Do Jobs Actually Call References?

do jobs actually call references

In the job application process, the prospect of employers contacting references is often a source of curiosity and sometimes anxiety among candidates. References are typically requested to provide additional insight into the character and work ethic of the applicant. This aspect raises the question of how often and in what manner employers actually reach out to the listed references to verify the details of a potential hire.

The practice varies greatly between different industries, companies, and even between hiring managers within the same company. Some employers may conduct thorough reference checks as an essential step before making a job offer, while others might give them a cursory glance or skip the process altogether. Understanding when and how reference checks are carried out can be crucial for both job seekers in preparing their application and for the referees to know what to expect.

According to a TimesJobs study, which surveyed more than 650 recruiters, 70% of HR managers depend on references for making quality hires. The study further reveals that references play a crucial role in the hiring process, with 58% of employers always reaching out to the provided references for background checks.

Key Takeaways

  • Employers vary in their approach to checking references, with some thoroughly checking and others not at all.
  • A candidate’s preparation of references can influence the hiring process.
  • The outcome of reference checks can play a significant role in the final hiring decision.

Understanding Reference Checks

Reference checks are an integral part of the hiring process, serving to verify the candidate’s information and assess suitability for the position.

A young female professional, looking inquisitive and focused, seated at a desk with a laptop open in front of her. She is on a phone call, symbolizing the act of conducting a reference check. She's taking notes, indicating the verification process of a candidate's information.

The Purpose of Reference Checks

Employers conduct reference checks after initial candidate screening. The primary goal is to verify the accuracy of the information provided by the candidate and to gauge their professionalism and performance from an external perspective. These checks are not to be confused with background checks, which are more comprehensive and can include criminal records, credit scores, and more.

  • Verification: Confirming employment history, job responsibilities, and qualifications.
  • Assessment: Gathering insights on the candidate’s work ethic, abilities, and interpersonal skills.

Types of References

References can typically be categorized into two main types:

  1. Professional References:
    • Previous employers, managers, or colleagues who can speak to the candidate’s work experience and performance.
  2. Personal References:
    • Acquaintances or friends who can comment on the candidate’s character and non-work-related qualities.

Note: Professional references are often given more weight in the hiring process.

When Employers Check References

Employers generally initiate the reference check process towards the end of the hiring cycle, often after the applicant has been shortlisted or given a conditional offer of employment.

  • Timing: It usually occurs before a job offer is extended to ensure a thorough pre-employment screening.
  • Frequency: Not all employers perform reference checks, but it is a common practice in many industries.

By understanding when and why reference checks are performed and the types of references considered, applicants and employers alike can better prepare for this step in the hiring process.

The Hiring Process and References

In the recruitment process, references play a crucial role in verifying candidates’ qualifications, work history, and professional accomplishments. Effective probing into a candidate’s past employment can illuminate their experience and skills, guiding hiring managers toward informed decisions.

A small, group of professionals, consisting of one male and one female, gathered around a table in a brightly lit conference room. They are reviewing documents and discussing amongst themselves, symbolizing a hiring committee in the process of discussing a candidate's references. Their expressions range from thoughtful to approving, indicating a careful consideration of the candidate's qualifications based on the references provided.

Role of References in Hiring Decisions

References are frequently sought after the job interview process to attest to the candidate’s abilities and validate the information provided in their resume. Recruiters will typically request references as a part of the job application, focusing on obtaining insight into the candidate’s employment history, qualifications, and skills. Hiring managers are interested in how potential employees have performed in their previous roles and how they may contribute to the company.

  • Verification: References confirm the accuracy of the candidate’s stated experience.
  • Qualitative Data: Perceptions of the candidate’s capabilities and work ethic are gathered through references.

How Recruiters Use References

Recruiters reach out to references after a successful job interview process and prior to extending a job offer. This step is pivotal, as it can reinforce the recruiter’s impression of the candidate or uncover aspects that may not have been evident through the resume or interviews. The way recruiters use references includes:

  • Contact Method: Recruiters may use phone calls or emails to contact the provided referees.
  • Questioning Strategy:
    • Focus on specific skills relevant to the position.
    • Draw out examples of professional achievements.
    • Inquire about the candidate’s reliability and teamwork.

Through this methodical approach, recruiters can gather detailed information about the candidate’s former employment performance and interpersonal skills, which are both essential factors for a successful hire.

Preparing Your References

When applying for a job, well-chosen and thoroughly prepared references can be pivotal in validating your professional abilities and job performance.

A young male professional, looking thoughtful and determined, sitting at a coffee table with a laptop and a phone in front of him. He is in the process of drafting an email or a list, symbolizing the act of selecting and organizing his references. The setting is informal yet professional, suggesting the personal effort involved in preparing references for a job application.

Selecting Your References

Candidates should identify individuals who have directly observed their work and can vouch for their capabilities. Professional references typically include managers, supervisors, former managers, and colleagues. Select individuals who can provide specific examples of a candidate’s strengths and specific skills that align with the job description. For recent graduates or those with limited work experience, professors or supervisors from volunteer work or relevant courses may serve as strong references. It’s advisable to avoid listing friends unless they have direct knowledge of professional accomplishments.

  • Managers and Supervisors: Can attest to leadership and responsibility.
  • Colleagues and Coworkers: Might speak to teamwork and interpersonal skills.
  • Professors: Can reflect on academic prowess and related abilities.

Providing a List of References

When furnishing a list of references, candidates should present a well-organized document that adheres to the following format:

  1. Reference Name
  2. Title or Relationship to the Applicant
  3. Company or Institution
  4. Contact Information

Ensure that the references provided are informed and agree to support the candidate. These individuals should be briefed on the job role and likely topics of discussion, so they are prepared to give relevant insights on the candidate’s job performance and abilities. Regularly updating the list and maintaining a good relationship with one’s references is essential to ensure their willingness to provide positive and accurate information when contacted by potential employers.

The Reference Check Process

During the reference check process, employers typically verify candidates’ employment history and gather insights about their work ethic and character. This step occurs after the initial interview phase and before a job offer is typically extended.

A mid-career female professional, appearing engaged and professional, holding a phone to her ear and looking at a document on her desk. The scene suggests she is in the middle of a reference check call, seeking to verify a candidate's employment history. Her office is organized, reflecting the meticulous nature of the reference check process.

What Employers Ask References

When contacting references, employers generally inquire about specific aspects of the candidate’s employment. They often ask for:

  • Confirmation of Employment: Employers seek to verify dates of employment and the job title held by the candidate.
  • Performance and Responsibilities: Insight into the candidate’s duties, performance, and how well they fulfilled their responsibilities.
  • Work Habits and Skills: Questions may focus on the individual’s reliability, problem-solving abilities, and interaction with colleagues.
  • Reason for Departure: Clarification on why the candidate left or is leaving their current or past position(s).

What References Can Expect

References contacted by employers should be prepared to provide honest and factual information. They can expect:

  1. A formal introduction from the employer, stating the purpose of the call.
  2. Questions regarding their relationship with the candidate and the capacity in which they worked together.
  3. Requests for concrete examples that demonstrate the candidate’s abilities and accomplishments.

They should also be aware that the conversation will be professional and centered on the candidate’s job performance and qualifications.

Legal Considerations for Reference Checks

Legal compliance is crucial during reference checks. Employers must adhere to:

  • Privacy Laws: Safeguarding a candidate’s sensitive information and ensuring confidentiality.
  • Consent: Obtaining approval from the candidate before performing background checks or contacting references.
  • Non-Discrimination: Ensuring that questions are job-related and do not discriminate based on race, religion, gender, age, or other protected characteristics.

Employers recognize that adherence to these legal parameters is essential for maintaining ethical standards and avoiding potential legal consequences.

After Reference Checks

Once reference checks are complete, the hiring process moves toward its final stages, where job offers are extended and candidates may engage in self-improvement based on feedback.

A young male professional, looking relieved and optimistic, receiving a congratulatory handshake from another individual, possibly a future employer or a recruiter, in a minimalistic and modern office setting. This image symbolizes the successful completion of the reference check process and the receipt of a job offer, capturing the moment of achievement and anticipation for the future.

Receiving Job Offers

Following successful reference checks, candidates are often extended job offers. This is typically the last hurdle in a stringent application process which has included resume screening, interviews, and now, reference validation. An offer signifies that the employer found the candidate’s background and qualifications to be satisfactory for the role at hand.

  • Job Market Impact: In a competitive job market, swift and positive reference checks can be a decisive factor in receiving an offer.
  • Application to Offer Timeline:
    • Standard: 1-2 weeks following reference checks.
    • Immediate Needs: Sometimes within days, if the position requires urgent filling.

Feedback and Continuous Improvement

Not all reference checks lead to offers. When they result in negative feedback, candidates can leverage this as an opportunity for continuous improvement.

  • Individual Growth:
    • Positive Feedback: Reinforces the candidate’s strengths.
    • Constructive Feedback: Highlights areas for development, which can improve future applications and interviews.
  • Rehire Potential:
    • Positive Records: Favorable references can lead to consideration for rehire in future roles, fostering long-term relationships with employers.
  • Employer Feedback Mechanism:
    • Direct Feedback: Often shared informally with the candidate.
    • Third-Party Platforms: Some organizations might use automated systems to provide feedback.

Ensuring you’ve left a positive impression on a future employer can be a strategic advantage in one’s job search. Candidates may not always see immediate results, but the long-term benefits of solid references can be invaluable in career progression.


Employers often contact references to verify the information that applicants provide and to gain additional insights into their work ethic and capabilities. It is considered a standard part of the hiring process.

Key Points:

  • Most employers do reach out to references, especially for positions requiring a certain level of trust or expertise.
  • A reference check typically occurs after an interview, indicating a candidate is seriously being considered.
  • Employers may ask about the candidate’s responsibilities, work performance, strengths, weaknesses, and reasons for leaving a previous job.
  • Some employers may conduct reference checks informally, utilizing their industry contacts.

Best Practices for Job Seekers:

  • Candidates should ensure their references are aware they may be contacted.
  • Job seekers should choose references who can provide positive and relevant feedback.
  • It is advisable to regularly update and verify the contact information of references.

Reference checks remain an integral part of the employment verification process, serving as a vital step for employers to confirm a candidate’s qualifications and fit for the role.

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