does a request for my references mean anything?

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!

{ 12 comments… read them below }

  1. Revanche*

    This made me smile because I've been asked for references dozens of times without an offer materializing. In the last round of interviews, I was made an offer and *after* we'd agreed on contract terms, the hiring manager emailed asking for my references. Which had been on my resume all along. :) *smh* You just never know.

  2. Anonymous*

    Having been on both sides of this issue, I know that from a job-seeker's point of view, it feels like an eternity between the last interview and the next step – especially when they're unemployed. Yet from an HR point of view, three days is definitely nothing. I do think hiring managers should keep that in mind, and if the candidate doesn't ask about a timeline, that information should be given anyway.

  3. Anonymous*

    I agree, don't sweat three days. Some companies require the reference list as a matter of policy.

  4. Anonymous*

    Don't get upset if someone is antsy. It's very difficult when you don't have a job. It seems that those who do work don't seem to understand how tough it is out there and how scary it is to be rejected time after time. In a way, you are allowing these potential employers determine your "fate" and it is frustrating to think they have other things to do than to make a decision in regards to their hiring process right then and there. Like someone wrote above, it seems like eternity to get any sort of answer. Candidates have to meet a deadline to apply, but in a way, it's almost unfair that the employer doesn't have a deadline to get back to its candidates.

    That being said, I had adapted to just moving on as if nothing happened in order to make me not think of what happened. The best distraction is to keep job searching because you don't have a job until your first day of work (because, as I have learned here, even job contracts can be rescinded).

  5. Anonymous*

    A few years back, after one particular job interview (which I thought went very well) I was emailed and asked for my references, which I of course supplied. I even ended up getting the job, but I don't think they ever contacted any of my references. I'd presume it's a formality.
    It's been a while since I've been unemployed, but I remember how each day seemed to drag like eternity–why haven't I heard back yet? Now from a working standpoint, there is SO much that goes on in just one day, that you really do need to relax. If you haven't asked about a timeline, do so, and waith until that time has slightly passed.
    And I agree with AAM-don't point out they haven't contacted your references. As in my case, they might not, even if they hire you.

  6. keeplooking*

    i have been in the same boat. an email for references after 2 interviews. i supplied the references, none of them was contacted a week after. The deadline for an answer falls soon, and I seem to have prepared for the worst, no matter how much I love this opportunity.

    This hunting and waiting game is way to tough to play. I hope that some kind of luck would soon come my way.

  7. knowthefeeling*

    The waiting for a response feels like an eternity. I’m currently awaiting an answer from a potential opportunity. I supplied refernces after 2 on-site interviews. After allowing their deadline to pass, I contacted them, only to find that they wanted an additional reference, which I duitfilly supplied. Now, I’m waiting. It’s been a little over a week with no word to either me or my references. I’m preparing to contact them again and hopefully not hear the worst.

    Job hunting is definitely not for the weak… it’s stressful and filled with anxious moments.

  8. patiently waiting*

    I’m on the same boat. My interview process went very smoothly. Got a phone screening 2 weeks ago and he scheduled an on site interview right away with me on the phone. Went for an formal interview a week ago and got contact by HR few days after, and she wanted 3 references from me. It’s been less than 2 weeks and things have been moving fast. She said she’ll get back to me within a week.
    I’m constantly checking email and my phone, it’s such a tough game to play. I hope I get the job! Now i’m learning how to negotiate salary, something totally new to me!

  9. sandy*

    I went on an interview a couple of weeks ago, and they are calling my past work references from 1980. I have no idea if I get an offer or not. At this point, I am thinking if I don’t it may not be the worst thing. I don’t know if I want to work for someone that intrusive. I mean 1980.

  10. Sheey*

    On the same boat :(, however I was told by the hiring manager that it’d take them 2weeks for decision making and only 3days has passed.

  11. James*

    I’ve had an interview a week ago. Today I received a phone call from the manager saying “You are our preferred candidate, we just need to call your referees and will call you back once it’s done”. QUESTIONS: What are the chances of being rejected because of reference? I mean I wrote two ref’s from my previous employers who gave me excellent recommendation when i applied for the job I’m currently in. Now, the problem is, the hiring manager requires me to provide ref from my current employer, but my current employer has been branded as an employer who don’t give good recommendation bec they’re afraid of losing employees and so will do everything to provide bad recommendation so their staffs won’t get any job. Complicated really.

  12. DMS*

    I have been offered a new job I have paid for my crb my last boss has refused to give me a reference they are now asking for references from old work places am not working at the mo but am worried that I will get this new job taken off me in one of my last work places I had a meeting they told me I had done something but I never did and they had to back down have I got anything to worry about I just wanna go back to work and I feel my old work place has messed things up for me

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