No — I Won’t Provide My References Before The Interview

 JUN 27, 2017 @ 06:27 PM

 Opinions expressed by Forbes Contributors are their own.

Dear Liz,

I got a call from a headhunter last week.

We can call the headhunter Susan. She sent me a job spec that sounded pretty good. I’m ready to leave my current job, so I sent Susan my resume.

Susan wrote back to me two days later. She said her client might be interested in me.

Shesaid “The next thing they need from you is your list of three references.”

I was shocked. I said “My references’ names and contact information are private. I don’t even know your client’s name yet. I’m not sending my reference list into the void. Why do they need my references so early  in the process?”

Susan said “They want to talk to your references so they can decide whether or not to interview you.”

Have you ever heard of anything so outrageous?

Thanks Liz! You are my HR guardian angel.




Dear Noel,

Sadly, I have heard similar stories before.

How rude do you have to be to tell someone “We need to contact your references and use their valuable time in order to find out whether we should bother meeting you.”?

It is a despicable practice.

Get rid of Susan the headhunter. She is not the right person to carry your flame!

Tell Susan to tell her client to stuff it and hire somebody with less self-esteem than you possess.

The right time for an employer to request your references is after they’ve met you, and after a mutual interest has been established.

Don’t ever give up your references until you’ve met your hiring manager — that is, the person who will be your boss if you end up taking the job — and it’s clear that you like them and they like you.

Reference-checking should take place late in the recruiting process, not right away.

One time I told a former team member of mine that I would be a reference for her.

She called me a few weeks later and said “I applied for a job and the employer wants my references. They talked to me on the phone, but the hiring manager for the open position is based in Florida and I’m in New York. They want to talk to my references — including you —to decide whether or not to spend the money to fly me down to Florida.”

I told my ex-colleague “They are toads. They don’t deserve you. They are telling you that their fear of wasting four or five hundred bucks on your trip is greater than their aversion to wasting your references’ time. Tell them them to jump in a lake.”

She did, and the job was still being posted all over the place six months later.

She dodged a bullet — and you will dodge a bullet too when you tell Susan to find some candidates who are more desperate than you are! You have a job. You don’t need to grovel and beg for an opportunity.

It is very sad to see how far some HR folks and recruiters have fallen from ethical standards that used to govern our profession. Just because some people are badly-brought-up or have forgotten their early training doesn’t mean that you have to go along with their outrageous requests.

No one will value or respect you unless you value and respect yourself.

Go ahead and slam the door on people who treat you like a head of livestock. Slamming doors on the wrong opportunities is the best way to bring the right ones in!

All the best,


Liz Ryan is CEO/founder of Human Workplace and author of Reinvention Roadmap. Follow her on Twitter and read Forbes columns. Liz’s book Reinvention Roadmap is here.


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