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The Truth About Reference Requests

The Truth About Reference Requests

Alison Green | Ask A Manager

A reader writes:

I know you’ve answered a plethora of questions regarding references…. but. I had a phone interview last week with the person who would be my hiring manager (VP of Marketing). It went very well, and she invited me into the office for an on-site interview. The on-site interview entailed interviewing with first the Marketing Director, followed by the Marketing Manager whom I would be replacing, and then lastly with the VP Marketing who I phone interviewed with and would be my boss.

The interview overall went very well. When I was having my last interview with the VP Marketing who’d be my boss, she closed the interview by asking me to email her a list of references! I did so that night. However, the VP was clearly unable to gain feedback from the other 2 interviewers because they were all back to back in the same day. I’m being optimistic… but how common is it for someone at the VP level to ask for references if they are not serious about hiring you? It’s been 3 days and I’m getting antsy. I know my references haven’t been called, because I’ve been following up with them.

I know you aren’t a clairvoyant psychic, but if you could, please provide some insight as to how common it is for interviewers to ask for references, and then do nothing? Never check them? Either because someone better has come along? Or it was just a formality? I do have a feeling that I was one of the first people that they interviewed based on their answers to my questions (a little uncertain of themselves with their reply to say a question about what the preferred method of communication is within the team?) When would it be appropriate to follow up? And if so, shall I mention that they haven’t checked my references?

Okay, calm down. You’re doing that thing that people sometimes do after a date where they micro-analyze every word to try to figure out whether the other person liked them or not.

The reference request, I’m sorry to say, probably doesn’t mean much of anything.

Many interviewers ask for references at the end of an interview as a matter of routine, unless the candidate completely bombed. This is so that once they are ready to pick a finalist and check references, they don’t lose any time; they already have the info they need to make the calls. If you want, in the future when you’re supplying references, you can say, “Can you give me an idea of when my references could expect to hear from you? That way I can make sure they’re available, or supply alternate ones if they’re not going to be.” Often that will elicit useful information, such as “We generally only call references of our finalists, and we’ll know who our finalists are and start calling references next week.”

By the way, even if you are their top candidate, three days is nothing. These things often take a while. Did you ask them what their timeline is for next steps? It’s really important to ask that at the end of an interview, because it will save you from obsessing over why they haven’t gotten back to you yet, when in fact they might not even be planning to move forward for three weeks.

(And I’ve vowed not to answer any more questions about how to follow up because I’ve answered it enough to bore myself and probably others, but you can find information on following up here.)

And last, no, do not point out to them that they haven’t checked your references yet. They know that.

Calm down, breathe, distract yourself with other things. Good luck!

Quiz: Will You Ace That Interview?