As part of my job search, I am trying to contact people I used to work with or work for. Unfortunately, with so many having been downsized, upsized, relocated, outsized and supersized, I am not able to find most of them.

Is this becoming more common? If so, how does one deal with this? And from the recruiters standpoint, how are you dealing with this? Many thanks.


wendii's picture
Admin Role Badge

Hi *

I don't know if it's becoming more common. References have been a contentious issue ever since I was a recruiter and I expect they will continue to be.

There are three things you need from a reference:

*to confirm job history
*to confirm job performance
*to confirm character.

Many companies will confirm job history but not performance or character. Many personal referees will confirm all three but obviously can't be relied on, as they are given by the candidate who won't give someone that they didn't get on with or who won't be positive about them.

Following from this, we often arn't able to get any references from companies which have ceased trading or changed hands many times. It's a widespread problem which we wouldn't hold against the candidate. Especially when references are generally not worth much (or at least only 1/3 of what we'd like them to be). Some companies don't even bother asking any more.

On the other hand ell taken wreferences + a structured interview are scientifically most likely to give you a good hiring result. So many places still do take references (badly) because it makes them feel safer.

Not much of a summary, but hope it's enlightening.


madamos's picture
Licensee Badge

I have had success in both finding and being found on LinkedIn [url][/url]. A great feature is the company search. This search takes into account both current and past companies.


Mark's picture
Admin Role Badge

It is more common. For some, it can appear that you are a persona non grata simply because you did not effectively stay in touch with those upon whom you would like to count for a reference.

Two solutions: 1. You'll have to choose someone more current. 2. Don't let this happen tomorrow... ctrl-shift-K.


asteriskrntt1's picture

Hi Wendii

Thanks... makes a lot of sense. I was told that hiring managers put a fair bit of weight on the references but now I see not as much.


Mark's picture
Admin Role Badge

Yes. Not as much.

Believe it or not, references were started (regardless of their value or use today) as a way of legitimizing unethical discrimination. (It may not have been illegal back then, but it was unethical). Only white males had chances at the right jobs, and only white males from the right families had access to the rightest of jobs. As the economy expanded beyond what the aristocracy could control and contain, references were put on a resume to allow those in power to extend their good name to someone from outside the "right" classes.

And that also tells you why references are no longer on resumes: they are no longer necessary in that form (as a way of discriminatory introduction).

All that said, checking references is a no brainer today. Bad references are a huge red flag.


PS: This is not an American tradition. It started in the UK, with royalty, or, more broadly, European aristocracy.

WillDuke's picture
Training Badge

So on the topic of references, does anyone give them any more? It seems like I can only ever get employment history and salary.

Am I correct that in our overly-litigious culture we're all too gun shy to tell the next poor bastard the truth?

terrih's picture

I know my previous manager, when called for a reference on a past poor performer, would say no more than "I'd rather not say." He was afraid of some kind of backlash.

I don't know how likely such a backlash really is though. How many HR professionals would tell a candidate, "Sorry, but Mr. Big at Acme Widgets said you're a lazy, brainless slug"? :wink:


WillDuke's picture
Training Badge


God bless you for that comment. I'm still laughing. This might actually merit the roflmao comment that usually annoys me so much.

pmoriarty's picture
Training Badge

[quote="terrih"]I know my previous manager, when called for a reference on a past poor performer, would say no more than "I'd rather not say." He was afraid of some kind of backlash.

I don't know how likely such a backlash really is though. How many HR professionals would tell a candidate, "Sorry, but Mr. Big at Acme Widgets said you're a lazy, brainless slug"? :wink:


Ah, but you're assuming that a candidate would never get a friend to pose as an employer to check said references. If memory serves, there's a company staffed with court reporters that will perform this service on your behalf and provide you with a transcript of what your references have to say.

terrih's picture

OMG! I never heard of that.

Sometimes I'm too trusting, or gullible, or something. :roll:


jclishe's picture

My wife recently applied for a position as an administrative assistant. She was asked to provide references for her last 2 jobs. She explained to the hiring manager that her job, 2 jobs ago, was as a waitress for a restaraunt that went out of business and there would be virtually no way to get ahold of any of the management team there, since this was several years ago.

The hiring manager said "well, I'm sorry, but I guess we can't hire you then".

C'mon....she was a waitress and is applying to be an administrative assistant. It's not like she's applying for a management position. Is a reference from her restaraunt manager really relevant here?


WillDuke's picture
Training Badge

Jason - I'd say your wife is lucky. Would she really want to work for someone like that?

jclishe's picture

That's a great point, Will. I actually hadn't thought of it like that.


jhack's picture

I worked for a financial services firm, and the legal staff there made it quite clear that we were NOT to provide references for ex-employees. We could confirm title and dates of employment, and say nothing else.

I'm no longer with them, and I do willingly give references. There are some of us out there, Will...


rthibode's picture

In ten years of hiring, I have only had one employer say they couldn't give me a reference because of company policy (Hilton or another big hotel chain). After a bit of complaining on my part, the referee did actually give a reference off the record.

I still give references all the time, both in writing and on the phone. My staff are all on short-term contracts, so a good reference from me is important to them. I talk about references during our performance reviews. I tell them how well they're doing in each performance domain and we talk about what they need to do to get an outstanding reference in that domain by the end of their contract.

Since I have no control over salary or promotion (except for a few who'll stay an extra year as team leaders), I rely on the references as one incentive to improve performance.

(Sorry asterisk, this doesn't address your original question.)

tcomeau's picture
Training Badge

My wife has a more complicated situation. For some of her previous employers she simply can't get references.

She's had a total of four jobs, her own attempt at running a firm, plus a bunch of very short consulting jobs.

[list]First law firm, where she was a paralegal, two of the partners are dead, the other two won't answer any questions about the firm, period, including employment history.[/list:u]
[list]Clerkship with an appellate judge, now dead.[/list:u]
[list]Second law firm, she can get references.[/list:u]
[list]Third law firm, she was an associate in a one-man firm. The principal in the firm was shot and killed by a client. (Customer satisfaction problem.)[/list:u]
[list]For her own attempt at a law firm, she didn't have a boss. Most of her clients were not the kind of personalities that make for good reference. [/list:u]
[list]Two of her contract jobs, including one with a government agency, all the work she did is under a gag order. Her bosses aren't allowed to talk about the cases, at all.

And obviously she'd rather not ask her current boss for a reference.

Fortunately she's not looking right now. She likes being a permanent associate, and has absolutely no interest in being a partner. The lack of references was an issue once, when she applied for a government position.

I have a couple of jobs in my distant past were I can't really get references. One of my ex bosses is dead, another is in a whole different line of work, and doesn't talk to people about anything related to technology, and another was (the last time I heard) in prison.

In "the old days" you could get letters of reference when you left a position. Does anybody do that anymore, and would any manager think they were anything but forgeries?


juliahhavener's picture
Licensee Badge

I don't write a blanket letter. My company has a 3rd party that handles employment verification - dates, salary (if the employee authorizes), and job title. I am willing to write a professional reference if one is warranted and I can write it specific to a company. I don't know if it makes a difference, but if I'm going to write one, I want it to be appropriate to the job they are seeking.

Caveat: My team has only been online 6 months, and have one employee who has left the team and may need a professional reference, so I haven't actually written one as yet!

WillDuke's picture
Training Badge

TC, that's an interesting situation. I'm not sure I'd want to work with your wife though, sounds like a lot of them die. :wink:

Seriously though, this leads me right back to where I started, which is since I can so rarely get a reference from previous employers (unless it's a personal reference) then her lack of references really wouldn't bother me. (Okay, I'd be worried about my personal safety...)

asteriskrntt1's picture

OMGosh Will

I was thinking the same thing. Black widow!!! :wink:

It might be time for another story about using the M&M close!


TMAN's picture

Today I got an email from my Recruiter stating that the HR Manager at my hiring company has requested that I submit to them a reference from my current employer. This seems unusual.
Here's the background - I [b]received an offer letter[/b] (and accepted) almost two weeks ago, and will be starting at my new employer in about two weeks. Prior to getting the offer, I submitted three references:
1. [b]Current[/b] Commander in the Air National Guard. (they did not contact)
2. A former client at a highly recognized company (from 4 years ago).
3. A former boss who's now a CEO of a small company (from 10 years ago).
My reason for no current references is that I've been with my current company for 8 years and did not want anyone to know I was searching for a new job.
My fear is that I just told my boss that I am leaving and am not sure he will give me a good reference due to the pain I am now causing him. Isn't this an odd request?

Mark, anyone, suggestions?

WillDuke's picture
Training Badge

It does seem odd to request a reference after you have already been given the job.

Maybe they just want to see how you leave the old company? Maybe they want to see if you have the people skills to keep that relationship alive.

If they want it, it seems you should ask for it. That new relationship is important, and you don't want to jeopardize it at the start. Just approach your old boss with honesty and candor. Explain the situation and express your honest appreciation for his help.

Hopefully the pain you're causing is not deliberate, just a result of you leaving. Make sure you're following M&M's suggestions on leaving your current position. If not, follow at least a couple of them before you make the request. :) Then of course do the rest as well.

TMAN's picture

Yes I listened to the MT's "How to resign" podcasts before the act and they completely changed how I delivered the message, and the content. I focused on maintaining the relationship and when pressed by my boss (and his boss), on reasons for "seeking other opportunities," gave them non-personal feedback on not understanding the direction of some of the management decisions in the company (from a recent merger). I primarily focused, though, on the fact that it was a great career opportunity for me. We exchanged kind words and wished each other luck, both knowing that we very well could be working for/with each other again in our industry.

So, I think it will be fine, but after following the MT advice on not stating where I am going, I will now have to tell them. My underlying concern with that is they will probably hear what my new title is, which in my current management's view, they probably don't think I'm qualified to hold. That worries me a bit because the hiring company is a client of my current company. Maybe I'm just being paranoid though because I know I can do the job, and have received great feedback on my interviews from the hiring company (hence getting the offer).

RichRuh's picture
Licensee BadgeTraining Badge

The first thought that came to my mind is that they are trying to validate your employment history.


skwanch's picture

[quote]Today I got an email from my Recruiter stating that the HR Manager at my hiring company has requested that I submit to them a reference from my current employer. This seems unusual.
Here's the background - I received an offer letter (and accepted) almost two weeks ago, and will be starting at my new employer in about two weeks[/quote]

This is becoming more prevalent in my own N=1 experience . . . I've been asked this a couple of times. I haven't had problems . . . as long as there was already a bona fide offer. (remember Mark's law - if you don't have an offer - YOU GOT NOTHIN' and DO NOT allow them to contact your current employer).

I think as long as your current employer isn't outright slanderous, any 'cool responses' can be spun positively; they're not happy to lose you. Your recruiter should be more than willing/able to diplomatically make that point to their HR contact.