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Reference check is the fourth and last step of the hiring procedure for an IT company who is trying to offer a job to candidate. The HR now demands my ex-managers contact.

I personally have no issue of asking my ex-managers to be my reference, and I am confident that it will be positive, however, I am against the whole idea of proxying through my ex-managers to get to know me, as I believe if the company had a proper hiring procedure, they should have a clear idea about my competencies within the 3 interviews they have conducted face 2 face.

I am rejecting this idea NOT because I can't provide the reference, but because it is against what I believe is right.

Am I being too difficult and egoistic or Is reference check a common thing that I need to follow and respect without questing it?

To be clear, the intention of this reference check is NOT to verify whether I have worked in ex-companies or not, otherwise they can verify that by my showing them my reference letters OR with HR of the ex-companies. Their intention is to understand me better as a person, which they should have achieved that earlier in the long face 2 face interviews. P.S :I found a similar question in Workplace, but it was asked in a complete different context for a different industry.

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  • Have you ever learned anything about someone after you've talked with them a few times? Has anything you've learned ever been from someone who knew that person instead of that person? They're about to invest a great deal of resources in the relationship with the candidate they choose. Doesn't it make sense to learn all they can? – SemiGeek Nov 21 '19 at 15:58
  • @JoeStrazzere, I have added a new statement at the end of my question, with the hope that it makes it clearer and answers your question. – comxyz Nov 21 '19 at 16:13
  • Please add a location tag. I could answer "No, those personal references are stupid and unheard of in my country", but how much would that help you? Probably not at all because I have a feeling that you are living in a completely different country with different customs concerning references. – nvoigt Nov 21 '19 at 17:19
  • @nvoigt I agree - when I first moved to my current country of residence and looked for work, I was asked for references, which I duly supplied. The references were from UK employers. The response I got back from the agency handling my application was “these won’t do, see the example references attached - we need equivalents from your previous employers”. The examples were essentially 20 page in-depth questionnaires, which would have taken hours to fill out. I laughed and told the agency to forget it then - but they put me forward, my 2 paragraph UK references were accepted, and I was hired. – Moo Nov 22 '19 at 5:04
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    It doesnt matter what you think is right. You arent the one paying the salary for the position. You can keep your ethics, while they just hire someone else. – Keltari Nov 27 '19 at 8:08
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I am rejecting this idea NOT because I can't provide the reference, but because it is against what I believe is right.

We each have the ability to stand up for what we believe is right and what we believe is important.

Am I being too difficult and egoistic or Is reference check a common thing that I need to follow and respect without questing it?

Reference checks are extremely common. Reference checks specifically requiring former managers are not. I haven't met anyone who shares your views regarding reference checks.

I always asked for references, but never specifically required former managers. Whenever I called a former manager for a reference, I always asked the question "As the new manager for X, what should I keep in mind in order to manage him/her better?" And in the role of a reference myself, I've often been asked similar questions.

You say you have no problem asking this of your ex-managers and are confident that it would be positive. But you believe this implies an improper hiring process. You feel that a hiring manager should limit their knowledge gathering to whatever impressions they can get of you in face-to-face meetings and should never talk about you with others. I can't agree that such a limitation makes sense. I don't know of any hiring manager that would limit themselves that way.

But if this is that important to you, you can refuse and risk that the company will choose not to offer you a job because of your refusal. The hiring company gets to decide if you are being too difficult and egoistic, and if their reference checks are a part of their process that they consider important.

Basically, you get to decide if this is the hill you want to die on.

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  • ability or right? Not everyone has the ability, you know.... – Sourav Ghosh Nov 21 '19 at 12:14
  • No problem, thanks. – Sourav Ghosh Nov 21 '19 at 12:16
  • @SouravGhosh you have no right to that job, so stand up all you want. – Moo Nov 22 '19 at 4:34
  • While this answer is true, I think it is omitting how much of a red flag this is likely to be to an employer. It;s a “choice you can make” but there is a very high probability it results in no job offer. – mxyzplk - SE stop being evil Nov 29 '19 at 14:21
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I believe if the company had a proper hiring procedure, they should have a clear idea about my competencies within the 3 interviews they have conducted face 2 face.

I've hired more than 300 people (mostly software engineers of different seniority, UX, researchers, project managers). And there is no hiring procedure good enough to understand how somebody behaves, operates on 6-24 month project. Also, I would take an offence at your statement. It's like saying that:

  • Developer shouldn't have bugs in their code and should have a perfect estimation.
  • UX designer should create perfect usability.
  • SEO specialist should always be able to put our site on top Google and Bing result.
  • Project Manager can never make a mistake in the estimation.

We are humans, and I always know that the hiring process I designed far from perfect, and I will use any means to test and verify it. The best-case scenario would be to run a reference check and then hire a person for a 2-day contract to see how they operate in a "real" world. But that's not always possible.

References can be used to understand other strengths that the candidate didn't advertise in the process. It happened to me about 12 years ago, I was applying to a Software Engineer role, but got a job as Team Lead, after they talked to a couple of references of mine.

Finally "Hiring Manager" is not a profession, the Hiring Manager is a role that people assume for a few weeks a quarter, most people don't have an opportunity to become better at hiring, simply because they hiring for 1-3 weeks in a quarter.

Am I being too difficult and egoistic or Is reference check a common thing that I need to follow and respect without questing it?

I always do reference checks, I work in the financial and consulting domain, and when I hire people, apart from technical excellence I want to understand certain things about them:

  • How good are they at operating in big and small teams.
  • How good are they at presenting work (doesn't have to be theirs) to senior stakeholders, like board members, investors for example.
  • Nature of the products they delivered to their previous employer.
  • Any particular recommendations that their employer would give, on top of it.

Now this is what I'm looking for in general, different hiring managers might be looking for different things they want to ask a reference.

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  • Also – if you want to know how far from perfect hiring process is – there is a book called "Work Rules" by Laszlo Bock, he spends more than 10 years optimising and redesigning google's hiring policy, and he is still not happy with it :) – David Sergey Nov 21 '19 at 11:30
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Am I being too difficult and egoistic or Is reference check a common thing that I need to follow and respect without questing it?

Yes, you are. Reference check is common.

The references are not really to check on your technical competencies, rather to check on your background and behavioral aspects. Through the interview process

  • They don't know how you react when you are being managed.
  • They don't know how you perform when you're told to manage.
  • They don't know how you fare while working alone or working in a team.
  • They don't know your work habits / preferences.

There's more to technical knowledge that a potential employer needs to know before making the decision to hire you.

If you feel you'll get a positive feedback if your ex-manager is contacted, you cite them as reference, I see no problem in this.

One point to note: Make sure you make your ex-manager aware of this and seek their permission before listing them as reference.


Even after this, if you don't change your mind about

I am rejecting this idea NOT because I can't provide the reference, but because it is against what I believe is right.

Refuse to provide reference and move on. You have every right to refuse (to provide the reference), they also have every right to refuse (your candidature).

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  • Do you really get that information from an ex-manager? I thought most companies these days would only supply the employment dates and job title, for fear of being sued over a negative review. Even if you got detailed answers, would you trust it? It's like asking someone's ex-wife, in that you know something happened to make them split up. – Robin Bennett Nov 21 '19 at 11:38
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    @RobinBennett (1) Many of the times, the communications are not formal and not made official. (2) Not everyone parts on bitter terms. I see no reason for assuming that the review from any ex-colleague would be biased. – Sourav Ghosh Nov 21 '19 at 11:41
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Am I being too difficult and egoistic or Is reference check a common thing that I need to follow and respect without questing it?

In my view, yes.

Reference checks can help fill out a sense of how a candidate is as an employee, how they fit in the wider picture of the company rather than just "can they do skilled task x". It's a lot easier for someone to make all the right noises in interviews about how they will work then for them to convince someone else to say them on their behalf.

When you're shopping for a product or service do you go purely off what the vendor tells you or do you seek to verify that it's the right choice by looking at reviews?

Employing someone is an expensive prospect - I don't think it's unreasonable for a company to try and make sure they are making the correct choice.

Ultimately though you are evaluating the potential employer just as much as they are evaluating you - if for whatever reason you object to the way they conduct the hiring process you can simply withdraw. As an employer I would view your refusal to supply references for your stated reason as arrogance and would likely count that against you fairly severely. But the fact that I hold a position contrary to your own doesn't, in of itself, invalidate your position and doesn't mean that no-one is going to like that in you as a candidate. Some people may view what I see as arrogance as "strength of conviction" or "self-assuredness" or similar.

What you need to work out is how strongly you feel about this issue - if it matters enough to you that you'd be prepared to risk the job opportunity over it then stick to your guns, but be under no illusion here you would be risking the job opportunity. They aren't asking for references for the craic, they clearly place some value on them otherwise they wouldn't be asking for them in the first place.

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    +1 especially for "When you're shopping for a product or service do you go purely off what the vendor tells you" – SemiGeek Nov 21 '19 at 15:52
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Am I being too difficult and egoistic or Is reference check a common thing that I need to follow and respect without questing it?

In my experience, reference checks are common in the IT sector, but not from a fixed person (Manager).

In this case, rather than providing contact information of the manager, I would provide that of the HR so that they could confirm the employment details - people move around all the time, and its hard to keep in touch with everyone, with whom I’ve worked in the past.

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You're right - your personality and general competency can probably be gleaned through a series of interviews.

However, one of the most important parts of a reference is confirmation that you worked at the company you claimed, performing the role and responsibilities you outlined, and during the period you stated, on your application or resume.

While it isn't common, it also isn't unheard of for people to elaborate or outright lie on their application. Requesting references is a pretty common method to mitigate this.

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  • If that is the concern (which I don't think is), it can easily be proven by showing them the reference letter that I have from my previous work place which has company's logo and stamp on it. – comxyz Nov 21 '19 at 15:40
  • @JoeStrazzere, they are more than welcome to do any background checks either directly or via their third party partner. However, the intention of asking candidate for ex-managers contact is NOT to verify if the candidate was really working their, but rather to understand about who the candidate is as a person, and that is something that company should aim to discover during the face 2 face interviews and not talking to someone who has been mentally prepared by the candidate to be positive about the candidate. Am I making any sense here? – comxyz Nov 21 '19 at 15:54
  • it can easily be proven by showing them the reference letter that I have from my previous work place @comxyz It would have been useful for you to include that you've already provided proof of where you worked in the question. – BSMP Nov 21 '19 at 16:05
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    @comxyz the fact that it’s near to impossible to gleam every bit of info you need to determine whether a candidate is a good hire or not from a few short interviews is the very reason that months long probationary periods with reduced notice periods and other limited benefits are pretty much the norm in most industries - so I have no issues with references falling into the same bucket. And I say that as someone who has interviewed probably 50 people over the past 6 months. Hiring is hired. Determining who is and is not a con artist is hard. References and probationary periods are tools. – Moo Nov 22 '19 at 6:45
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I do not know your location but in the US they contact your previous managers to see if you worked where you claimed you did. You can say "I no longer have contact info with my manager from 10 years ago, but here is the contact info to the company's HR."

When contacted managers often will only verify if you worked there. Of course from a phone call you might be able to determine whether they liked you or not given the tone of voice. Or if asked if they would hire you again, they may say "yes" or "no". With that said, if your potential future employer reaches out to HR most of the time will not be the case since (a) HR is very leery about possible lawsuits (source: a friend of mine who is an HR manager), (b) HR cannot say much about you besides what is in their records unless something really spectacular (in a good or bad way) happened that everyone at your old job learned about, and (c) while your previous boss might have a vendetta against you, HR really has better things to do. Like make the lives of the current employees miserable.

With that said, it is common practice not to provide contact info for your current boss. Most interviewers will understand that.

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  • @JoeStrazzere It’s a commonly held belief in a lot of countries, that your employer can not give a bad reference. In the UK, an employment tribunal recently affirmed that a negative but truthful reference is perfectly valid and legal for an employer to give. The ruling is quite amusing as well, because it basically consists of “you were a terrible worker, what did you expect them to say?” – Moo Nov 22 '19 at 4:37
  • @Moo, I think would think it boils down to whether there is documentation to back the statement or not. – raubvogel Nov 26 '19 at 22:33

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