protecting references from overload

A reader writes:

I am always on a job prowl and, thus, in need of references. I read that it’s good to give references the job descriptions and updates so they can be prepared to give a good reference. However, as I am doing a wide sweeping job search, I am reluctant to email them time and time again. Should I email them a general email listing the types of jobs I might be looking for? Or, should I update them more about the actual positions so they won’t be surprised over the next two months? I tried maintaining good communication with them by emailing them, asking about updates on what they’re doing and offering to help in projects related to ones I have worked on before. Yet, from their responses, I know most of them are really very busy.

Actually, there’s a very easy answer to this: Don’t provide prospective employers with your references until you’re in the final stages of interviewing for a job. Most employers aren’t going to check references until they’re seriously considering making you an offer anyway (it’s time-consuming and there’s no point until you’re seriously considering hiring someone). In fact, wait until the employer specifically asks you for your references — at that point and only at that point, provide them and give your references a heads-up, with details about the nature of the job.

And if an employer asks you for your references at the very outset of the process, it’s completely fine to request that they not be contacted until the employer is seriously interested in making you an offer (and that you be notified first so that you can alert them).

{ 7 comments… read them below }

  1. Anonymous*

    And my other question, is why are they applying for such a wide range of jobs that their references will be surprised? Uhhh, WHAT?

  2. Valerie*

    It’s possible the question-asker is a new grad or highschool student looking for an entry-level job — then it would make sense to always be looking for something new, and in a variety of positions.

    Or not.

    Regardless, good advice.

  3. Tiffany*

    This is the reader. Perhaps I should have elaborated more. Valerie is right. I'm a recent grad just getting out of a 6-month internship; thus, it feels like I've always been on a "job prowl" for 1.5 years (starting beginning of senior year). Moreover, because my degree is in a professional field that ranges from technical to many theoretical practices, I end up applying to jobs that are more varied. Along with being asked by a wide range of employers, my references, I feel, generally should be respected and informed of what to expect & when to expect it.

    Thanks for the good advice. It is very helpful as I don't have much knowledge with common HR practices. Ask a Manager, thanks for being a great resource and blogger (as well as managerial friend). :)

  4. Anonymous*

    I had a terrible experience with references lately. I provided references as asked for in a job description, and they proceeded to call my references WITHOUT even having me in for an initial interview! Needless to say, my references were thrown off base (I was also told by one that they didn’t even bother to identify themselves properly to her, and she had no clue who they were or what they did, and that they behaved unprofessionally in the phone call). I know some people will say I dodged a bullet, but it was still disheartening, and I still don’t know which organization I applied to that did this, as I have been applying to a lot recently that request references as part of the application.

    Also, I have had the experience of people calling references even though I had specifically requested that they let me know first so I could give them notice (as well as letting them know the particulars of the position so they could target their comments accordingly). This has happened more than once, and the results were not good (the references did not emphasize the specific skills and knowledge I would bring to that particular position, since they didn’t know anything about it, even though they did their best and meant well, and were also thrown off by the out-of-the-blue call).

    I like AAM’s advice here a lot, and have learned this the hard way, but the fact is many ask for references when you are applying, and then it is out your hands.

    One more rant – I wish more job announcements would post salary ranges so you don’t waste your time or that of the organization. Maybe there is a sound reason for this policy, but I don’t understand it.

  5. Anonymous*

    Anonymous – if you want a specific salary, be proactive and mention it in your cover letter, rather than hoping you’re not wasting your time. Then, you’ll only get call-backs from companies that are within that range. I’ve done that during my last two searches and was offered exactly what I asked for.

    As per calling references before meeting a candidate, from a recruiters POV, what a waste of time. I wouldn’t include them during an initial application. I’d explain that since I’m currently employed, I’d prefer to give references after initial screening, but would be willing to discuss this in more detail. If you don’t give them the names, they can’t check your references.

  6. Anonymous*

    Glad I found this post…I've been wondering about this for some time.

    As an unemployed recent grad in a tough job market, it is pretty much impossible to stay on the same career trajectory. If you want any chance at an entry-level job, you have to cast a wide net. Sad but true.

    Alison's advice pretty much nails it though…while most of us are applying for a lot of jobs at once, we'll only make it to the final stages at a few places, and then we can contact our references to give them a heads up.

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