Checking Employment References

Former employers are in the best position to tell you about an applicant's work history. Make sure the information you get agrees with what the applicant gave you. Employers' references can give you some or all of the following information:

  • employment dates
  • job titles
  • rates of pay
  • nature of the tasks performed
  • work habits including conscientiousness, sense of responsibility, and ability to work with others
  • whether they would hire the individual again, knowing what they know about him or her


When you talk with former employers, ask for specific examples of times when the applicant demonstrated positive traits. They make excellent documentation, should you run into negligent hiring claims.

Sometimes, the employer won't tell you anything more than "name, rank, and serial number" information for fear that the employee may sue them. If you run into that, remind the employer that most states consider the information "qualifiedly privileged." That means that the information is protected, and the employer who shares it is protected unless the information is given:

  • with known falsity
  • in bad faith
  • with reckless disregard for the truth

Sometimes you can get more information from coworkers or supervisors, but often they too are instructed not to discuss why the employee left or if the employee would be rehired. A number of states require former employers to provide a job reference letter or some information about people who worked for them.

No matter what, document whatever information you do get and note who gave it to you. Also note the information they would not give you.

How can you check references? By:

  • Calling: this is the preferred method because it tends to be faster, less time-consuming, and more revealing.
  • Writing: this tends to be used more when applicants have out-of-area references and when calling doesn't work. It does provide stronger documentation to prove you did you homework, though, and permits you to send the ex-employer the written release you've obtained from the applicant.