Will Employers Check Your References?

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Do employers always check references? Essentially, yes. While it’s true that not 100% of Human Resources (HR) departments will call your references during pre-employment screening, many do.

If you're about to begin a job search, you should expect to have your references checked. The references you provide to employers may be contacted about your employment history, qualifications, and the skills that qualify you for the job.

In addition, many organizations check with previous employers to get information on your work history and ability to perform on the job.

When Employers Check References

The days when employers ignored references or did not think they were important are long gone. According to a Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) survey, 92% of employers conduct background checks, usually during pre-employment screening (87%). Some even repeat checks on an annual basis (15%) or when an employee is promoted (10%).

Information routinely provided to reference checkers by surveyed employers included dates of employment, eligibility for rehire, salary history, and employability.

Who Employers Check With

On average, employers check three references for each candidate. It's important to be prepared to provide these well before you need to present them to a prospective employer.

It's essential to select the right people and to talk to them in advance about using them as a reference. You need responsive people who can confirm that you worked there, your job title, your reason for leaving, and other details.

The people you list should be able to attest to your performance and your responsibilities, so keep your references as current as possible. The easiest way to provide them to employers is to put together a list of references you can share with hiring managers.

In addition to a list of references, you may be asked for contact information for your current supervisor. However, prospective employers should get your permission before contacting your supervisor so as not to jeopardize your current position. You can ask that your supervisor not be contacted until you're further along in the hiring process.

It's perfectly acceptable to use references other than your employer. Business acquaintances, customers, vendors, and even friends can all make good references. If you volunteer, consider using leaders or other members of the organization as references.

What Your References Will Be Asked

What do prospective employers want to know about you? They’ll be seeking to learn about everything from how you would fit the position you're interviewing for to whether you were a dependable employee for your previous employer.

Tell your references what type of job you are applying for and what you think the employer might want to know, and then ask them what responses they would give.

It is better to get an unpleasant surprise in advance. If the reference isn't going to be positive, you can always ask a different person for the reference. If you're concerned about an employer giving you a bad reference, it's even more important to know what your other references are going to say.

It's Important to Stick to the Facts

If you're tempted to stretch the truth about your work history, don't do it. The risks of being discovered are high. A CareerBuilder survey reports that 75% of Human Resources (HR) managers have caught a lie on a resume. You don't want to be one of the candidates whose resume wasn't accurate.

Concerned About What They Are Going to Say About You?

You may be concerned about your work history or about what former employers will say about your background. There are companies that will check your references and provide a report. If the information is incorrect, you can take steps to get it updated. Before you select a company, comparison shop to determine the best service and fee structure for your needs.

If you do find out that your previous employers will give you less-than-stellar reports, you can still get ahead of the problem. You may be able to negotiate a better reference from a former manager, or persuade HR to inform the manager of any company policies prohibiting specific references. (Many organizations have a policy of only providing job titles and dates of employment, for example.)

Key Takeaways

Most HR Departments Check References During Employment Screening: According to a SHRM survey, 87% of employers do reference checks as part of the hiring process.

Expect to Have Your References Checked: Potential employers will likely learn about your employment history, eligibility for rehire, and job performance.

Good References Are Responsive, as Well as Positive: When you’re screening potential references, ask them about their availability to speak with HR representatives, as well as what they’re likely to say about your performance.

Get Ahead of a Bad Reference: Find out what your former employers and colleagues would say about you if asked, so that you can mitigate the damage.

Article Sources

  1. SHRM. "Employers Slow to Pick Up Trend of Continuous Screening," Accessed Oct. 22, 2019. 

  2. CareerBuilder. "75% of HR Managers Have Caught a Lie on a Resume," Accessed Oct. 22, 2019.