Didn’t get the last job you interviewed for? There’s a chance your references aren’t as good as you think.

This is according to a new study that found that three out of five employers said that they contacted a reference listed by a candidate who didn’t actually have good things to say about the candidate.

Eighty percent of employers said that they do, indeed, check references when evaluating a candidate, and 69 percent of employers said they had changed their mind about a candidate after speaking to a reference. The majority – 47 percent – said they wound up with a less positive opinion and only 23 percent came away with a more favourable opinion. That’s nearly half of employers who have been negatively turned by a reference.

The survey also found that 29 percent of employers had found a fake reference on a candidate’s application. This seems high. How dumb do you have to be to list a fake reference? Note to people who are doing this: stop it.

Meanwhile, 15 percent of workers surveyed said they had listed someone as a reference without telling that person. Now, that is not very smart.

Heather R. Huhman, founder and president of Come Recommended, offers the following sage advice when it comes to choosing and prepping your references.

You would think this goes without saying but it obviously doesn’t. “First,” says Huhman, “ask the people you’d like to serve as your references if they are willing to do so. Never assume.”

Huhman also suggests you ask them how they would answer the most commonly asked questions. These are listed below.

I’m not sure a lot of people would have the guts to ask a former boss to sit through telling them how they would answer a bunch of questions. Realistically, most people are just thankful when a former employer says “yes” to giving a reference, and aren’t going to push it. Buy if you can bring yourself to do this, you’re probably better off.

Also, your friends might want to help you but not know how. They might buckle under pressure and not be able to come up with a time you impressed them, or not know whether you’d prefer to work in a group or alone. So, there should be no issue with you coaching them. They might be grateful.

The best way to ensure that you get a good reference is not to give people anything bad to say about you. Be excellent.

Even then, a little pre-emptive damage control probably can’t hurt.

The most common questions for a professional reference:

    1. Please explain the candidate’s responsibilities when he or she worked with you.
    2. How would you rate the candidate’s ability to fulfill those responsibilities on a scale of one to 10?
    3. Can you give me an example of a time the candidate showed initiative or extra responsibility?
    4. What is the candidate’s greatest strength?
    5. What is the candidate’s greatest weakness?
    6. Why did the candidate leave your organization?
    7. Would you hire this person again?
    8. Is there anything else I should know about the candidate?

The most common questions for a personal reference:

    1. How long have you known the candidate?
    2. Give me an example of a time when the candidate impressed you.
    3. Would you describe the candidate as an introvert or extrovert? Would the candidate work well with others or prefer working alone?