Applying for jobs is a long process. Employers will often have a long criteria for what sort of qualities they expect applicants to have. This includes the right academic background and the relevant industry experience. Whilst it is important for you to have the correct qualifications needed to complete the job, employers need to make sure that you are the right person for the job. One of the best ways your employer gets to know you and the skills you can bring to the job is through your reference.
Not all employers will check your references, but the majority will. The purpose of a reference is to provide a short summary of your employment from a previous employer preferably. This is to make sure that the information you have provided on your CV is valid. Most detailed references will also include your strengths and weaknesses at previous jobs and how these relate to the role you are applying to. These can help an employer make the final decision when selecting an applicant.
The above provides a brief summary of what a reference is and how it is used. To find out more about the importance of your reference during a job application, I recommend you read on.
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Do employers always check references?
As mentioned above, most employers will always check references. In many cases, employers may look at multiple references to get a better overview of your character from different perspectives. This can strengthen your application and thus make you a more competitive candidate compared to other applicants with one or a few references.
It should be noted that an employer must receive your permission before contacting a referee as you may not wish to share certain information.
Although an employer will always check references, they will not check the references of every single applicant. Checking references will take time and resources. Therefore, employers will always check the references of the candidates they are most interested in during the last stages of selection.
You will not necessarily be put you at a disadvantage if you address any shortcomings you have. In fact, it can help employers know what aspect of the job you can thrive at and what parts you may need help with.
Unlike background checks, references are not checked to find any information you might be hiding. The purpose of it is to find out how you behave in a professional setting and how you work with your colleagues and senior management.
This is information that can only be provided by an ex or current employer’s reference. Therefore, employers can simply choose to check the references from senior management rather than all your references.
To learn more about this, check out this article by Indeed.
Do employers check references before or after an offer?
Employers can request references at different stages of the application process. This is typically done at the start of the application or after the background checks are completed.
Background checks usually include an education check to confirm the validity of your qualifications. You can learn more about how these are conducted here on Think Student.
However, employers will usually check your references after an offer has been made or shortly before making an offer. However, most references will usually be checked after an offer has been made as this is typically the final check.
An employer may check after an offer has been made to prevent any unfair discrimination due to the reference. Another reason is that in a competitive workforce, giving an offer as quickly as possible is better for the employer. Waiting for references may delay the offer and encourage the applicant to accept another offer.
To learn more about this, check out this article by Bright HR.
How do employers check references?
There are two types of references that employers will usually check. These are written references and telephone oral references.
Written references are typically preferred to telephone references. The person writing the reference has much more time to reflect on their comments and employers may even give a template of what questions they want answered and how they should be answered. They can also be less time consuming than telephone references.
The biggest advantage is that the employer can confirm that they are in fact communicating with the right person. They can also keep evidence of the referee’s answers which can be difficult to do with telephone refences where details can be lost if all are not noted.
However, an advantage of telephone references is that employers can also more flexible questions that require more in-depth answers.
The questions an employer may ask a referee will be fact-based and related to your employment. This includes verifying the dates of employment and what roles you had. Employers may also want to know about your disciplinary and attendance records.
The employer can ask more specific questions such as your reason for leaving and if there is anything the referee thinks the employer should know about your performance.
There are certain questions that an employer legally cannot ask for. If you want to learn more about how a reference check should be conducted correctly, check out this helpful guide from Robert Half.
How do you get a reference?
You may be able to get a reference from your current employer. However, legally they do not have to unless you have a written agreement with them to do so or you’re working in a regulated industry. This includes financial services or healthcare.
The reference must also be accurate and fair. To learn more about your rights for references, check out this governmental guide.
Ideally your reference should be from your most recent employer. If your employer is not legally obligated to give you a reference, you may ask them for a “basic reference” which is much shorter and simply verifies your employment history with them.
If you can’t get a reference directly from your manager, you can contact your HR department for someone else to be a referee. You may also be able to get a colleague reference.
You can learn what to do if you cannot get a reference here on the Advisory, Conciliation and Arbitration Service (ACAS) website.
What happens if you get caught lying about your references?
You may be tempted to lie on your CV or reference if you think you may not have a chance of being selected for the job.
This is especially the case when applicants think their previous grades can hold them back. You can learn more about the consequences of lying about your GCSE grades on your CV here on Think Student.
Lying of any sort to a prospective employer is never a good idea. False references are quite easy to spot, especially through social media like LinkedIn and company websites.
Giving false references can have severe consequences, including the following:
- Your application will be rejected- if caught your potential employer will not hesitate to reject you even if you were initially considered as a top candidate for the role.
- Your career can be ruined- future employers may reject you as well if they find out that you have given false references before.
- It is potentially criminal- lying on a job application is classed as ‘fraud by false representation’ and could result in a jail sentence, especially if you falsify legal documents in addition to your reference. Although employers may not file a criminal complaint, it is not a risk worth taking considering the potential criminal record which would prevent you from getting similar jobs in the future.
- You may not have the skills needed- If by slim chance you do get away with a false reference at the beginning, you may not actually possess the qualities mentioned on the reference. If an employer gets suspicious, they may contact your ex-employer and discover your lies resulting in you getting fired.
The Fraud Act 2006 makes it a crime to give false representation if you know it is misleading and untrue. You can learn more about the act here on GOV.UK.
To learn more about the consequences of giving a false reference, check out this article on the Garrison, Levin-Epstein, Fitzgerald & Pirrotti, P.C. website.