3 Things a Potential Employer Wants to Know from Your Job Resume References


By Staff Writer Published on June 13, 2017

What do you think your potential employer wants to know when calling your references? If you knew, would that help you plan ahead in your schoolwork, activities, and responsibilities when you’re working toward that new job?

Over the years many potential employers have called me about candidates who listed me as a reference. Most students think that the first question from a potential employer will be: “What is the candidate’s GPA?”

Curiously, I have never been asked about grades or even the quality of the candidate as a student. Finally, I discovered why that is: Your potential employer already has your official or unofficial transcript, a resume, and probably letters of recommendation. They already know from those documents that you pass the first barrier for employment. What they don’t know are things that nearly everyone forgets to put on a resume, in a cover letter, or even to ask reference letter writers to comment on. And I am about to tell you what those are.

First, remember that before you list a reference, you must get their approval to include their name and contact information for use by your potential employer. And before you choose who to ask, remember that it is important that your reference knows you as well as possible. If that reference is someone close to you, or someone who has worked with you or taught you in classes, it could be an easy task.

Easy, that is, if your reference can respond positively to the potential employer’s questions. Here are the questions I get in nearly every single call from potential employers (in the order of importance):

Can the candidate complete a project? By the project deadline? And, where appropriate, within budget? (Finishing your college degree counts). What else?

How responsible is the candidate about attendance, calling in when late or sick, and making up lost time? (This one is tough, yes?)

3. Is the candidate a team player? Can the candidate work in groups successfully? Has the candidate led groups to successful project conclusions? (Team sports count here, along with group projects in your field.)

If your reference can be positive in their comments and responses to these questions from your potential employers, you, the candidate, can go to the front of the line in the process. So remember to make sure your references can answer these questions, so that they can reply responsibly when asked.

Have potential employers asked your references any other questions? Share them in the comments!

About the Author

Wayne Geiselman, PhD, MBA, was the Associate Dean of Business at Stevens-Henager College from 2011 through 2014. Before that, he was Associate Dean of Business, Computer Science, and General Education at an affiliated college, California College San Diego (CCSD). In addition, he has been a strategic marketing and business development consultant in his own firm, ComFund International, since 1986, working with over 60 diverse technology companies from start-ups to the Global 500 in multiple fields. His corporate experience includes global eCommerce management positions at CommerceOne, KPMG, and Pacific Bell (SBC). Earlier in his career, he held consumer marketing and technical pharmaceutical management positions with Warner-Lambert (now Pfizer), Abbott Laboratories, and Purdue Pharma. Dr. Geiselman’s education includes an MBA in International Business (Finance & Economics) from Fairleigh-Dickinson University, a PhD from the University of Connecticut in Life Sciences (Natural Products Chemistry), an MS in Pharmacognosy (Natural Drug Products Chemistry) from The Ohio State University, and a BS in Pharmacy from the University of Mississippi.