Job Search: Do References Really Matter?

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By Eileen AJ Connelly -- AP Personal Finance Writer

NEW YORK (AP) — How important are references to your job search?

Even the experts disagree.

Some in the job placement field say references are still a key part of getting a new position, while others say their importance is waning.

"I know very few companies, I really can't think of any, that don't check references," said Tyra Tutor, senior vice president at MPS Group, a Jacksonville, Fla.-based staffing and consulting company.

One such company is Grant Thornton. Deborah Campdera, national director of experienced recruiting, said the Chicago-based audit and tax advisory firm does a background check for every hire, and calls professional references for all managerial and executive positions.

But Don Straits, CEO of executive career services firm Corporate Warriors, maintains references are playing a lesser role in hiring for many companies. Instead they are increasigly turning to online searches to learn about a candidate.

"The ability for hiring decision makers to obtain information regarding the candidate from diverse resources is phenomenal," he said. "Usually, that information is more accurate or relevant than what you would receive from a reference check."

Just plugging a candidate's name into a search engine can reveal useful information. Companies might look for a Web site or blog, or for news articles revealing prominence in their field. "If the candidate comes up with a blank or zero information on an Internet search, that's also a red flag for some decision makers," Straits said.

Job hunters should also expect searches of social networking sites, where potential employers might look for information about personal habits or associations that could derail your search. Some companies might even contact connections on LinkedIn or other online networking services to get information about you. Straits said those secondary checks may provide better insight to potential employers, because those people aren't as prepared as your chosen references.

If a potential boss knows someone at the company where you used to work, he or she might also ask for that person's opinion. "If they are able to verify something informally like that, they don't have to check the references you provided," Tutor said.

Vicky Oliver, a career development speaker and author, whose latest book is "Bad Bosses, Crazy Co-Workers and Other Office Idiots," said references are more important for people who were laid off or let go. "If you have a stellar track record and you have no glaring obvious holes on your resume, the references aren't that important," she said. "But if you do have some black mark on you, then the references are more important."

Copyright 2009 The Associated Press.  All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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