Checking References – What You Need to Know

For decades, employers have been asking candidates to provide names and addresses of referees. This might be people who you’ve worked for. Or for people with no recent job history, a character or academic reference. Even in an age where employers look at online CVs or your Twitter feed, they are still checking references. So whether you’re applying for a position, or recruiting for one, here’s that you need to know.


When is the best time for checking references?

Employers usually only check references after they’ve offered the position to someone. There are two reasons for doing this. Firstly, most people give the name of someone at their current employer as a referee. Applicants probably don’t want their current employer to know they’re unhappy and looking to move. Secondly, it’s a waste of time to get references for people who won’t be offered a position at interview. Most job offers are made “pending references”. That just means that if your references are bad, the employer can withdraw their offer.

References and Other Checks

References are just part of the checks that employers will run on their staff. Employers might ask to see your passport to check you’re in the UK legally. If you’re applying to work in a bank, they may ask for a credit check. Some occupations mean you’ll be asked to apply for a DBS check.  A reference is used as part of the jigsaw puzzle. Employers will use a range of different checks to try to build up a good picture about you, and to make sure you are telling the truth on your CV and application.

But isn’t it illegal to give a bad reference?

This is perhaps the biggest myth around – that employers aren’t allowed to say anything bad about you anyway. It’s certainly true that some companies have a policy of only giving very basic references, confirming dates of employment. Others will give more detail. The only thing the law says is that references must be true and honest. So if you were sacked from your previous job for hitting your boss, the reference could legally state that. References have to be factual though rather than opinion, especially with a negative reference.

Choosing Referees

The ideal referees are people who know you well and can comment on your abilities in a work setting. If you don’t get on with your manager, consider asking a trusted colleague instead. Typical references will ask questions about how you work in a team or under pressure, so make sure your referee can comment appropriately. If you haven’t worked for many years, or or fresh out of education, it’s fine to give other types of references. Recent school leavers or graduates can give the contact details of their Head of Year, or academic tutor. If you’ve done voluntary work, ask if you can give the name of the leader of the organisation, or a fellow volunteer. If you are still struggling, give the name of a personal referee who knows you well.


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