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Without being asked to, I provided a list of three references at an interview I recently had and they told me they were surprised, because most people don't provide references anymore. I am only 29 and I can't imagine that in the last 7 or 8 years things have changed that much, but is this really true? They said most people are not okay with having their current employers contacted for a reference, so it's not expected of people to provide them anymore, but my list was made up entirely of prior colleagues. Are these of no value to potential employers anymore?

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    Fact: my résumé (actually CV) says about references that "references are available upon request" and nothing else. Personal anecdote: Last time I was job hunting (which was around the time period you are referring to), I don't think anyone asked for a list of references. – a CVn Feb 3 '15 at 15:25
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    People doing the hiring should behave like professional adults and ask you for references. I wouldn't expect you to provide them on your resume. It is very understandable to not want your current employer contacted. Unless they feel so confident in their ability to do a background check, they don't need them. More power to them, but to completely disregard requiring everyone to have some references is sloppy. The fact a candidate can't scrounge up at least 3 people who are willing to at least lie about you, is a red flag. – user8365 Feb 3 '15 at 15:53
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    @MichaelKjörling i read in some "don't do these CV errors" article that references available upon request is actually kinda silly to say. The argument was of course you have references and of course they will be made available if we ask for them. – bharal Feb 3 '15 at 18:15
  • I don't include references on my CV either, as I don't want my references to be contacted without a courtesy call from me letting them know (they've all agreed in perpetuity, but I prefer to be courteous) and to ensure I still have the correct contact details. Every employer I know of has simply offered me the job on the condition that my references come back without problem, and then asked for my previous employer. – Jon Story Feb 5 '15 at 11:22
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In the US, the value of references has been significantly impaired by lawyers. Typically, there will be a policy that says, "You can confirm the dates of employment. Period." People are scared that they will be sued for damages if they provide any actual information. The referenced person might complain about being knocked, and the new employer might complain about being fooled into hiring a problem.

In spite of this, some of us continue to ask for references, because (a) checking that the resume is not completely fabricated has some value, and (b) because every so often someone actually speaks freely.

I've never heard of anyone being expected to volunteer a list of references before being asked for it.

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    "Checking the resume is not completely fabricated has some value" - I think this nails it on the head: employers aren't really asking for a "personal" reference any more, they've realized that everyone just gives friendly names as references. What is useful, however, is to ensure the job history is accurate. The rest is for your probationary period to work out. – Jon Story Feb 5 '15 at 11:24
  • and in the US and else where you MUST provide references if its a security cleared job – Neuromancer Aug 30 '17 at 16:59
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For diversity, let me provide an answer that is not US centric, but Denmark centric (and possibly also applies to much of the EU.)

It is customary, when you quit your job, to ask for a written recommendation from your nearest boss. And unless you were fired for not doing your job, your boss will most probably provide one. It is normally a single full page with:

  1. Formal: Dates of employment and your responsibilities.

  2. Professional: How is your personal approach to the tasks/challenges you were presented during your employment. How do you usually contribute to team effort, and how can your next employer best utilise your skills. Etc.

  3. Personal: A bit about your personal relation with your previous boss. How did you contribute to the atmosphere at the workplace, what is your general mood, etc. In DK it is common to have a friendship-like relationship with your boss, you are pretty much seen as equal but with different responsibilities. Your boss decides what you do, and you do what your boss decides (unless you have a better idea), but that does not mean you are not (almost) equals.

  4. Contact information, such that the next employer can call and validate the information and get more details.

So to answer your question directly (DK centric): References are not a thing of the past. Usually you will provide one full page per previous employment with very specific details on your performance in that position.

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    At least in Finland, the practice of references is not very common. We do have a certificate of employment that you get at the end of both set-time employments and after resigning/getting fired from a job. It lists your title and employment dates. Sometimes also your tasks in a short description (a few paragraphs). – Juha Untinen Feb 4 '15 at 10:06
  • +1 for providing another perspective but note that this is a very Germanic thing. Routine in Germany, not unheard of in Austria or Switzerland. Maybe it's the same in Norway and Sweden? I don't know how people handle references in each and every country but I have never seen anything like that elsewhere in Europe/the EU. For example, French employers would look at you funny if you asked them for such a reference. I think this is also true in Belgium and the Netherlands. (And I do realize many Danes might not like being compared to Germans but that's the way it is ;-) – Relaxed Feb 5 '15 at 17:50
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    This isn't exactly a "list of references" (people you've worked with that are willing to recommend you) but a "job reference" (evaluation of former employer) – Kempeth Aug 30 '17 at 14:43
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Referees aren't a thing of the past, people will (on occasion) ask for them and they use them if they're useful/trustworthy. I'm taking up a contract soon based on the fact that in a past role I worked with someone at the new company, and he happened to be asked if he knew me and he happened to like me.

So, no, "reference lists" or "referees" are not a thing of the past. But how they're used - a referee known to the company or at the company you're applying for is invaluable. A referee at some other company? Not so much. If the hiring company doesn't trust you, who they've met, why the hell are they trusting Alice who they've never met?

With that out of the way then, I've not had a lot of exposure to people ever asking me for a list of referees when I apply for a role. Maybe for the first job I had? I know people who'd say nice things about me, but it's not like I keep an active "list" of such people.

There are two problems with referees, or "reference lists" if you will:

  1. You need to keep the referees abreast each period you begin looking for roles, and making sure they're happy to act as referee. I'm sure they are, but the politeness counts.

  2. Unscrupulous recruiters / HR staff might look up your referees and try to offer them the role instead.

Its really point 2 that is more the problem. I've never given out a list of referees, so I cannot say that point 2. has ever effected me - but man, the recruiters I've dealt with? I wouldn't hand them a list of groceries, let along a list of people they can call up and badger.

  • Is calling them "Referees" a regional thing? Also, I think it depends on who you choose to be your reference and why. For example, the job I'm applying for stipulates I'd be reporting to a Project Manager. One of my listed references is a prior project manager who currently works at a spinoff company of the one I'm applying to. So, they have easy access to her and can ask what working with me is like, PLUS they can verify her reputation. Another reference is a client, so they can get an opinion on working with me as a vendor. There would be no reason to offer my client the job I'm after. – jobseeker22 Feb 3 '15 at 18:39
  • Jobseeker22 - the thing isn't always about being able to verify the reference's reputation, it can be that we don't know WHO these people are. Maybe you call the client "Uncle Bob" at the dinner table, maybe the project manager is your girlfriend's flatmate. If I don't know them well enough to know how objective they are I'll take any reference with a pinch of salt, so usually as long as they can verify dates and role/title that's enough. – The Wandering Dev Manager Feb 3 '15 at 19:18
  • @jobseeker22 referee is correct term, but regional dialects always take precedence ( en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Referee_%28disambiguation%29 ). If referee list is what you'd say, then keep saying it. – bharal Feb 3 '15 at 21:39
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updated

Yes, I believe references are a thing of the past. (US)

We don't ask for references and I believe the last time I was asked for them was over 20 years ago.

It's a combination of two reasons. First is that it's trivial to come up with a list of 3 or so people to say how great you are. So "personal" references are pretty much meaningless. Honestly, who would list someone that might even consider saying something bad about you? You could be the worst XYZ in the world and still find a few people that would be willing to say you were pure awesomesauce. Just look at linkedin. I've had dozens of people "recommend" me as an expert in things that they would have zero clue about. It's meaningless.

The second reason is corporate policy. Most businesses tell their managers that they aren't even allowed to speak with other companies about an existing or previous employee and instead must refer all questions back to HR. So as long as the manager is following policy then the best you can hope for are the dates a person worked there, the amount of money they were making when they left and the job title.

update: In the US it is not illegal for a manager to give more information if they choose. They can certainly say "In my opinion, Bob was a terrible worker". However the manager needs to be careful to stay away from giving false or misleading information. The example I've been given is a manager can't say "Bob was fired for theft." unless it was proven in a court of law that Bob did indeed steal from the business.

At the end of the day, I believe asking for references is pointless and my personal experience has been that very few others actually bother to ask for them anymore.

Today, background checks are king. It's cheap and trivial to run them on someone.

  • While I do agree overall the one exception / anecdote is a number of companies in the US still do ask for three references of which two must be professional. To be fair they aren't looking for someone to sing your praises, they're watching for red flags. Case and point we've disqualified people from jobs after calling references and getting bad reference from a past boss, having the dates worked or title not match up with the resume, etc. Most of the time they're worthless, but when you're hiring for an expensive roll, you take any tools you can to filter out the bad from the good. – RualStorge Feb 5 '15 at 18:33
  • Try going for a job requiring security clearance without references – Pepone Feb 5 '15 at 20:39
  • But what's interesting to me is if you're interviewing a candidate who's had a relatively short career at only 5 years in length, how many Project Managers could they have worked with, or how many VPs of Applications Development could there have been? If I'm able to list people like these as my references, doesn't that count for something? – jobseeker22 Feb 6 '15 at 13:10
  • @jobseeker22: After 5 years? Could be anywhere from 1 of each to 5+ of each. Depends on if you changed jobs and/or if those positions were revolving doors. One place I worked at had a 150% annual turn over in IT. I was there 3 years and got to work with a LOT of new people. – NotMe Feb 6 '15 at 14:33

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