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What Does it Mean When a Company Checks References?

Helen Gilroy-Powell

Helen Gilroy-Powell

16th January 2020

The reference check is a common stage late in the hiring process. A reference check is when an employer contacts people who can verify a job candidate’s skills, experience, education and work history. Employers may ask to contact previous employers, teachers, professors or other people who the candidate has worked with on a professional or voluntary basis—these people are called referees. Employers should gain permission from the candidate to contact the referees before collecting a reference check. 

Employers check references for a few reasons. The reference check can be used to verify the candidate has the skills and experience they claim to have on their CV—this is sometimes called performing due diligence. Speaking to someone who knows the candidate in a professional capacity can help the employer decide whether the candidate would be a good fit for the role. Additionally, a reference check can help the employer decide between their top candidates for the role. 

Reference checks can also be used to get information about the new hire to set them up for success in their job, such as preferences in management style, work environment and feedback delivery. 

What does it means when a company does a reference check?

Is it a good sign that a company is conducting a reference check?

There are a few circumstances where companies may check references. Reference checks are always done to help the employer in their hiring decisions, whether it is to ensure that the person they are hiring has the skills and experience they claim to have or whether they want more information about a candidate. 

Generally, a reference check is conducted towards the end of the interview process. If a job applicant has had an interview but hasn’t been offered a post, an employer may ask to conduct a reference check to make a decision between top candidates. This can be seen as a good sign, but don’t pop the champagne just yet—nothing is sealed until the contract is signed. 

A reference check is also often done after a job offer. It is common for a job offer to be made subject to satisfactory references. This usually means that the employer has chosen the candidate for the role and is conducting a reference check as a final act of due diligence to ensure the candidate has the relevant skills, experience and education for the role. Alternatively, it could mean they are using the reference check to find out more information to onboard the candidate and set them up for success in their new role. 

Do you have more questions about reference checks?

Our free Complete Guide To Reference Checks has you covered, with dedicated sections for candidates, hiring managers and referees, we explain and clarify the reference check process.