So, why do employers ask for references, then never bother to contact them? Guess they don’t really need no stinking references, eh?

A reader asks:

I found a job listing on Craigslist that interested me. I did some homework and liked what I found out about the company, and I sent my resume and cover letter. I received a response quickly and was given an interview the following day. The interview went really well, and was told a decision was going to be made quickly.

I received an email four days later telling me they were close to a decision, and would like references from me. I replied within minutes (thanks to a smartphone). Three days later, I got a job offer over the phone. After checking with my references, I found this company never called them. Why is that, do you think? Do they just want to see if I can list three people without my last name? I don’t get it. Is this commonplace these days? Another company I applied to asked as well, but never called any of them. Any ideas?

Congratulations on the offer. You’re asking a very good question. Not enough companies actually check references. Fewer job candidates check a company’s references before accepting an offer. This is a mistake on both sides.

But yes, it’s common for a company to ask for your references but not to check them prior to issuing an offer. Someone in HR may follow up with them later, after you’ve already started work. That’s pretty useless at that point for you, isn’t it? But if something negative turns up, you could get fired.

All of this points to the really big problem: HR does things simply because “that’s how it’s supposed to be done” – even when they don’t actually do it!

It’s idiotic.

Just make sure the company you’re joining is a good one. Never accept an offer just because the money’s good or “because they want you.” This article might help: Peeling The Offer.

Have you ever accepted an offer, only to find the employer never really checked the references it requested? If you’re a manager, do you check references? If you work in HR, and you collect references but never check them, why pretend?


  1. I made this mistake once, I offered someone the job, than checked the references. One reference was not laudatory. The reference turned out to be correct about the employee. That caused me a lot of managerial grief. I won’t do that again.

  2. IMHO any reference requires a backup reference, because one reference is simply a single opinion, and either good or bad may be tainted by personal issues. I never take anything on face value without a secondary reference.

  3. I prefer to find other contacts who are not directly listed as a reference. I usually get a more complete story. I may use the reference list (especially if it is professional) to get a better understanding of potential common contacts. (And then, I might not contact anyone on the actual reference list.) Not saying that that is what the company referenced in the article was doing.

  4. ‘One reference was not laudatory.’ It amazes me that job candidates supply references when they don’t know what they are going to say. Or even if they are going to say…I asked one of my job search skills seminar students when he had last spoken to his references. You guessed it, 2 years previously. As it happens 2 had died, when he called the third, the guy offered him a job. Telepathic networking doesn’t exist yet.

    More on topic, my agency is scrupulous about reference checking. No one is hired until they talk to three references. My job offer was delayed because they couldn’t get hold of one of mine (he was on vacation in non-cell phone territory). I assumed I had lost the position until they called and asked for a fourth. Of course this was the fault of the job candidate (*me*). I had not done my job of keeping up after my last interview.

  5. Speaking of checking references, but somewhat, OT (well very OT, actually, but I didn’t know where to put it)

    I have been looking into the career of career counseling, thanks to all the stuff I’ve been learning from Nick and Brooke Allen at No Shortage of Work (link embedded in my name).

    So, I’ve been wondering what the mainstream credentials are for such a career, and, to be sure, those WITH the credentials recommend that you never, ever work with a cc without. While looking at the various 3- and 4-letter combinations that one can earn, I found the list below. The certifications I highlighted are the most interesting, just because they seem to be the biggest load of hoo-haw.

    My background also includes the following degrees and certifications:

    * Certified Professional Resume Writer (CPRW)

    * Internationally Certified Job and Career Transition Coach (IJCTC)

    * International certification as a Career Management Professional (CMP)

    * Master Career Development Professional (MCDP)

    * Certified Personal Brand Strategist (CPBS), Certified Online Identity Strategist (COIS) and Certified in 360 REACH Personal Brand Assessment

    * Certified Life Blueprint Facilitator (CLBF)

    * Certified Retirement Coach (2Young2Retire©)

    * Certified Employment Interview Professional (CEIP)

    * Post-Graduate Certificate in Career Counseling

    * M.A. in Counseling Psychology My affiliations consist of membership in 9 separate professional organizations:

    * Professional Association of Resume Writers and Career Coaches

    * National Resume Writers Association

    * Association of Career Professionals International

    * National Career Development Association

    * American Counseling Association

    * Career Management Alliance

    * Career Directors International

    * International Coach Federation

    * Institute of Career Certification International

    A winner of two awards in executive resume competitions from the Professional Association of Resume Writers and Career Coaches, I also serve on the association’s certification board to certify new resume writers and career coaches.

  6. Especially that last bit: The only “award” I would consider valid wrt resumes is that the client got the job and it could be proven that it was because of the resume this career coach wrote.

  7. One more word about references… I had a young man from my large professional association send a group email to our listserv asking for info and contact names at the company I worked for. I briefly gave him info and when he went in to interview he used my name. He never acknowledged receipt of my kind reply. I had a befuddled look on my face when the admin assistant mentioned him and that said it all. He was NOT hired. Please thank people who give you inside info on a company and ASK if you might use their names. Never ignore them or they may influence decision makers to ignore YOU! Furthermore, he missed an opportunity to open a dialog and find out, in advance, what the manager and company look for. I could have given him way more info, if he wasn’t too chicken or arrogant to talk with me!

  8. I’ve not checked references for senior and junior development engineers, because I typically hammer them hard enough to know that they’re not lying (generally) on their resumes. I’ve never had a reference come out as “bad” and many of these so called co-workers are not really co-workers, but friends, anyways.

  9. @Jeff Wang you just nailed something very significant. Who is going to give a reference that isn’t going to gush over them? Therefore, they are essentially meaningless to a great degree.

  10. I got my last job, and I was told afterwords that the program manager (no HR filtering!) just called a few references, and made a decision without reading my resume.

  11. Nick,
    What a timely article, thank you for post. A related situation is happening with a friend (who is using me as a reference). I wanted to be proactive (as Nick says to be!) and I called the hiring manager for my friend — in order to say here’s why I think this person is great, naturally — and the hiring manager said, “I am too busy right now to take your call and deal with this. I will call you AFTER I decide IF I want to talk to your friend and AFTER I interview them.”

    I laughed.

    Thing is, if I am that busy, and I have a job I really needed someone in because I posted it or am looking for someone (to me that implies a need to fill this position and yesterday would be better than tomorrow), and someone calls to say “look at this person, I think they are really who you need, and I really want to tell you why”, why wouldn’t I at least make it a priority to listen, and then talk with that person sooner rather than later?

    Put it another way: if someone is that enthusiastic about a job they had their references reach out and touch me, why not jump all over that?

    Am I just missing something? Wouldn’t hiring managers really like to have that kind of feedback?

  12. @M. Gordon: I hope you contacted your friend and told him about this. It might influence the friend’s interest in working for this manager.

    You’re not missing anything. You encountered a rude manager.

  13. Rude? That IMHO is an unprofessional and unsophisticated asshole. I would tell your friend to run not walk.

  14. Many times, people think that references are just a formality… your situation does happen, but especially in the current economy, references are a big part of the hiring process. Make sure yours are good…if you don’t know exactly what they will say, then have them checked by a company like Allison & Taylor.

  15. @Traveler: A person need not pay a firm to check their references for them. All you need is someone who is a manager that you trust and who is hiring to call your references and check them. I don’t suggest using a ruse; do it honestly. But in my experience, reference checking services are a waste of time and money. I never use them. Some of those services will guide reference conversations in a way that yields negative comments – just so they can show you that they’ve uncovered a problem, when you don’t really have one. Besides, who wants some disinterested voice on the phone checking your references?

  16. Thank you Nick, you beat me to that one.