Do Employers Check References Before or After an Offer?

do employers check references before or after an offer

The process of hiring an employee involves various steps, one of which is the reference check. This crucial step helps employers assess the candidate’s experience, work ethic, and professional relationships. The timing of reference checks, however, can vary among different organizations and even hiring managers.

Some employers opt to check references before making a job offer, while others wait until after the candidate has verbally accepted the offer. This distinction leads to the question: When exactly do employers check references? There is no universal answer, as it varies based on company policies and individual preferences. Understanding the reasons behind these varied approaches can provide insights into the job search and hiring process.

Key Takeaways

  • The timing of reference checks varies among employers, with some checking before and others after a job offer.
  • Employers conduct reference checks to assess a candidate’s work ethic, experience, and professional relationships.
  • A positive reference check can be a deciding factor in whether or not a candidate receives a job offer.

Why Do Employers Check References?

Importance of Assessing Competence

Employers check references to ensure that they are hiring the most competent and suitable candidate for the job. References from previous employers or individuals who have worked closely with the candidate can provide valuable insights into their work performance, skills, and character. By assessing competence through reference checks, employers can minimize the risk of making a bad hire, which could have negative consequences on their organization.

Hiring manager is talking in his phone checking references of potential employees

One way employers assess competence is by corroborating the information provided by the candidate in their application materials, such as their resume and cover letter. The verification of employment history, job titles, duties, and accomplishments helps employers to confirm that the candidate has the necessary experience and abilities for the desired position.

Assessing Job Performance

Another rationale for checking references is to evaluate how the candidate has performed in their previous roles. Reference checks can provide honest feedback on the candidate’s strengths and weaknesses, work ethic, communication styles, and ability to adapt to different work environments. Such qualitative information is invaluable for employers, as it allows them to make informed decisions about the candidate’s suitability for the position.

Casual woman in sun glasses answering an email reference check on her phone

To gain a complete picture of the candidate’s job performance, employers may ask for information on the candidate’s:

  • Problem-solving skills
  • Leadership abilities
  • Time management
  • Interpersonal skills
  • Ability to work in a team

By checking references, employers can better understand how the candidate will fit into their organization and contribute to the overall success. By carefully selecting the most suitable candidate for the job, based on reliable information from their references, employers can enhance the likelihood of a positive work experience and increased productivity.

When Do Employers Check References?

There are two common stages during the hiring process when employers typically check references: the pre-offer stage and the post-offer stage.

Pre-Offer Stage

During the pre-offer stage, employers may conduct a reference check to help them narrow down their list of potential candidates. At this stage, it is about identifying the top contenders for the position. Employers check references to validate the claims made by applicants in their resumes, interviews, and application documents. This involves contacting the references provided by the candidates to obtain information about their reliability, work ethic, and overall fit for the position. It is not uncommon for employers to check references at this stage, especially when there are multiple qualified candidates being considered.

Old school manager asking for references before giving a job offer

A benefit of conducting reference checks at the pre-offer stage is that it can help hiring managers make more informed decisions as they determine which candidates are most suitable to receive a job offer. Additionally, finding out about possible red flags early on can prevent wasted time and resources on unsuitable candidates. Nevertheless, this practice may also require more effort and time, as employers will likely need to check more references when considering multiple candidates.

Post-Offer Stage

The reference check may also take place during the post-offer stage, after a provisional job offer has been made. This is often done to confirm the applicant’s qualifications and to ensure that the candidate is a good match for the position. In this stage, the employer has already made a decision based on the skills and qualifications of the candidate, but the reference check serves as a final verification step.

The post-offer stage reference check allows for a more focused effort, as the employer will only need to contact references for the selected candidate(s). It also enables the employer to move forward with greater confidence after verifying details like work history, performance, and other related information with the candidate’s references. Conducting reference checks at this stage can be beneficial for the employer, as it reduces the risk of bringing in a candidate who may not be a good fit for the company.

Phone reference check by hiring manager

In both the pre-offer and post-offer stages, employers check references to gain valuable insights into a candidate’s professional background and capabilities. By understanding the implications and benefits of conducting reference checks at different stages of the hiring process, employers can make more informed decisions and select the most suitable candidates for their organization.

How Do They Conduct Reference Checks?

Employers typically utilize two methods when conducting reference checks: phone reference checks and email reference checks. Both methods serve to verify an applicant’s background, qualifications, and overall suitability for the role.

Phone Reference Checks

Hiring managers often prefer conducting phone reference checks as they allow for direct communication with the reference. This method enables the recruiter to ask in-depth questions about the candidate and gauge the references’ reactions, providing valuable insights into the candidate’s work ethics and on-the-job performance.

During the phone reference check, the hiring manager will ask for specific examples of accomplishments, teamwork, and problem-solving skills demonstrated by the applicant. Additionally, they may verify details such as dates of employment, job titles, and reasons for leaving past positions. This kind of conversation can offer a more comprehensive understanding of the candidate’s potential, giving the hiring manager a clearer picture of their capabilities.

Email Reference Checks

Email reference checks, on the other hand, involve asking the references to provide feedback and validate the candidate’s claims through written correspondence. While email reference checks are more time-efficient and can be more convenient for the candidate’s references, they often lack the depth and nuance that can be gleaned from a phone conversation.

Cartoon manager sitting at his desk talking in his phone while holding a sign that says Reference Check

In this method, the hiring manager sends an email with specific questions to the candidate’s references, including their contact information. Once the references respond, the recruiter reviews the answers to assess the candidate’s suitability for the role. One advantage of using email reference checks is the ability to review the responses more easily, as everything is in writing.

What Do Employers Ask References?

Job Performance Related Queries

Employers may ask about a candidate’s job performance when contacting references. They may inquire about the individual’s skills, their previous job title, and any qualifications they may have. Specific questions could include:

  • How would you rate the candidate’s job performance?
  • What are their strengths and weaknesses?
  • Can you give examples of significant accomplishments or projects they have worked on?
  • How well did they fulfill the responsibilities of their job title?

This information helps employers determine if a candidate has the necessary experience and competencies for the position.

Behavioral and Personality Questions

In addition to job performance, employers may ask references about a candidate’s behavior and personality. These questions help assess how well the candidate will fit into the company culture and work effectively within a team. Some common inquiries might include:

  • How does the candidate handle stress or pressure?
  • Can you provide examples of their teamwork and collaboration skills?
  • Are they a punctual and reliable employee?
  • Did they have a positive attitude and act as a team player?

Employers could also ask about a candidate’s reason for leaving their previous job, as this may provide insights into their career goals and potential compatibility with the new role. Overall, the information gathered from references helps employers make an informed decision when considering a candidate for employment.

What If References Are Not Checked?

Potential Pitfalls

When employers do not check job candidate references, they may miss essential information about the applicant’s work history, skills, and experiences. This can lead to hiring a candidate whose resume oversells their capabilities, or someone who may not be a good fit for the company culture.

Office worker with torn shoes sitting on a step while contacting potential references

There are several potential drawbacks to not conducting reference checks:

  • Inaccurate employment history: Without reference checks, employers may not verify the candidate’s past employment, roles, or responsibilities. This can cause problems if the candidate has misrepresented or exaggerated their experience.
  • Misjudged performance: Speaking to previous employers and colleagues gives a clearer picture of the candidate’s work ethic, commitment, and accomplishments. Skipping this step can lead to hiring someone whose performance will not meet the company’s expectations.
  • Misaligned company culture: As the hiring process aims to find a candidate who will thrive in the working environment and complement the existing team, neglecting reference checks can lead to recruiting an employee who struggles to adapt or clashes with their colleagues.

Alternatives to Reference Checking

If an employer chooses not to conduct reference checks, there are alternative ways to assess a job candidate’s background and qualifications:

  1. Background checks: Performing a background check can provide information about the candidate’s criminal history, credit history, and confirm their identity. While this does not replace the insights gained from speaking with references, it still helps paint a clearer picture of the applicant.
  2. In-depth interviews: An extensive interview process, potentially with multiple team members or executives, can help assess the candidate’s qualifications, skills, and personality more accurately. This may include behavioral or situational questions, personality tests, or technical challenges relevant to the position.
  3. Probationary period: Hiring a candidate with the understanding that they will undergo a probationary period (usually 60 to 90 days) can be a useful way to assess their performance, skills, and compatibility. If they do not perform as expected, the employer has the option to terminate their contract during this period.
  4. Portfolio review: For specific roles, such as creative or technical positions, the candidate could provide a portfolio of previous work. This enables the hiring team to assess their skills and capabilities more efficiently than through references alone.

While reference checks can be an important component of the hiring process, alternatives are available for employers to assess a candidate’s suitability for their company. It is essential to weigh the potential pitfalls against the benefits of these alternative approaches to make an informed decision in the hiring process.

Background ChecksVerifying criminal history, credit history, and identity of the candidate.
In-depth InterviewsConducting extensive interviews to evaluate the candidate’s qualifications, skills, and personality.
Probationary PeriodEmploying the candidate for a temporary period to assess their performance and fit.
Portfolio ReviewReviewing a candidate’s past work to evaluate their skills and capabilities.
Table: Alternatives to Reference Checking

Importance of Positive References

Impact on Hiring Decisions

Positive references play a crucial role in the job application process, as they can significantly impact hiring decisions. Often, a potential employer will reach out to a candidate’s list of references after a successful job interview. A positive reference from a former employer, colleague, or professional mentor can strengthen the applicant’s credibility and increase their chances of securing the job.

This visual indicates that references can significantly impact hiring likelihood, especially in the final stages of the hiring process.

Employers typically seek insights about candidates’ skills, work ethic, and interpersonal abilities when reviewing a reference list. It is essential for job seekers to ensure they have strong, positive references who can vouch for their qualifications and character.

Establishing Credibility and Trust

In addition to affecting hiring decisions, positive references also establish credibility and trust between the candidate and the potential employer. Providing a reference list with reliable, well-respected individuals who can speak to a candidate’s strengths allows employers to gain a deeper understanding of the candidate’s abilities and professional history.

Furthermore, a well-prepared list of references demonstrates the candidate’s trust in their professional network, showcasing their confidence and commitment to their career. As a result, positive references can serve as a valuable tool in reinforcing the candidate’s qualifications and fostering a sense of trust between them and the employer.

Preparation For Reference Check

Contacting Potential References

During the job search, it is essential to have a list of reliable references that a potential employer might contact. It is generally advisable to seek permission from former employers before listing them as references. This is not only a matter of etiquette but also helps avoid the potential consequences of using someone as a reference without their consent. In some cases, reaching out to your current employer may be necessary, especially if their input holds significant weight in your work history. However, this should be done with caution to avoid jeopardizing your current job.


Employers may check references at different stages in the hiring process, but it is common for them to conduct reference checks after a job offer has been made. This allows them to verify the information provided by the candidate before finalizing the hiring decision. While there is no one-size-fits-all approach, it is essential for employers to be consistent and transparent in their reference checking policies.

There are several reasons why employers might choose to check references after a job offer. For one, it can save time and resources by only conducting reference checks for candidates who are deemed the most suitable for the position. Additionally, it reduces the risk of potential legal issues or privacy concerns that may arise due to contacting the candidate’s current employer.

That being said, some employers may choose to check references prior to making an offer. In these cases, the employer may want to gather as much information as possible to make an informed decision or to compare finalists more effectively.

In either case, the importance of reference checks cannot be overstated. They provide valuable insight into a candidate’s performance, work ethic, and interpersonal skills—factors that cannot always be accurately assessed through interviews or resumes alone. While the timing of reference checks may vary from one employer to another, their role in ensuring a successful hiring process is undeniable.

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