5 Crucial Secrets of Reference Checking

employee reference check form

When Molly finally landed an interview with a company she'd been interested in for months, she was thrilled. Her phone call with the hiring manager had gone well. Or so she thought. Weeks later, she still hadn't heard about scheduling an in-person interview. Molly was baffled. Her background matched the job description closely; her references were excellent, and the recruiter had been encouraging. The vanishing act made zero sense.

Later that year, she ran into an old friend who worked at the company where she'd interviewed. The friend, promising to look into the situation, said "They loved you. I don't understand." She contacted Molly shortly afterwards: "They couldn't find two of your references. Your longtime boss, and a supervisor. They tried phone numbers and emails but couldn't get answers."

Molly's heart sank when she realized what happened. These references had recently retired. Of course the emails and business phone numbers hadn't worked.

Reference checking is a perplexing and often painful part of the job search process. Radical shifts in the industry, from legal to cultural to digital, make it tough to keep up with the latest employment, HR and recruiter requirements. Last year's hottest trend in hiring may suddenly cool while new trends force job seekers to revamp everything from resumes to references.

AOL Jobs turned to the reference-checking experts at AllisonTaylor for guidance on this crucial part of the hiring process. The company has identified 2014's hottest trends -- the ones that could help you get the job you want:

1. References have become more, not less, valuable with former supervisors becoming increasingly important. Prospective employers realize that former supervisors are far more likely to give candid feedback about a candidate than more traditional HR references.

2. Employers are increasingly conducting reference checks earlier in the job screening process. An increasing number of employers are deciding that it is more efficient to conduct the reference checks prior to the interview process. Weeding out the candidates with negative references protects the valuable time of the interviewers.

3. Maintaining close contact with your references has become increasingly important due to demographic shifts in the workplace. Many people in upper-level management are "boomers" who are now hitting retirement age. If that key reference retires, and you don't have his or her current contact information, it could be detrimental to your job seeking process. Molly learned this lesson the hard way.

4. "Boomerang" hiring is up so staying in touch with former employers can be crucial. Companies that may have had to lay workers off in recent years are now looking to increase their numbers, and many are more than willing to rehire old employees.

5. Effectively formatting one's references can give a candidate an edge on the competition. An effective reference list will identify those attributes the references can attest to, something that will make the prospective employer's job easier - and is guaranteed to reflect the job seeker in a proactive light.

Good news from another controversial hiring area: The social media background check trend is fading fast, falling victim to increasing concern over possible state laws, discrimination suits or other hot potato issues. "Shoulder surfing" -- forcing the applicant to log in to a website and giving a potential employer access to personal social content -- has lost its appeal, as has requiring an applicant's password. Some of this is because of the growing savvy of job searchers' use of social media, as more understand the power of social to help or hurt their efforts.
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