Younger job seekers can be forgiven, perhaps, for thinking references — the lowly résumé footnote listed even farther down the page than the ‘skills and hobbies’ section — are an antiquated formality. In fact, even career counselors aren’t sure they matter like they used to.
“The world has completely changed, and you can no longer control what an employer thinks about you by getting three people lined up as references,” says Louise Fletcher, president of Blue Sky Résumés. “I can look you up on MySpace and Twitter and see what you wrote on a forum, so I don’t need to rely so much on calling three people.”
Career consultant Cynthia Shapiro agrees, yet still believes in the relevance of references. “Every time a hiring manager recommends someone for employment, their job is on the line,” she says.
That means the powers-that-hire are after testimony that will justify their decision to bring you on, should you turn out to be a disastrous hire. And because many large corporations — for fear of lawsuits — will only tell callers your name, title and dates of employment, hiring managers often struggle to gather positive offline feedback on professionalism.
So finding that trio of colleagues willing to put in the good word can nudge you across the finish line.
“If you look like the safest bet,” Shapiro says, “you will actually get the job over other people with better skills, because hiring managers have to protect themselves.”