When Do Employers Check References?

Employers usually check references after they have shortlisted the final 2-3 candidates and before making a final offer.

When Do Employers Check References?

When Do Employers Check References?

Reference checking has become one of the most useful hiring tools for an employers. However, it requires effort, time and right training to carry it out the right way to be able to choose the right candidate for the job. Otherwise, you might end up with someone harmful for the company. 

When are Reference Checks Performed?

Normally, these checks are performed before making a final offer. However, in case the hiring company has a reason for concern, they may perform this check sooner. For instance, if they are unsure about the reason a particular candidate resigned from the previous job. The usual practice is to ask for a minimum of three professional references who can vouch for a potential employee’s code of conduct, skills and efficiency. 

The hiring managers sometimes do reference checks for their prime choice as well as backup options in case the person they make the offer to chooses to decline and join another firm.

Types of Reference Checks

A candidate can provide either a written reference where the referee sends in the recommendation via an email. It can also be done by calling and interviewing the referee directly. 

The important factor to note is that while an oral reference check can be more in-depth and offer proper insights into the candidate being considered for a role, it requires drafting the right set of questions, good interview skills of the hiring manager, and a proper transcription so as not to lose crucial data provided by the referee. A written reference check, on the other hand, is a much more convenient and commonly followed practice in the industry. 

Common Questions to Ask a Referee

For a reference check to be insightful and informative, the hiring managers must ask for relevant and factual details about a potential recruit. The information that should be captured should include details of:

  • Employment period and duration the candidate was at the referee’s firm
  • The roles and responsibilities of the candidate at that firm
  • The candidate’s employment record in terms of attitude, attendance and team spirit
  • The reason why the candidate left that job and is searching for new opportunities
  • The candidate’s key strengths and areas of improvement as per the referee
  • Whether they’d be willing to re-hire the candidate if given a choice

Who should the Candidate Approach to Get a Reference?

A candidate needs to approach the right people and ask them for a reference to strengthen their chances of getting an offer. To make sure they receive a positive reference, some of the common things to keep in mind are:

  1. Opt for professional references: It will help the hiring managers to judge your true potential as an employee and help them arrive at a favorable decision faster.
  1. If you have more than 2 references available, pick the ones that would be most suitable for the role you are applying for. Having relatable references is always better.
  1. Before putting in a reference, it is always important to get that person’s approval and keep them informed that they might be asked about your employment record. 
  1. Once you have their approval, you should also share certain details such as your resume and the job description of the role you are applying for. This will help them get a clearer understanding of your career trajectory and also help them tailor their responses based on the requirements of the role you applied for.
  1. Always thank the references whether an offer is made or not. This will help maintain a positive relationship with the person who might then be a useful reference in the future as well. 

Common Mistakes Made by Hiring Managers in terms of a Reference Check

Now that we are aware of the need for a reference and when and how it is called upon in an interview process, it is good to discuss a few common mistakes made by hiring managers during the recruitment process.

  1. Not checking the references to avoid the effort and save time
  2. Checking them out too late after having already made the job offer. Some companies only check references for the final shortlisted candidate and therefore, do not dig deep when interviewing the referee. 
  1. Not asking for the right kind of references. It is important to ask for references of people the candidate has worked directly with or reported to. It is good to distribute the references into three categories – supervisor, colleague and subordinate to get a complete picture of the candidate’s profile and skills.
  1. Not asking leading questions that do not just require a yes/ no answer. To get a holistic view of a candidate’s skill, it is important to interview the referee by asking them to elaborate on the candidate’s performance and ask follow-up questions wherever necessary.

Can you fail a job reference check?

Yes, it is possible to fail a reference check due to many reasons which include bankruptcy, criminal record, lying on the resume, the poor credit history (especially for a finance-based job), and dishonorable discharge from the military, among others. 

What happens when you lie about a reference?

If you are caught using a fake reference, then you are immediately rejected from the selection process. In such a scenario, your skills and suitability for the role will no longer play any role in determining your chances of success.


Reference checks are extremely important in today’s job market and help companies to hire not just a suitable candidate but someone reliable and trustworthy. These checks ensure that the candidate can be relied on since the information supplied by them has been corroborated. However, having a streamlined process to check these references at the right time is imperative to make them a useful tool for hiring companies. 

When Do Employers Check References?

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