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What Employers Will Ask Your References

NEW YORK ( MainStreet) -- Some job hunters may view the reference-checking process as an afterthought, at least compared with the effort that goes into creating their resume and cover letter. But according to several career experts we interviewed, having a strong set of professional contacts who can vouch for a candidate can be the deciding factor in whether they get hired.

References essentially serve as a way for employers to fact-check the candidate's backstory, including how long they worked at a particular company, what their primary responsibilities were at that job and whether they were a good employee. Some recruiters will go so far as to ask candidates for additional references to paint a fuller picture of the applicant.

Before you pick someone to be a job reference, make sure they're able to answer certain questions.

"A good reference-checker will go beyond the references on the list you provide," says Alison Green, the writer behind the popular Ask a Manager blog who also happens to have managed a midsize business herself. It certainly doesn't happen all the time, but when it does, she says it's typically because "someone obvious" is missing from the candidate's reference list, like a former boss from a company he or she worked at for years.

In fact, certain recruiters will even do extra legwork to track down relevant contacts from the candidate's previous companies just to have a more candid conversation about their strengths and weaknesses.

"If I can get a backdoor reference, those are worth a million dollars," says Jennie Dede, vice president of recruiting for Adecco Staffing . Traditionally, these kind of references have been harder to find simply because some states and companies have policies against providing references, not to mention the fact that some potential backdoor references worry they'll be accused of slander if it's ever discovered they said something negative about the candidate. It has gotten easier in recent years, though, thanks to the rise of social networks.

"The recruiting world is very small, so you can easily reach out to someone on LinkedIn," Dede says. "I think with social media the way it is, you'll see more and more of those backdoor references."

The million-dollar question
Just what the reference-checker chooses to ask depends largely on whether they are a personal or professional reference provided by the candidate or a backdoor reference that the recruiter tracked down -- though there is obviously some overlap between the three.

For a personal reference such as a friend or a former colleague, the questions usually are geared toward assessing the candidate's character and personality. Ryan Hunt, a career adviser with job site CareerBuilder, says these types of references will likely be asked some version of the following questions: