I have been mailed by a recruiter who told me that a former colleague of mine gave him my contact details to serve as a reference. He asked to set up a phone call but never actually told me who the colleague was!

It's the first time that I've been asked to serve as reference for someone and I did not talk with anyone recently about being a reference. So I have no idea who we will be talking about.

When replying to suggest a time frame for the phone call, is it appropriate to ask the recruiter the name of the person who listed me as a reference?

Side note: I took into account the possibility that I misinterpret the mail and the recruiter wants to contact me with a job offer since I have been recommended by that unknown former colleague. However, since the mail subject says "Request for reference" I tend to think that they really are asking for a reference. On the other hand I also consider the possibility that they just use this as a door opener to get in touch about a job offer.


5 Answers 5


is it appropriate to ask the recruiter the name of the person I should be a reference for?

It's perfectly appropriate.

I would never agree to give a reference for someone without knowing who it was ahead of time. I might want to call and get the story straight. I often ask the individual if there is something they would like me to emphasize or something they would like me to avoid.


It's absolutely appropriate. How can you give a reference for someone without knowing who it is you're giving the reference for?

However before you reply to this email at all, you may want to take a minute to consider that perhaps the reason they didn't identify the person is because it's a phishing scam, trying to get information about you (such as, for example, the information that your email address is valid and being actively monitored and therefore may be a good target for future scams.)

I would double-check the recruitment company this person works for. Make sure it's real, make sure any contact information in the email lines up with contact details you can find online for this company, etc.

Assuming the sender seems legit, definitely ask who you're expected to give a reference for and schedule a delay of a few days before talking to the recruiter. Use that time to contact that person independently and confirm that (a) they are applying for a job and (b) they want you to act as a reference for them. I'm sure you wouldn't want others giving out goodness only knows what information about you to a random "recruiter" without their knowledge, so you should give whoever this is the same courtesy.

Maybe I'm just being paranoid, but this out-of-the-blue request is setting off a lot of alarm bells for me.

  • I fully agree with double checking everything. Whenever I've supplied references, I always asked permission from the people who I wanted to supply as a reference and told them about the position(s) I was applying for. If someone claiming to be a recruiter or hiring manager contacted me, I would check them out before providing any information. Commented Jan 10, 2018 at 17:17
  • I have gotten out of the blue requests that were legit before, but they always told me who.
    – HLGEM
    Commented Jan 11, 2018 at 15:52

I agree that it is OK to ask, and that you should check for possible e-mail scams, but I would take it a stage further than suggested in the question.

I would not even commit to the phone call, let alone schedule it, until after finding out who the reference is for, and checking with that person.

It may be someone for whom you do not want to give a reference. It may be an attempt to get information about the subject of the phone call without their knowledge and consent.


It is appropriate to ask the recruiter, the name of the person who has given your name as a reference.

However if you are able to recall any such incident where you have given permission (may be during a casual talk) to any of your colleagues, then there is no wrong in attending the call.

Some guys forward a questionnaire as well (or request to fill it online). As there is no questionnaire mailed to you, probably 30 minutes would be fair enough.


This sounds like spam. I wouldn't reply at all.

  1. The recruiter forgets to mention the name of the person he's asking about.

  2. The person who asked you for a reference forgot to remind you about it.

If one of those things happened, I can understand. But if both things happened at the same time, I'd say this was spam.

As you say, there is also the other possibility that the email is purposefully being deceitful to try to recruit you. That too, I would avoid replying to. If the recruiter is spamming me with a deceitful message, that means that if I work with him, he'll use my resume to spam other people with deceitful messages. And I don't need that. I need to be able to trust the recruiters I work with.

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