Will Employers Check Your References?

Business woman on phone
shapecharge / Getty Images

Do employers always check references? Should you expect prospective employers to check you out with the organizations you've worked for in the past? In many cases, the answer is “yes.”

If you're about to begin a job search, 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 Do 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, more than eight out of ten human resource professionals said that they regularly conduct reference checks for professional (89 percent), executive (85 percent), administrative (84 percent), and technical (81 percent) positions.

Regular reference checks were less likely, but still probable, for skilled-labor, part-time, temporary, and seasonal positions.

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

Who Do Employers Check With?

On the 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 that 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 asked be 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, and vendors can all make good references. If you volunteer, consider using leaders or other members of the organization as references. Here's a list of who to ask to give you a job reference.

What Will Your References 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.

Stick to the Facts

If you're tempted to stretch the truth about your work history - don't. The risks of being discovered are high. The SHRM Reference Checking survey mentioned above found that of the human resource professionals from organizations that use reference checks to verify length of employment, 53 percent discovered falsified information, at least sometimes, during their checks.

And of the respondents who verify past salaries, 51 percent found that job candidates provided misinformation at least some of the time.

CareerBuilder survey reports that 77 percent of survey respondents 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.

More About References: Background Checks | ​Requesting References | Sample Letters of Reference