Benefiting U

EMPLOYMENT REFERENCES: HOW TO REQUEST AND HOW TO RESPOND

Employment reference checks are a common and useful part of the hiring process. However, some hiring supervisors skip this critical check and some current supervisors are apprehensive to provide a reference when requested. Because a reference check can help a department/organization ensure a quality hire, we offer these tips to help you both request and respond to a reference check.

Requesting a reference:

Reviewing resumes and conducting interviews are critical steps in the selection and hiring process, but obtaining reference checks from current and previous employers can reveal information beyond that which is typically gained through a resume and interview.  Even if the candidate is a current University of Utah employee, don’t assume that references of previous employers were already completed. We encourage you to contact the current University of Utah supervisor and previous employers. Contact at least three employment references, with at least one (preferably more) being a direct supervisor of the candidate. In addition to generic questions (Tell me about your experience with…) also ask specific questions, such as:

  • What are some of the candidate’s strengths? Weaknesses/areas that needed improvement?
  • Has the candidate been issued any warnings, disciplinary actions or low performance evaluations?
  • In the future, if the candidate was considering returning to your department/organization, would you hire them back to work for you? Would you recommend they be hired back to your department/organization?

You may also contact University Human Resource Management to determine if any formal corrective or disciplinary action is on file.

Responding to a request for reference:

It is not uncommon for supervisors to decline providing a reference (beyond verification of employment) because they fear repercussion.  However, the Reference Immunity Act of Utah State protects employers who provide a truthful reference about a current or former employee’s job performance or professional conduct. An employer is liable only if the employer knowingly provides false information or provides information with “reckless disregard of whether the information was false.” As such, you are able to honestly answer the questions that a prospective employer asks you. A best practice is to provide information that is documented (e.g. in the employee file) and that the candidate knows about (e.g. that you discussed with them during a performance evaluation).

For assistance in preparing to request a reference and/or in responding to a reference request, please contact your HR manager.