Reading this question, I came across the staement:

I know they are going to confirm degree with previous employer

In my experience, in the UK, most previous employers will only confirm that the person worked for them between the dates specified, they don't supply character references or anything that couldn't be seen as objectively true in court

Have I lead an unusually sheltered professional life? Does this vary from country to country?

I'm not asking about CRB/DBS-type background checks carried out by third parties.

  • 4
    Indeed, for degrees, they ask the universities, not the previous employers. Commented Apr 8, 2019 at 14:32
  • With GDPR company can even refuse to provide time bracket and just confirm that such person worked for them and the type of resignation was.... Commented Apr 8, 2019 at 14:40
  • 1
    The question that you referred to was a bit strange, because if an employer wants to check about your university degrees, they will ask the university, not the previous employer.
    – gnasher729
    Commented May 11, 2019 at 12:43

6 Answers 6


Typically, such reference requests are handled by HR, and HR only confirms the period of employment, and if the person is eligible for rehire.

There is no law preventing a company from giving a more informative review, it is just a matter of the people doing the reference do not have the information.

  • +1 The first paragraph is my understanding too, but there seem to be a lot of questions on here that assume previous employers will provide a lot more than the basics. wherever I've worked HR have been reluctant to do this. I wondered if it is different in other companies or cultures. I'll add an HR tag Commented Apr 9, 2019 at 9:58

In commercial sector, they might call your employer to verify employment. They might also call your reference to ask about you with basic questions.

If you're in a clearance/government type job, they might dig deeper and interview people at your past employment or neighbors. In these situations they typically ask if the person believes you're in good character and they'll ask if you can be trusted.

In the linked question provided, it's unclear why the person believes questions about his gpa will be asked or why it is vital they would call to verify gpa matched between the resume he submitted at the current employer and the resume he submitted to the past employer. My guess is a big chunk of the story is missing and perhaps his past employer paid his college tuition. Even in that case, I doubt they'd call the person who paid your tuition to ask what gpa he told you he got and compare that with the gpa he gave his current employer. My thought is the individual asking the question is very young and perhaps immature in his thinking that he lied once and they'll find out. Sort of like the child worried about his parents finding out he stole from the cookie jar and his teachers will call to verify if he ate cookies at home. The lesson he missed though is that one should never lie to be put into such position. If you always spoke the truth, you never have to worry.

  • Not so sure about UK, but usually background checks for government clearances are done by government agencies and not by the company.
    – Simon
    Commented May 9, 2019 at 22:06
  • @Simon It's usually paired. The government agency does their background investigation then the company does theirs as a normal on boarding process when they hire someone. However, the "they" in this answer is not necessarily any particular company or government agency.
    – Dan
    Commented May 10, 2019 at 12:43

The answer is it varies by company, not just by country.

I work for a large international corporation, currently in the London office. The policy is that HR only confirm that a person was in employment between whatever dates. We don't say why the employee left us or whether we would rehire them. Managers are not allowed to give any kind of character reference, positive or negative, on any former employee. I was always told that was for legal reasons; from which I took to mean, we don't want the former employee to sue the company for libel if someone says something negative which is not provably true, and we don't want their subsequent employer to sue the company for saying something falsely positive which the new employer relied on to their detriment.

When I worked for a small company (also in the UK) the owner and the technical manager were each happy to give detailed character references on request.


It really depends on what type of information is sought.

The linked question specifically mentions references. If a company asks for a reference, either written, or a person to contact, they ARE looking for subjective assessment of a persons qualities. Usually leaders of the employee can be used as a reference, but this is usually a personal agreement between two employees.

Potential referees should be approached by the employee to agree to be a reference. In doing so, the employee is giving permission for the referee to act as one. If an employee is randomly contacted, they should decline to offer any information.

This is different from a contact in order to provide proof of employment. The amount of information given out then will depend heavily on legislation, but typically in large firms they will give out the bare minimum required by law. This is usually handled by the HR department. The previous employer would not make an assertions that they could not defend in court. They would not validate the status of degrees. They want to say as little as possible.

With smaller companies, the difference between proof of employment and reference can be blurred.


In two of my previous jobs, my new employer handed out a form asking how many sick days I had off in the last 12 months, and to describe my skills. However, this was over 5 years ago, and may no longer be standard practice.

Recently, a new employer requested two references, and that was it. I suppose it depends from the workplace. HR may have a standard template to give out, however I did ask my previous bosses for one, and they provided one. No one has ever asked for my qualifications.


In most cases, your previous company has no inclination to help out the next company, so they will give out the minimum information. They might even give out positive information if they are trying to get rid of you (they might actually hope you find a job elsewhere and quit).

There have been cases in the U.K. where companies in the construction industry shared information to blacklist employees, for example employees concerned about safety. I can’t remember details, but this may have led to significant fines.


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