Employment Reference Checks

When you are job searching, expect to have your references checked by prospective employers. Before you're offered a job, many organizations will take the time to verify your work history and the details that you have provided on your resume.

Companies may check with prior employers and your list of provided references. They may ask your references questions on the phone or via a formal letter. The goal is to ensure you're a good fit for the job.

It’s a good idea to learn as much as you can about reference checks prior to embarking on the interview process. That way, you’ll be prepared with references who will attest to your best qualities and make a positive impression on the hiring manager. 

What You Need to Know About Job References

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There are many different types of employment references, including personal, character, and professional references. It’s important to learn the difference before you’re asked to provide them, so that you can choose the right people to attest to your good qualities, work history, and job skills.

As with everything in the job searching process, there are rules for obtaining, providing, and presenting references. Learn the right way to list them, when and how to give references to employers, what to do about bad references, and basic reference check policies and procedures. Then, review sample reference letters and lists, so that you’ll know what a good reference looks like. 

Reference Check Questions Employers Ask

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Do keep in mind that not all companies provide references. Some may only confirm that you worked there and your dates of employment. However, it's important to be prepared for what they may say when asked.

Review typical reference check questions so that you know what to expect. You may also want to let your references know what they may be asked, and which of your skills and accomplishments will make the biggest impact on the hiring manager. 

What Employers Can Disclose About You

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One of the questions job seekers ask frequently is, "What can an employer say about former employees?" Some job seekers presume that companies can only legally release dates of employment, salary, and your job title. However, that's not the case.

Even though some employers don't provide information about how an employee performed on the job, others do. If you're left a company on not-so-good terms, you may want to check company policy to find out what they will disclose.

Don’t avoid asking because you’re afraid of what you might find out: there are things you can do to mitigate the effect of a bad reference – but first, you have to know what to expect. 

Reference Check Forms

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Employers typically use a reference check form when they check a job applicant's references. By using a form and standard questions, they will be collecting the same information for every candidate whose references they check. Review a sample reference check form, complete with the questions that may be asked about your previous employment.

Reference Check Letters

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Some employers prefer to have written references for their files. In this case, they will usually send a reference check letter with specific questions included. These questions might be factual (e.g., “When did Jane Doe work for your organization?” or “What was Ms. Doe’s job title?”). They might also refer to your performance on the job and fitness for the role (e.g., “Do you think that Ms. Doe is a good candidate for the position?” or “Do you know of any reason why we shouldn’t hire Ms. Doe?”) If you’re providing or requesting written reference checks, it’s helpful to review a sample prior to answering. 

Creating a List of References

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Be prepared to provide a list of your references to prospective employers. Don't include the reference list when you send your resume or list references on your resume. Rather, have your references on a separate page that you can give to employers when they ask for them.

Do be sure to ask your references for permission to give out their contact information when you ask them if they are willing to provide a reference for you. When you do so, provide some background on the job and the employer’s requirements, so that your reference can make the best case for hiring you. 

Background Checks for Employment

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When employers check your background as part of the hiring process, there is some information that cannot be disclosed without your consent. Learn what’s included in an employer background check, as well as the information that is legally protected and cannot be disclosed to employers. (For instance, employers can’t use information discovered during a background check to illegally discriminate against you.) 

Employment Credit Checks

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There are some states in which it's not legal to require a credit check as a condition of employment. In others, there are limits to what can be disclosed.

Credit checks are legal in some locations. However, an employer cannot check your credit without written notification and your permission in writing.

What can employers discover? A job applicant credit report will show details about you and your finances, including your name, address, previous addresses, and social security number. It also shows the debt you have incurred including credit card debt, mortgage, car payment, student loans, and other loans and your payment history, including late payments and defaulted loans.