Do Employers Actually Check References

Do Employers Actually Check References?

Applying for jobs can be a huge task, and writing your CV can be a very daunting start. Considering the layout and order can be enough of a struggle, without having to think about what information to include concerning your education, work history and other skills.

References alone are a big topic of debate among HR employees and internet gurus offering CV writing advice; should you still include them on CVs or is that a thing of the past? Should I simply write that they’re available on request or not bother at all? Do employers even check references anyway?

The questions surrounding CV writing and job applications are endless, so let’s explore a few areas surrounding references now. Keep reading to find out whether employers really check references at all, in what cases they do and how they do so.

Table of Contents:

  1. Do Employers Actually Check References?
  2. When Do Employers Check References?
  3. How Do Employers Check References?
  4. What Might Your References Say About You?
  5. How Should You Write References on Your CV?
  6. Conclusion

Do Employers Actually Check References?

The short answer is yes, they do check references. So it’s in your best interests to make sure your references are real, reachable and ready to give you a glowing review. Obviously it’s impossible to say that every employer checks every single reference on each and every candidate’s CV, but it’s much better to err on the side of caution and assume that your potential employer will check your references before offering you a job.

High employee turnover can be very costly for a business, large or small, so employers will want to gain as much information about you as possible before taking you onboard. That includes verifying the references you provide are real, to prove your trustworthiness, as well as understanding your skills and qualifications are appropriate for the job you’re applying for.

When Do Employers Check References?

Usually, employers will only check references when they have offered you a job or are about to make you an offer, as checking the references on every single CV handed in to them would be a painstakingly long task with very little reward. This goes for whether they do it themselves or have their HR department or a third party organisation perform the checks instead.

You might be thinking that you got off of the hook if you had a false reference written on your CV that wasn’t checked, but that may not always be the case. Some employers check references again when an employee is about to be promoted to ensure they are up to the challenge of the new role by confirming the abilities and performance with previous employers. If it’s then found that your references are simply falsifications with friend’s contact details, this will guarantee you won’t receive your promotion, and you may even find yourself fired.

This is why we say, honesty is the best policy when it comes to applying for work. Now or in the distant future, the content of your CV has a big impact. So make sure every detail is factually correct, and never embellish any aspect.

How Do Employers Check References?

Since these days it’s not generally considered necessary to put references at the bottom of your CV, you can rest assured that it’s extremely unlikely that your future employer will call up your current boss and inform them of your desire to leave. It’s not impossible, however, so if you do happen to have the contact details of your current employer on your CV, make sure to make it clear to whichever company you’re applying to, that you would not like them to make contact to certain references without your prior approval and consent.

If you haven’t listed any references on your CV, it’s most likely that your future employer will ask for you to provide them 3 – 5 references, including the contact person’s name, job title, work address, and contact number – either email or telephone number. Once you have provided that information, they will usually call the reference and ask for information regarding the start and end date of your employment, your job title and responsibilities, and possibly also about your performance and reason given for leaving that job.

What Might Your References Say About You?

Do Employers Actually Check References
Do Employers Actually Check References

If you’re concerned about what your references might say about you, it’s possible that you’ve chosen the wrong person to act as your reference. You want your references to give you a stellar review to help you gain the job you’re applying for, rather than act against you. So, where possible, make sure you only give contact information for supervisors and colleagues who can vouch for your dedication and high performance.

However, if your most recent or relevant employment did not end satisfactorily for both parties or you simply have a limited number of references to call upon, you can rest assured that most companies have policies that restrict the amount of information that they provide for former employee references. This is due to the increase in legal action taken against former employees for slander or libel that impacts an individual’s ability to gain employment.

Many companies now simply state the facts of job title, length of employment and responsibilities of the role, rather than commenting on the individual’s performance or character. This can be frustrating for some employers, especially if they’re specifically looking for a character reference, but you can use this to your advantage.

Speak to former employers, colleagues and academic supervisors who know you and your attitude well, and ask them to provide a reference for you. This will allow you to ensure that the information shared about you is positive, while also satisfying your future employer that they have a great deal of information about you that isn’t just limited to the simple facts that they can read for themselves on your CV.

How Should You Write References on Your CV?

It’s no longer commonplace to actually write out full references on your CV, or even to state that they’re available at your future employer’s request as they already know this. Instead, you should make sure you have an employment history section of your CV that details your job title, start and end date and a brief description of your responsibilities in this position. If you have a huge work history, only put down the jobs you have had that are relevant to the ones you’re applying for and your most recent job. If there are gaps in your CV, your future employer will ask you about them and you can be ready to explain what other jobs you’ve had that you didn’t see fit to advertise to them.

If you have been asked to provide references after having handed in your CV and completed an interview, you should simply provide a document with the contact details of your best references (usually 3 – 5 is sufficient), who they are and what relation they had to your previous role. Your future employer may also ask for a character reference letter, so ask a close colleague or supervisor to provide one for you to ensure that you get the best representation possible.

It’s also worth mentioning that you should contact your previous employers whom you would like to act as your reference well before applying to the position, and again before they are contacted by your future employer. This ensures that they are happy to do so and that their contact details are uptodate. If they are willing and prepared to provide a reference for you, then they can support your application wonderfully. You also don’t have to only include employers – colleagues or other team members are sufficient, but bear in mind, that if you don’t have a single employer listed as a reference, this may raise a red flag for your future employer.

It should also go without saying that you should never lie on your CV, especially with your references. It’s very easy to be caught out, if, for example, you list a close friend or family member as a previous employer, the person tasked with collecting a reference from them will more than likely know from their tone and feedback how well they know you. This will reflect very poorly on you and will greatly impact whether you receive the job offer or not.

Do Employers Actually Check References
Do Employers Actually Check References

What if You Don’t Have Any Job References?

Whether you’re still young and this is the first job you’ve ever applied for, your former company no longer exists, or if you’ve only had one job your whole life and can’t let your current employer know you’re leaving, it’s possible that you feel you don’t have any references to provide.

One of the best places to start is with LinkedIn. You can search for former bosses or colleagues who you’ve lost contact with and ask them to provide references for you. Even if they simply state the simple facts of your previous role, this is still greatly valuable to providing you with credibility.

If this isn’t a viable option, you can contact your last education institution to see if your old teachers will provide a character reference for you. If this still isn’t working for you then you can always begin volunteering to gain valuable references fast. And if you’re still lacking references, remember that honesty is the best policy. Explain to your future employer why you can’t reach former colleagues, or that this is the first job you’ve applied to, and they’ll greatly respect your honesty.


References are very valuable to employers when looking for new workers as they can confirm or contradict information you list about yourself on your CV, so it’s in your best interest as well as theirs, to provide the best references you have available to you. They will take great care to check your references, so there’s little point in lying as this will reflect very poorly on you as an employee.

Remember – tell your references beforehand that you’d like them to support your application and make sure you keep their details uptodate. With the right people to give details of your work history, you’ll surely get any job you deserve.


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