Prospective employers expect job applicants to provide a list of references. Usually, these will consist of former employers. If you have some skeletons in the closet with previous employers, it's time to take some important actions to ensure that they do not become killer references and ruin your chances of getting the job.

Since references are normally checked between the date of your interview and the date you are offered the job, you may never have a chance to address any red flag questions arising from what your references say about you. Therefore, it is extremely important that you choose your references well so that no unexpected red flags get tossed your way during this critical decision-making phase.

Think hard and try to identify some people who will give you a good reference (other than your relatives!). By carefully selecting, you may be able to salvage this one.

Try to select references that fall into the following categories:
  • Former employers - Can verify your work history and talk about your accomplishments and pattern of work behavior.
  • Character witness - An associate, minister, or someone else whom you have worked with who can speak about your good character.
If you have a difficult background and you know the prospective employer knows this, include a reference who can testify to how you have turned your life around. This person might be, for example, a prison minister, chief psychologist, education officer, or parole officer.

One type of reference you might want to avoid because he/she could be potentially damaging to your future is a former employer who fired you or one you left in a huff. In fact, the interviewer may ask you if it's okay for her to contact this former employer. If you say "no," you raise a red flag.

This may be the time to mend some old broken fences before your job interview. It may be to your benefit to make up with the former employer; then you can ask if he would be willing to serve as a favorable reference.

Be sure to contact those whom you select as references before giving their names to a prospective employer. Let them know you are searching for a job and ask for their permission to serve as a reference.

Give them a copy of your resume, or a summary of your background, and tell them they may be called by a few employers who will be checking you out. Go one step further and ask if they could serve as a favorable reference.

SOURCE: Adapted from Caryl and Ron Krannich, Ph.D.s, Job Interview Tips for People With Not-So-Hot Backgrounds (Manassas Park: Impact Publications), pp. 102-104. Copyright 2004. All rights reserved.