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In every place that I have ever worked for I had to provide references. Most of the time I have provided people with them if I have worked with and have good relationships with.

Now as far as I can tell in the US there is no responsibility placed on the reference giver. If that is the case what is the purpose of references?

As an example see the References section of this job application

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There are 3 types of references:

Job Reference:

The purpose is to confirm that you actually worked at the company in the position that you are claiming when you claimed to work there. People do fake their resumes and this can weed out some of the fakes.

Professional Reference:

The purpose of this is to find a peer or supervisor that you have worked with that will talk to the quality of your work, and your work ethic. In a professional setting this is the reference that usually means the most.

Personal Reference:

This is someone who knows you that is willing to vouch for you. The idea is that if someone is going to vouch for you they are willing to have you work with them. Ideally this type of reference should be someone that the reviewer knows and respects. We like to say "it is what you know not who you know" but the reality is most of the time that is false. If you know the right person you have an edge, in many cases, over someone of similar or even slightly better skill set.

The reason these are important is that your past performance is usually indicative of the type of performance that can be expected in the future. So having good references is important. The more recent the better.

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    Fantastic answer, I never thought of the three different categories quite that clearly. – weronika Apr 14 '12 at 2:21
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One of the purposes of references it to verify the information you've given on your CV (resume) is factually correct. In the UK this is limited to an employer confirming that you did work for them between the dates you have specified.

For a university/college it will be to verify that you gained the qualifications you have claimed you got.

These are different from personal references where someone (hopefully) says you are a trustworthy person who'd they'd employ again given the chance (assuming they were your manager). General references are an additional check for the prospective employer to make to prove you are who you say you are without the potential expense of checking government documents. Obviously they can be forged, but if you're found out then you'd likely be immediately fired.

  • Employer confirmation is based on the past work history provided in the application but in the US there is normally a separate section for references. And I am more concerned about. I've amended the question with an example – Karlson Apr 12 '12 at 14:29
  • +1 on the additional info. I'll leave the question open for awhile longer – Karlson Apr 12 '12 at 14:42
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Other than confirming that a candidate isn't outright lying on their resume, I agree that references don't have a ton of informational value. I say this mainly because unless the candidate is brain dead they aren't going to give you a person's name unless that person will give them a glowing review.

To me, as a hiring manager, the main value of references is: Can this person come up with three people (other than Mom) who will say nice things about them and their work?

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    I'd say it's a bit more than just "can this person come up with three people who will say nice things about them" - your impression would probably be different if these three people were their last three supervisors, vs. people they were only vaguely associated with. – weronika Apr 14 '12 at 2:20
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    Also, you'd be surprised. Some people are very bad at gauging their own abilities and what people think of them, and provide references who will clearly tell you the candidate's weaknesses. – Kate Gregory Dec 4 '12 at 14:30

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