How often do software companies in general, and the big ones in
particular (say for ex.Microsoft or Amazon), contact references for a
reference letter? What information do they typically ask for?
I have both checked references when I was the hiring manager, and been called for a reference for others when they worked for me previously.
Things I am often asked:
- When did [candidate] work for you?
- What was your role with respect to [candidate]?
- What would you say are [candidate]'s strengths?
- What would you say are [candidate]'s weaknesses?
- I am considering [candidate] for a position as a [title]. Do you think [she/he] would fit that role?
- Why did [candidate] leave?
- Would you hire [candidate] again?
- As [candidate]'s new manager, is there anything I should know about [him/her] to manage [him/her] effectively?
If HR checks references, they often ask different questions. They often ask:
- Specific dates of employment
- Specific title
- Specific salary when leaving
- Specific reason for leaving
Occasionally, I get questions regarding something that was said during the interview, that the hiring manager wanted clarified.
- [candidate] said that [she/he] didn't feel challenged at work. How do you feel about that?
- [candidate] said that nobody was being promoted from within. Do you agree that was happening?
- and other specifics
I never use a person as a reference who wouldn't give me a stellar review. And I always talk to my potential references ahead of time, tell them what I am doing, where I have interviewed, and ask if they would be a reference for me. And if there is any question in my mind at all, I always ask "Would you say good things about me?" I seldom have to ask that question, but I'd never want to lose a great job due to a weak reference. And I never want to put people on the spot if they would prefer not to be a reference for me.
I would almost never use my current boss as a reference, since I'd seldom want my current company to know I was planning to leave. Most potential employers will allow you to get by without a current reference, if you have sufficient prior references. If absolutely necessary, I use a trusted colleague aside from the boss at the current company.