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They are a traditional and important part of the job-hunting process. Before you secure that temp or temp-to-hire job you’ve been gunning for, hiring managers are going to check your references.

But those references likely won’t gab for hours about your positives and negatives. Employment law differs from state to state about the specifics of what prior employers or human resources departments can and cannot say about previous employees. Many companies, however, have policies in place that restrict what prior managers can say about previous employees. These protocols protect the company from the potential of a defamation or slander suit should a reference negatively impact a job opportunity.

Here are some basics of the reference process and some steps you should follow in this important part of the job-hunting process.

1. Know the script. Most states allow previous employers to state, at least, when you were hired, how long you worked there and whether you were dismissed with or without cause or left on your own. This is the script many companies stick to.

2. Be honest. Make sure your reference matches up with the truth. Don’t say you were laid off if you were terminated for cause or left voluntarily.

3. Inform references. Alert people to the fact you listed them as a reference. If a person expresses surprise, it can project a sense you aren’t very tight with that person.

4. List allies. If you were dismissed from a job, don’t abandon all hope. List a peer, colleague or direct report with whom you worked well.

5. Coach them. In addition to informing people you have listed them as a reference, it cannot hurt to share specific information about the new job you are applying for and coach the reference on key points.

If you’ve made it far enough in the process for a hiring manager to seek references, congratulations! You have one foot in the door and can seal the deal for a temp or temp-to-hire job if you follow the pointers listed above.

If you already have a good list of references in place, head over to AtWork and see how we can put those references to work for you.