there be an offer pending reference checks?”
This is where the answer should, ideally, be yes. If that’s the case, feel free to give your references and wait to hear for an update on the final offer.
If the answer is no, or if the interviewer is unsure, feel free to push back.
“I want to respect my references’ time, so I don’t want to impose on them unless there is a very good reason, such as a pending offer. I’m more than happy to follow the industry standard of providing references under the understanding that, pending good references, there would be an offer extended to me for this role.”
Your interviewer should be understanding and aware of what’s expected as an industry standard, so don’t be afraid to push back. In general, asking for references is a very good sign - it means they already know they want you on their team.
Until the very end of the process, until your offer is in hand, make sure you remember these three things for every conversation.
Have a great Attitude
Bring Enthusiasm to each and every interview
Good luck, get out there, and ACE your interview.