The employer I interviewed with had me fill out a references sheet during the on-site interview and I didn't have time to get permission beforehand from references. They asked for both personal references and references from my most recent job which I didn't have ready. I ended up using my previous employers as references without their permission.

My question is how should I handle this? Do I tell them, that I used their name as a reference and they might be contacted? Or do I just ignore it and not notify them? What happens if the reference actually didn't want to be a reference?

  • You are interviewing and did not already have a list of references prepared? That is a very common request as part of the interviewing process. Consider this a lesson learned and follow the boy scouts motto, "Be Prepared"
    – cdkMoose
    Commented Apr 16, 2015 at 16:52
  • Basically yes, I dropped the ball and failed to prepare a list of references beforehand. Lesson learned!
    – Patrick G.
    Commented Apr 16, 2015 at 20:10

3 Answers 3


Call them straight away and explain the situation. Explain that you were put on the spot and didn't think things through. Something along the lines of

Hey X, I had a job interview today where I was required to give references and since I had none prepared I panicked and put your name down. There's a chance someone from company Y will contact you to ask some short questions about me. I'm really sorry about this, it won't happen again.

In the future, if an employer asks for references and you have none prepared, I would advise you to tell them that you have some people in mind but want to obtain their permission first. This gives you time to call the references and then communicate them to your prospective employer.

If they insist on having the references straight away, I'd ask the employer wait a day before contacting the references, again so that you may have time to inform your references that they may be contacted on your behalf.

  • I used a modified version of this message to my reference and he seemed okay with it. He told me not to worry about it.
    – Patrick G.
    Commented Apr 16, 2015 at 16:18
  • Glad it worked out. You really need to notify your references as soon as possible. Much better before the interview than after :)
    – Nelson
    Commented Apr 10, 2016 at 18:06

My question is how should I handle this?

Short term

In your situation, any "damage" is done, but you should just inform those you gave as references "hey, I had to give references yesterday and didn't have time to ask if it was ok. I'm sorry for this - if you are uncomfortable with this let me know and I will communicate that back to X."

What happens if the reference actually didn't want to be a reference?

  1. Tell your reference you will talk with company
  2. Find someone else who will be a reference
  3. Tell company, "hey I prematurely gave a reference, who is no longer available, here is the updated reference replacing X"

Long term

Planning beats troubleshooting here.

Have a list of your references available before interviews.

  • I like this, just ask the reference if you can use em and say not available if they say no, the top answer to apologize was kind of cringe to be honest.
    – Lightsout
    Commented Oct 19, 2023 at 6:45

In your situation I'd have asked for time to ask references permission before filling them out on site. I'm sure they would have been fine with that.

However now you've already given the list, I'd start calling people and asking them if they mind, as if I hadn't already given the list. Most people will say yes, and with a little luck all of your references will say yes. Then if they're contacted they never need know that you gave their name before they said yes.

If they say no then you're in a bit of a situation. You should apologise and explain what happened, that you had to give references before you had a chance to ask them. At worst if called they may decline to be a reference.


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