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I'm in a job search process. I'm applying to many different potential employers. On more than one occasion I've had a potential employer ask to speak to references prior to even calling me to ask for an interview. I don't get it....why would an employer want to "get to know" me by asking my friends?

Do they think my hand-picked references will help them understand me better than simply picking up the phone and calling me?

Details to know is that whatever employer I'm hired by, it will very likely involve a move -- very possibly several hundred miles away. It's not easy to simply go in for an interview. Any interview will likely be conducted by phone or a video call/skype.

The reason this is a concern is because I really do value my references time/privacy. I've had references question why several different ones are calling them, when none of them even bother to call me for an interview.

Point of clarification: This is not a situation where they are simply contacting references submitted with the resume -- they email me and ask for references. They don't ask for an interview, but they want to call references before even deciding if they care to interview me.

  • You can take it as a good sign. Better than utter silence from your application. But it is weird they would alert the applicant in such a weird way. – Trevor Mar 6 at 18:28
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    Do you know the employer is actually contacting the references? Versus just calling you beforehand to collect them? – dwizum Mar 6 at 19:12
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    What country is this in? Are you sure these are potential employers and not just independent recruiters/salespeople using your references as a way to gather leads for their particular function? Have you shown your resume to your professional friends? Is there anything unusual about your resume that might give strangers doubts about its authenticity? Do you have visa requirements that your own friends wouldn't have if the potential employer were to recruit them instead? And finally, where do you find these job leads/job postings? There are many job boards that are just worthless, be careful. – Stephan Branczyk Mar 7 at 2:31
  • That's an interesting theory Stephan, and one well worth checking on – user90842 Mar 7 at 22:14
  • Yeah sounds like a recruitment scam. – dan-klasson Mar 9 at 11:59
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While it's rare, a few phone calls to references can screen you in or out and is far less disruptive to an employer than scheduling an hour long interview.

Some do it as a form of pre-screening, which is annoying.

If your references don't like being called don't use them.

to be more mindful of the people you've used for references, let them know every time you give out their number, and tell them that a potential employer may be calling them.

  • In this situation, my speculation is that this is a volunteer organization, and hiring is done by a volunteer committee. I have a feeling that oftentimes, the different members of the committee that only meets weekly, or a few times a month simply all want to be a part of the process, so they think they can save time and be involved. It just seems a bit backwards to call 3-4 people and spend time getting the same info they can just call me to get. – keith Mar 6 at 14:42
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    IMO screenings like this are a sign of disrespect from a company.... essentially indicating that their time is more valuable than the OPs and his references. Unless I was desperate or really wanted into the company, a request like this would get a hard pass from me. – DanK Mar 6 at 17:02
  • Keith sorry I didn't realize you were the OP. If this is the case, this is probably an organization you don't want to work for, their professionalism in the details of your actual employment would surely be no better – user90842 Mar 7 at 22:13
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They call the references to confirm details they are interested in, whether it be stated experience or the job description etc

They contact the references you provide so that they can make their own educated choices about who they want to interview.

Giving you a list of reasons that they did not choose you is not possible as we don't have their list of requirements they are looking for.

Usually one warns referees that they may be getting requests and they tend to realize you might have applied to several positions....

  • Yes. Of course I've warned them, in a general sense. It would be nice to give them a heads up if a potential employer had even interviewed me and gotten close to the potential offer being given. – keith Mar 6 at 14:36
  • "make their own educated choices about who they want to interview." - that should be the function of reading the resume. Or talking to the OP on the phone. If they're calling someone, they should call the interested party first. – user90842 Mar 7 at 0:41
  • @GeorgeM you describe their first round - taking contact with referees is probably the second round .... – Solar Mike Mar 7 at 4:01
  • It should be the -last- round. If only because after talking to the candidate they may have a lot more pointed questions to ask, so in their own best interest as well as not being contemptuous of other people's time and energy – user90842 Mar 7 at 22:12
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This is rare, but there are some employers that believe references are more valuable than in person interviews. I can't find it at the moment, but I remember reading an interview where - I believe it was a LinkedIn executive - was claiming that he learned more talking to references than in job interviews.

In my experience, most companies don't call your references ever, so if you really hate this then you could try moving on to the next job, but it's actually a good sign in my opinion because it means they're likely thorough in the hiring process.

  • This is not to downplay the value of references at all, I don't think anyone here is suggesting that references aren't immensely helpful. Don't confuse the issue, the question is about references being harassed by employers before they even bother to talk to the candidate – user90842 Mar 7 at 22:11
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I literally never heard of this. What country is it? Perhaps it's a country specific phenomenon. Obviously it's up to the employer when to ask for references, but it's completely up to you to decide if the request, and timing, seem reasonable.

I worked in Engineering for over 6 years, and references are one of your most valuable resources. It's up to them to provide an employer with positive and authentic opinion of your achievements and personality. They can make or break a company's decision to offer you a great role. Last thing I would want is them getting a phone call from every company that stumbles upon your CV. Talking to multiple companies and repeating the same things might turn into a chore. If it was up to me, I would keep my references to myself at least until after the first interview. If your potential employer is serious enough to go to the next stage with you I would agree to their request to your references contact details.

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Though I have not seen this as a common practice, there's nothing wrong in that. It may not be targeted to know "you" (as in , your strength and weakness or competency) but it is more targeted to check the "authenticity" and "applicability" of your application.

At times, because of the broad job description, there may be more than one roles which will be qualified for the application however the actual requirement may be interested in only one of the roles. By contacting your references, they may want to know exactly the field of work you're from.

Calling you would have also worked, but they can do that anyways once you're hooked in for a discussion (voice/video/F2F).

Don't think about it too much, just make sure your references are aware that they may get the calls.

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    Don't think about it? It's unconscionable misbehavior! I think the OP should eliminate any company that operates that way right off, they're bound to have other horrors up their sleeves once they'd start working there – user90842 Mar 7 at 0:42
  • @GeorgeM Seriously? Misbehavior? What are the references for (if they cannot be contacted)? Enlarging the size of the CV? – Sourav Ghosh Mar 7 at 10:36
  • References are for evaluating a candidate AFTER you have done your due diligence about them (resume, checking of information, at least phone screening of the candidate). Who would ever agree to be a reference if they were going to be interrogated by 20 companies every time the poor guy is looking for a job? Nobody, that's who – user90842 Mar 7 at 22:10
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I've had a potential employer ask to speak to references prior to even calling me to ask for an interview.

While it depends on the particular company’s interview procedures, there are costs associated with interviewing candidates: time, interviewer salaries, travel compensation, etc.

I would assume that their goal is to weed out those who are obviously poor fits for the position. So they will do what they can, with the resources they have, prior to committing to an interview — including reading your resume, reviewing your transcripts, and calling your references.

I don't get it....why would an employer want to "get to know" me by asking my friends? Do they think my hand-picked references will help them understand me better than simply picking up the phone and calling me?

Hopefully you’re using the word “friends” here loosely. Speaking with your hand-picked references will absolutely help them understand you better. Are your references old high-school buddies, or are they your managers and colleagues? Are they more familiar with your quality of work, or with how many beers you drank last weekend? Your selection of references counts. Think of this as your first interview question.

Details to know is that whatever employer I'm hired by, it will very likely involve a move -- very possibly several hundred miles away.

All the more reason for the screeners to be diligent. Moving compensation can be high. And while the initial interview may be over the phone or Skype (as you say), they may need to fly you in for subsequent interviews.

The take away is to make sure you’re choosing references that know your work (and/or work habits), and can testify that you’re committed to your area of interest. Choose references that you’re proud to offer, and ones that you hope they do call.

(and of course, let your references know to expect the call!)

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