What You Need To Know About Job References

Robin Schwartz

Robin Schwartz

Professional Human Resources (PHR) Certified

To many job seekers, providing references may seem like more of a formality during the hiring process. Sometimes we often wonder if they were even contacted. But, for hiring managers, securing feedback about a potential hire can be invaluable. References are still considered one of the best ways to mitigate the risk of hiring the wrong person.

When Does An Employer Check References?

References typically come towards the very end of the hiring process. Some company applications still request references at the start of the process, but nothing is done with the names provided until much later.

For recruiters and hiring managers, contacting references can be a slow process. Not only do they take the time to conduct the reference call, but there’s usually time invested in scheduling or even just playing phone tag.

For this reason, many seasoned hiring managers will only check the references of either their final candidate or their final two/three candidates. If you’ve had a hiring manager ask you to provide references after you’ve been interviewed, it’s a pretty good indicator they’re serious about your candidacy.

Some companies will even permit a conditional offer be provided to candidates before references are officially contacted. The offer is usually contingent upon the successful clearance of security screens and reference checks. No matter the company’s process, references happen well after a candidate has been identified as a top choice for the job.

How Are References Checked?

Reference checks are usually conducted over the phone. Hiring managers will often have a standard set of questions they ask each reference regarding the candidate. These references can last anywhere from a few minutes to an hour or more. This is entirely dependent on how thorough the company’s reference checks are and how much the reference wants to talk about you!

In certain employment situations, face-to-face references are conducted.This is often the case with federal jobs at a certain security level or possibly with jobs that involve children.

Less frequently seen nowadays are letters of reference. While letters of reference might be appropriate when applying to college or graduate school, most employers want to speak to an actual person so they have the opportunity to ask clarifying questions and to hear if the reference pauses or has difficulty answering a specific question.

Who Should You Provide As A Reference?

References should be colleagues and current/former supervisors who are very familiar with your work product, your work ethic, and yourself as an employee. You want to be sure you’re providing a hiring manager with the right people who can speak to your ability to do the job you’re being considered for.

If you’re providing current co-workers, make sure they’re willing to be discreet. Many people conduct job searches and consider opportunities without their boss knowing. Lastly, if you don’t have a long work history, school advisors or teachers may also be able to play this role for you.

You want to make sure the contacts you’ve provided as references are agreeable to serving as a positive reference for you. You certainly don’t want a former colleague being surprised that a company is calling to ask about you. You also don’t want someone providing somewhat negative feedback about you to a potential employer. Make sure your references are positive ones.

You also want to reach out to your references to ensure you still have their accurate contact information. If someone has moved companies or changed phone numbers, it doesn’t help the hiring manager. They won’t try to track down the reference – they’re expecting you to provide the information they need.

What Happens If A Reference Is Negative?

Hopefully you’ve reached out to your references before they were contacted to make sure they were willing to provide a positive reference. If you didn’t and a hiring manager received negative feedback, your chance of landing the position could be at risk.

If a hiring manager communicates to you that they received some information from a reference they find concerning, try to ask specific questions to determine what the concerns are.

They aren’t likely to provide the name of the reference, but they may be willing to share some of the details. From here, you can hopefully give them some additional information which sets their minds at ease.

Companies understand that people sometimes have contentious relationships with bosses or co-workers. In fact, it may even be why a candidate is seeking a new position. If a company’s policy is to speak to your most recent supervisor and the two of you don’t have a very good relationship, you might get ahead of the issue by explaining to the hiring manager who else might be best to speak to your work.

Be honest with them about your rapport with your boss so they aren’t surprised if a reference doesn’t exactly favor you. They’re looking for egregious issues, not necessarily the fact that the two of you may not have seen eye to eye.

About The Author

Robin Schwartz
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Robin Schwartz

Robin Schwartz is a PHR certified HR professional with a broad range of expertise including recruitment, performance management, employee relations and talent management. She leverages her years of experience in HR to bring functional change to organizational leadership and direction to management structures and employees. Robin aims to empower the employees and managers she works with by providing coaching and counseling services.

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