When Do Employers Call References

When you’re being considered for a job position, the company will most likely contact your references. This is something that you should thoroughly prepare for.

But the question is, when do employers call your references? Here are insights from career experts.

Damian Birkel

Damian Birkel

Leadership Author | Founder & Executive Director, Professionals In Transition Support Group Inc.

By the time HR is calling to talk to your references, they have already made the decision to hire you

If you manage your references correctly, an employer will only call to check them when they are looking for good news. Checking references is one of the final steps made in hiring. That’s why it’s so important to “feed and nourish“ your references throughout the job search process.

References should only be provided to the employer when asked.

Stay in control of your work reputation. Your references should never be volunteered or listed on your résumé. The last thing you want is a hiring manager, HR person, or recruiter calling them without your knowledge.

Related: Should I Put References Available Upon Request on My Resume?

It will come as a surprise to you, is rude to your references, and could lead to your elimination from an interview before you even get a chance to talk about the position. When they call, they are looking for a consistent impression of you across the scope of those you asked to serve.

When an employer asks for your references, it’s time to go into immediate action:

  • Always send an email to each reference mentioning that they may get a call from the company.
  • Add a paragraph that says something like this:
    • Thank you for being one of my references. Since my last update to you, I have had the opportunity to interview with the XYZ company. My hope is that you will be able to work into the conversation the following points:
      • A
      • B
      • C
      • D
      • E
  • Send this email to all of your references to ensure that a consistent story about you is told.

By the time Human Resources is calling to talk to your references, they have already made the decision to hire you and only want good, consistent news about you.

Piyushi Dhir

Piyushi Dhir

HR Generalist | Author | Owner, Help and Wellness

Companies typically begin contacting references near the end of the hiring process

When a hiring manager starts phoning and verifying references, it shows you’re a serious candidate with a good chance of getting the job. Companies typically begin contacting references near the end of the hiring process.

A word of warning: Just because recruiting managers are checking your references does not indicate you’ll get the job.

Your reference list could be the deciding factor in whether or not you get the job. Working in HR for many years, I’ve witnessed mistakes that might have been easily avoided, resulting in a very good candidate being passed up for a position.

Why having contactable references is critical in the hiring process

First and foremost, allow me to clarify why having contactable references is critical in the hiring process. When potential employers ask for references, it’s to ensure that you initially worked for the organization and in the job listed on your résumé. Many people lie on their resumes, which may surprise you.

I’ll give you an example of why it should be checked. Consider this scenario:

A hospital is looking for a pediatric nurse, and a candidate claims to have worked with children, and it turns they were employed as a caregiver or, say, a dental assistant. Their experience does not match the hospital’s requirements.

This scenario may be excessive, but it illustrates the point: Organizations are looking for people who can work in that capacity successfully and contribute to the company.

Second, reviewing references assists companies in determining if you are a suitable fit for the position. It’s also a good way for employers to learn more about the skills, expertise, and talents of a possible candidate.

Check to see if your references are up to date

If your former employer is no longer in business, a quick search on LinkedIn or another comparable search engine can help you reconnect with a former boss or supervisor.

Three references are sufficient. Use character references if you are new to the workforce. You can get a character reference written for you by a teacher, college professor, an organization where you volunteered, or your church youth minister. Character references are acceptable.

References are an important aspect of the job; include them in your resume and refrain from using the phrase “References available upon request.” Hiring managers will move on to the next best candidate.

To be clear, if your references are outdated, you may lose out on a job opportunity. Your references, on the other hand, are not to blame for your lucking out. References are normally contacted towards the end of the interview process, as previously stated.

The recruiting team reviews the entire interview process as well as each candidate to determine who is the greatest fit for the position.

Joe Flanagan

Joe Flanagan

Senior Employment Advisor, VelvetJobs

Why references are important

References basically speak to a potential employee’s character. If you have strong references, then your chances of getting hired are higher.

Take this example; you want the job of a manager coaching a soccer team in the US. Now, as the hiring party, compare the reference from a coach who manages a Premier League team that has won 11 European titles to that of an assistant coach who has not won any titles, but his team always finished in the top five of the league.

Which reference do you think carries more weight?

Will the references be contacted?

According to a study by the Society for Human Resource Management, 92% of employers carry out background checks. Even after employment, around 15% of the same employers will repeat the checks.

Given these statistics, it is necessary to use references that will speak highly of you. They are basically a confirmation of what you tell the potential employer. Therefore, you and your references should be reading from the same page. In addition, the hiring process is expensive to the employer.

For this reason, the employer tries to avoid the process as much as they can, but when it does happen, the employer needs to be certain that the person they end up hiring is the right fit for the position. Also, that the prospective employee isn’t just passing through and will be loyal to the organization.

Suppose a previous employer isn’t a reference. In that case, potential employers may still contact them for information on your ability to perform, your work character, and at times they’ll also want to know why you left.

In addition, the choice of references can be diverse. You can have various references that speak to different aspects of your life:

All these are what make you who you are.

Therefore, you are giving your prospective employer the fullest possible picture of who you are and your capabilities.

Alex Moss

Alex Moss

Owner & Founder, Tactical Arbitrage

Reference check could happen at almost any stage in the hiring process

When an employer is seriously considering a job candidate, one or more references are often called. Depending on the position sought, a reference check could happen at almost any stage in the hiring process, but usually, it happens at the last stage.

Most often, when they have short-listed few candidates of interest and want to perform some vetting. Once the employer has made a job offer, employers will check references to ensure new hires are going to be a good fit before the hiring process is finalized.

Related: How and When Does an Employer Check Your References?

There are various reasons why employers ask for references:

  • To verify information from a resume, such as:
    • Years of experience
    • Job title
    • The name of an employer
  • To get more specific information on the position that was held, obtain copies of performance evaluations, certifications, or checking on information that applicants left off of a resume.
  • To gather additional information about the candidate, such as their reason for leaving a previous job and how long they worked there.

When calling references, employers will typically address their questions to the person listed as “Current/Recent Supervisor/Manager” in the resume.

Related: What Can Potential Employers Ask Former Employers?

Whenever a candidate receives the reference check notice from a prospective employer, keep in mind that they are taking a big step in hiring. Any negative comments from references can be a deal-breaker.

Clay Burnett

Clay Burnett

President and Executive Recruiter, Clay Burnett Group

When employers are seriously considering making a job offer, they will start calling references

This means, of course, that you need to think carefully about who you’ve selected to speak on your behalf.

Ideally, you should choose individuals who have a good knowledge of your skills and can speak to how effectively you work with others. You obviously can’t always ask your current boss, but a reference needs to actually know you.

Most importantly, you should give a “heads up” to those who may receive a call.

If you are working with a recruiter, they can often provide an advance warning that the selection process is getting serious and that you are under consideration. If you are on your own, you can gauge interest by the number of interviews you’ve had.

If you have progressed beyond a screening interview with an HR officer and you have had contact with a department head, presume that you are now in competition for the job, and it’s time to check in with those you’ve listed as a reference.

This check-in call or email is an opportunity for you to provide a guide about what your reference can say about you relative to the job description. This can be a chance to sell yourself.

Paul French

Paul French

Managing Director, Intrinsic Search

Employers can call references at any point in the hiring process

However, most do it toward the end of the process when they have narrowed down their list of candidates and want to compare just a handful before making the final decision on who to hire.

They call to confirm:

  • Titles
  • Job responsibilities
  • Accomplishments
  • Personality
  • Attributes

This is to ensure that the person they finally hire has all the desired qualities and has what it takes to thrive at their new job.

Suppose any red flags come up early or somewhere midway through the interview process. In that case, the interviewer may decide to phone your listed references to ensure that your story is straight and they aren’t wasting their time interviewing the wrong person.

For example, if there seems to be a mismatch between a candidate’s title, responsibilities, and experience, calling at least one of the listed references might be necessary to confirm the candidate’s title, the kind of work they did, and any memorable achievements.

When you set out on a job search, be sure to include at least three references and let each one know that you have listed them as references and that they should expect a call from a recruiter or hiring manager.

If you are on good terms with your references, don’t be shy to ask them to give you a glowing recommendation to get you closer to a job offer.

Justin Nabity, CFP, CLU, ChFC

Justin Nabity

Founder and CEO, Physicians Thrive

Employers usually contact and reach out to referrals at the end of the recruitment process

Gone are the days when employers ignored suggestions or considered them unimportant.

According to a survey conducted by the Society for Human Resources Management (SHRM), 92% of employers conduct background checks, usually during the recruitment review process (87%). Some people even repeat annual inspections (15%) or when employees are promoted (10%).

They use these guidelines to help select from the latest candidates and make sure they have hired the right person for the position.

Employers usually contact and reach out to referrals at the end of the recruitment process. They first try to narrow down the candidate pool to a few options, which grants them a bundle of time to communicate with each recommendation. They then use these recommendation links to select from the pool of the shortlisted candidates and make sure they have hired people who are suitable for this job.

Employers can request letters of recommendation at any stage of the recruitment process. Usually, it is helpful to create a reference list at the beginning of a job search so that it can be provided at the request of the employer. This shows that you are ready and willing to get a job.

Katie Ziskind, LMFT

Katie Ziskind

Holistic Marriage and Family Therapist | Owner, Wisdom Within Counseling

Employers will call references after the first job interview

After meeting a candidate for the first time, an employer will decide if they want to bring them on. At that time, they will go to the extra effort to call references to understand more about the employee’s personality, work history, and if they would be a good fit for their new job.

Calling a reference is not an “end all be all.”

Some references that have been very positive purposely left out important information that would have prevented the employee from being hired at another job. References should not be the only way you are checking to see if an employee is a right fit for you.

You need to have your own interview process and even multiple interviews to weed out candidates who do not have the qualities or skills needed for the position.

For me, references have not provided me very much information on a candidate because so many past employers want to get rid of a bad candidate, so they will tell you only the good things to get them off their hands and work for you.

Dana Case

Dana Case

Director of Operations, MyCorporation

Employers will call references as one of the final steps in the interview process

Generally, employers will call references as one of the final steps in the interview process. This step often goes hand in hand with conducting a background check on the applicant.

Typically, candidates should be able to provide the employer with three references. The employer must be able to successfully contact each reference and speak to them about the candidate’s work ethic and their experience working with this individual in previous roles.

It’s important that all references know that they are references to the candidate in advance and are not surprised for any reason, so the candidate should speak to these individuals ahead of time to ensure the references may speak on their behalf and give positive feedback.

If the reference and background checks are satisfactory, then the employer may move forward in extending the candidate a job offer.

Anna Berkolec

Anna Berkolec

Recruiter, ResumeLab

As a general rule, we don’t check references until a candidate is short-listed

It’s time-consuming, so we don’t do this for every candidate. Also, we don’t check references for every candidate, even when they’re selected for a position. Typically, references are more relevant for higher-profile positions.

Candidates who are nearing the end of a recruitment cycle and still standing for management positions will have their references checked. It’s often clear who’s warned their references that they might be getting a call.

When a reference seems blind-sighted by a call, we can sometimes take this to show a lack of preparedness and professionalism from the candidate.

So, job seekers, take note: Always communicate with your references when you’re job hunting.

Luis Rolon

Luis Rolon

HR Business Partner, Resume-Now

The answer should be all the time

Employers call references to verify that the candidate is indeed who they claim to be and that their work experience and accomplishments aren’t too inflated.

In most instances, this step has become almost a formality. That said, it should not be skipped or ignored as it’s shocking the extent to which applicants can stretch the truth and hyperbolize their achievements.

So ideally, the answer should be – all the time.

If you’ve identified a solid candidate that seems to check off all the boxes and would make an excellent addition to the team, it still behooves you that others think the same.

Granted, 95% of the time, the reviews will be stellar as they’ll make you think that you’re hiring the best thing since sliced bread. Alas, as mentioned above, this is not always the case as people can sometimes have a very liberal relationship with the truth.

While some prefer to check with up to three references, two is enough, in my opinion. As long as the reference isn’t a family member or the applicant’s friend, they make for a suitable and acceptable reference.

All in all, checking in with the references may seem redundant, but ultimately it is an essential step worth maintaining just to ensure that everything checks out.

Ouriel Lemmel

Ouriel Lemmel

CEO, WinIt

Employers call references when they are deciding between a few top contenders

It isn’t a good use of employers’ time to call references for every applicant. Many employers will call just a handful of references after employees have already had interviews and they are in their final round of deciding.

At this point, checking references is just part of the protocol, but if someone has a negative reference, the job will easily go to another candidate.

Some employers never check references

I know this may sound shocking for some applicants to hear. There is an expectation that you come to a job interview with a list of references. But oftentimes, employers are overly business and fail to contact those references.

If they get a good feeling from an interview, they may skip the reference check altogether.

Most references are overly complimentary, so it can often be difficult to decipher any difference from reference to reference.

Eric Kim

Eric Kim

Co-Owner and Program Director, LA Tutors

In a nutshell—nearly always

While every employer will place varying emphases on references, most employers will reach out to references to hear what they may have to say about a potential candidate.

Since referrals are provided by the applicant, we already expect to hear good things, so it’s more about what isn’t said that can make an impression. With this in mind, references can provide key information about a candidate, especially for positions requiring many clients or team interaction.

Another aspect of the references that can play a factor is what types of references are provided.

Employers tend to like previous employers as a reference as this typically indicates a good working relationship and implies that the applicant left the position on good terms. Few employers don’t reach out to references, but even those who may be reticent will call if they are on the fence about a particular applicant.

Related: Building Strong Work Relationships

Ensuring your references can speak to your strengths and corroborate your skills is a no-brainer when submitting an application.

Cath Garcia

Cath Garcia

HR Manager, Skill Success

Usually towards the end of the hiring process or when they are close to making an offer

Employers call references even before hiring an employee, usually towards the end of the hiring process or when they are close to making an offer to one of the final three candidates. This helps employers narrow the list before coming up with a decision.

A critical part of the hiring process, as per the book “The Who,” is the step of calling the candidates’ character references. Candidates would put their best foot forward during the application, so the concrete verification is the feedback from their previous managers/supervisors.

This would give you an insight into how the employee had been in actual work. A lot of candidates can be good on paper and can ace the interview but only to find out once hired that they have fooled you. Can take extra time but never skip calling the references to check before hiring.

David Aylor

David Aylor

Founder & CEO, David Aylor Law Offices

When I’ve narrowed down the top 5 candidates, I call their references to get some feedback

In the legal field, having good character is just as critical as legal knowledge, so I check references very carefully when making new hires. When I’ve narrowed down the top 5 candidates, I call their references to get some feedback from previous management, colleagues, as well as personal references.

Sometimes these reference checks help lean me toward one candidate over another, especially if I feel they’re close to equally qualified. While some employers don’t check references at all, many employers will reach out; giving your references fair warning that a call could be coming is a great idea regardless.

Brian Dean

Brian Dean

Founder, Exploding Topics

The reference check takes place after the interviews and before a job offer is given

After the interviews have been completed, it is customary to verify references. The prospective employer verifies the information provided by the candidate at this point in the interview process. The reference should testify to the accuracy of all information in the CV and cover letter.

When a potential employer checks references, it does not mean the applicant will be offered a job. Even if the applicant’s references are great, the company may choose to pursue another candidate. As a candidate or job seeker, don’t assume that a reference check guarantees you’ll get a job offer.

In a nutshell, the reference check takes place after the interviews and before a job offer is given.

Max Benz

Max Benz

Founder and CEO, remote-job

Employers typically call references after the candidate interviews for the position

They also call references when the candidate receives an offer letter and before signing the employment contract.

It is crucial for candidates to be on-point with their responses. If they have not given you an opportunity to explain yourself, it is best to find out why this was the case. In some cases, employers will leave a voicemail on your behalf if they have not been able to reach you by phone but are still interested in speaking with you.

There are three types of references:

  • Professional references
  • Personal references
  • Character references

Liz Palmieri

Liz Palmieri

Certified Talent Optimization Consultant

Goodbye, references — hello, science

It’s becoming less of a question of “when is the right time to call a reference” and more of a question of “does calling a reference provide meaningful data.” Candidates rarely list a reference that isn’t primed to give them a glowing review regardless of their actual work performance, attitude, and aptitude.

The current job market is so competitive that recruiters and hiring managers have to move quickly and don’t have the bandwidth for this administrative task, which offers a diminished return. A better solution is to define the behavioral and cognitive demands of the job and ask candidates to complete a scientifically validated assessment.

Then all the recruiter or hiring manager has to do is match the candidate to the job benchmark, and they will have objective data to predict job success and training performance.

Alina Clark

Alina Clark

Co-Founder & Marketing Director, CocoDoc

The reference stage often comes towards the end of the hiring process

Managers tend to undertake it when they have narrowed down the list of potential candidates to the most qualified ones. After all, undertaking a reference check for 50+ candidates is draining and a little bit too tasking.

A reference check helps managers figure out the personality fits that would work best with their existing teams. If anything, talking to a person who’s previously worked with the candidate tends to give you more insight into their personalities and their skills.

For candidates, the best references tend to be professional ones.

Providing personal references tends to reduce the depth of your application. As an employer, I would definitely prefer to speak to a former employee rather than your friends or a teacher. A former employee provides a more in-depth professional source compared to personal friends.

Kathryn McDavid

Kathryn McDavid

CEO, Editor’s Pick

I often waited until later in the hiring process to call upon references

When looking to hire new employees, I often waited till later in the hiring process to call upon references. There is no need to make extra calls if the candidate is not going to be a good fit. Narrowing the options to just a few candidates is a better option.

I’ve heard of other companies not calling references or checking on references even before the interview. As already mentioned, calling up on references before narrowing the pool down is wasteful to the reference’s time and may give the candidate a false sense of hope if they find out.

Regarding not checking references, that may be alright in a situation where it is pretty cut-and-dry who you’d like to hire (or if you’ve previously worked with/or close to the candidate). But usually, if you are looking to choose between a few individuals, references can give you a clearer picture of the candidate’s work ethic, work culture preferences, etc.

Jordan Bishop

Jordan Bishop

Founder and CEO, Yore Oyster

After the candidates pass certain screenings

I’ve found that I’m more likely to check on references if a certain candidate has frequent ins-and-outs or short positions that look like gaps in their work history.

Sometimes people like to lie or tend to stretch what small bits of truth there are in their words, so it’s always worth considering this when choosing a possible candidate. However, I only do this process after the candidates pass certain screenings.

The last thing I would want is to hire someone and then have this person not know what they said there experts at in their résume. And believe me, I’ve had that process happen to more than I would like to admit.

Dorota Lysienia

Dorota Lysienia

Community Manager, LiveCareer

Employers usually call references at the end of the hiring process

Employers usually call references at the end of the hiring process when they are close to making their final decision. Typically, there are just two or three candidates that still are considered for the job. In essence, you’re at the finish line, and it’s about inches if you win or not.

Every applicant has strengths and weaknesses in the eyes of the recruiter. One might have more job experience, whereas the other could be a better cultural fit.

Employers call references to get more insights about a candidate and spot any potential red flags that are not visible at first glance. That’s why it’s essential to have a solid list of references ready. Make sure to reach out to your references ahead of time to confirm your potential employer can contact them and if their contact information is up to date.

Also, remember to use references that are relevant to the position you apply for. It’s better if your employer contacts your former manager from the same professional field rather than a college professor that used to teach you calculus many years ago.

Frequently Asked Questions 

Do employers have to inform the applicant before contacting references?

There is no legal requirement for employers to notify applicants before contacting their references. However, it is common practice in many companies to notify applicants before speaking with their references.

This allows the applicant to provide additional information or insight into their work history. This can also help build trust and transparency between the applicant and the potential employer.

What types of questions do employers typically ask on job references?

Employers may ask several questions during a reference check, such as:

– “Can you confirm the candidate’s job title and responsibilities?”
“How long did the candidate work for your company, and in what capacity?”
– “What were the candidate’s main duties and accomplishments in their role?”
– “How did the candidate handle challenges or difficult situations in the workplace?”
– “How did the candidate interact with colleagues and customers, and what was their communication style?”
– “Where were the candidate’s strengths, and were there opportunities for improvement?”
– “Did the candidate meet deadlines and perform their duties effectively?”
– “Can you give an example of when the candidate showed leadership or initiative?”
– “Would you hire the candidate again if given the opportunity?”
– “How does the candidate compare to other employees you have worked with in similar roles?”

These are just a few examples of the types of questions employers may ask during a reference check. The specific questions asked may vary depending on the job requirements and the candidate’s qualifications and experience.

Can a bad job reference ruin my chances of getting a job?

Yes, a bad reference can ruin your chances of getting a job. If an employer contacts one of your references and receives negative feedback about your performance, it can negatively impact their assessment of your qualifications and suitability for the job.

Employers typically rely on checking references to verify information provided by applicants and gain insight into their work experience, skills, and character.

If a reference raises concerns or provides negative feedback, this may be a red flag for the employer and cause them to reconsider your application.

However, it’s important to remember that a poor reference isn’t always a disqualifying factor. Employers may consider the overall context of the reference check, including: 
– Specific feedback
– Relevance to the job requirements
– The opinions of other references 
– Or the applicant’s own performance during the interview

Can applicants refuse to provide references?

Yes, applicants may refuse to provide references, which may limit their employment opportunities and raise concerns with employers.

However, there may also be valid reasons for an applicant not to provide references, such as confidentiality or privacy concerns or lack of relevant work experience.

In these cases, applicants may consider providing alternative information, such as work samples or testimonials from clients or colleagues.

They may also explain to the employer their reasons for not providing references and offer to provide additional information or documentation that may support their application.

It’s important to note that employers may still request references as part of their hiring process, and applicants who refuse to provide them may be disqualified from the position.

Applicants should carefully consider their reasons for refusing to give references and weigh the potential risks and benefits before deciding.

How do you prepare for a reference interview?

Preparing for a reference call is essential to ensure the job reference contains the best possible assessment of your skills and abilities. Below are some tips on how to prepare:

Choose the right references. Select references who know you well and can assess your skills and experience as they relate to the job you are applying for. Select references who have worked with you recently and are familiar with your recent work.

Include your resume and job description with your references. This will give them a better idea of the position and your experience and skills related to that specific job.

Inform your references about the job and the company. Find out about the company, the position you are applying for, and what you hope to accomplish in that position. This can help your references tailor their responses to the needs of the potential employer.

Prepare a list of possible questions. Be prepared for the types of questions your references might be asked, and make sure your references are able to provide specific examples and evidence of your skills and abilities.

Get in touch with your references. After the interview, contact your references to thank them for their time and let them know how the interview went. This can help maintain a positive relationship and ensure they are aware of any potential next steps.

Can you use friends as references?

Although it’s generally recommended to use professional references, there are circumstances in which it’s appropriate to use friends as references.

For example, if you’re at the beginning of your career and don’t have much professional experience, a friend who knows you well and can speak about your character and personal qualities can be a good reference.

However, you should remember that employers usually prefer professional references who can tell you about your work experience, skills, and accomplishments on the job.

Friends may not have the same credibility or relevance as professional references. Their feedback may not carry as much weight with potential employers.

If you choose to use friends as references, be sure to inform them about the job you’re applying for and provide them with all relevant information about the job requirements and your qualifications.

Also, be prepared to explain to potential employers why you chose to use friends as references and how they can testify about your qualifications and suitability for the job.

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