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I recently received a call back on a position that I have been interviewing for where a potential employer is interested in me but wants to check references prior to extending or committing to extending me an offer.

Is that normal protocol? In my past experience you supplied references after an offer was extended.

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In my experience in the US, it's normal to check references before extending an offer. You might be wondering why they don't make the offer contingent on the reference check, like they usually do on a background check, but there's an important difference: the reference check is under their control and usually quick. A background check, on the other hand, can take weeks.

So given a choice between saying "yes" today and then having to have the awkward "um, no, we learned something" conversation tomorrow, and just waiting until tomorrow so they can do the check first, most employers will do the latter.

In a hot market or for a super candidate, an employer might choose to do it the other way. But from what I've seen, they'll instead say "we intend to make you an offer and are just checking references now". If the references don't pan out there's still an awkward conversation, but they don't have to retract a formal offer.

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In my experience, most formal background checks begin once a contingent offer and acceptance have been reached. Most companies don't want to waste the cost of a background check until then.

But I have seen many cases where references are checked while the offer/negotiation/acceptance is going on. Particularly when the references are checked by HR or the hiring manager (rather than being outsourced as part of the formal background check) this isn't too expensive or time-consuming.

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