5 job-saving tips if your references don’t respond

Updated on August 18, 2023
5 job-saving tips if your references don’t respond

If your references don't respond to an employer who is doing a background check, then this might reflect badly on you.

It doesn’t necessarily mean that you will lose the job offer but it can definitely frustrate the hiring manager as they might feel like they have wasted their time.

However, depending on the importance of the position, an employer may pay particular attention to the work references of a candidate.

In case you are informed that your references are not responding, then you can take it as a hint that the employer is eager to speak to at least one of your references.

Here you will find what to do if your references don't respond in order to mitigate the situation and retain your chances of getting hired.

What is a reference?

A reference is a coworker, a manager, or a subordinate that a job candidate has worked with closely and is listed in the candidate’s resume. Employers can choose to contact the references as part of a background check to learn about the applicant’s professional experience, skills, and work ethic.

You can use work references to enhance your job resume and increase your chance of getting hired when applying for a job. A common practice is to include at least 3.

Make sure to refer to people who have had first-hand experience working with you and have only good things to say about you as a professional and a person.

Contact the people that you wish to list as references in your job resume and ask them if it is okay to do so. Ask them what is their preferred way of being contacted by employers.

A reference list typically looks like this:

job reference list example
Source: www.themuse.com

Do companies actually check references?

Companies check references of job candidates when the positions in question hold higher responsibilities.

Checking references for internships and entry-level positions might be skipped by hiring managers. Middle and higher management roles are more likely to be reference-checked.

Bring a note with additional references in case you are going into a job interview.

What happens if a reference doesn't answer?

When a reference fails to respond, it can create a delay in the hiring process, but it doesn't necessarily mean you lost the job opportunity.

Employers understand that people can be busy or unreachable at times. In such cases, the hiring manager may request additional references from the candidate.

You should act promptly and provide alternative references who can vouch for your qualifications and character.

What to do if your reference is not responding

What to do if your reference is not responding

If you are informed that your reference is not responding, then take that as a certain sign that you are expected to do something about it. Try the following approach.

1. Apologize for the inconvenience

If given the chance, make sure to apologize. Then state that this outcome is unusual and you did not anticipate it. This way you will highlight that you had no control over it after all.

2. Provide another reference as soon as possible

As soon as you can, offer another reference. It would be best if you contact the reference in advance and warn them about being contacted by an employer.

Explain how important this is for you. Hopefully, the person is somebody you can rely on and they will be willing to help you out.

3. Seek out your initial reference

If providing another reference is not an option, do your best to seek out your initial reference. Call them or go over their social media profiles and message them.

Maybe they were too busy and didn't have the chance to check the contact that the employer used to reach out to them. There is still a chance that they might respond.

4. Ask if a written statement would be acceptable

Some employers insist on speaking directly with the references. If that is indeed the case and your reference is too busy, ask the employer if they are willing to compromise.

Perhaps a written statement from your reference will suffice?

5. Stay calm – the employer might be testing you

Upon realizing that your reference is not responding, the employer might decide to test how you react in such a situation. They will inform you about the situation and wait to see how you’ll react.

In all cases, stay calm and do your best to be responsive. Even if the employer never makes contact with your reference, they will see that you did your best to solve the problem. Which speaks volumes about what kind of professional you are.

If you have a scheduled job interview, make sure to arrive a bit early to ensure everything will go smoothly, and notify some of your references just in case.

How to prepare your references

How to prepare your references

There are a few steps that you can take in advance to avoid non-responsiveness altogether.

1. Choose the professionals that you connected best with

When deciding what people you want as references, think of those that you formed the best connection with.

These are the people who will be happy to help you out and say the best things about you.

2. Contact your desired references in advance

Make sure to contact your references and ask them if it is okay to list them in your job resume. Some of them might be unavailable after all. This way you will avoid a situation in which they don’t respond.

3. Ask your references about their preferred contact method

Make sure to find out what is the best way to reach your references. In your resume, feature the method they prefer and a phone number, if possible.

4. Inform your references when they can expect to be contacted

Give your contacts a heads up and ask them nicely to check their preferred contact method regularly in case an employer contacts them. Hopefully, they will be diligent and take this seriously.

5. List your references optimally

Consider which references are the most reliable and put them on top of the list.

This arrangement is important because the hiring manager is most likely going to start contacting your references from top to bottom.

It’s very likely that they won’t go through the entire list. Once they talk to one or two people, they will move on to the next step.

What if your reference no longer works there?

If your reference no longer works at your previous company, then do your best to find them through social media.

A quick LinkedIn or Facebook search for their name might quickly land you on their profile.

Alternatively, you can contact other previous coworkers and ask them if they have the contacts of your desired reference.

Can a reference make you lose a job?

One thing is for sure - if you use fake references and get caught, you will lose the job opportunity and damage your reputation.

Other than that, the lack of references or a negative reference isn’t likely to make you lose a job. This is just a small part of the screening and interviewing process.

Employers and hiring managers evaluate job candidates comprehensively and they consider all their characteristics.

Besides, who knows, in the end, you might be the one to turn the employer down in case you don't like the proposed salary, for example.

My experience with a reference who didn't answer the phone

A few years ago, I was in the final stages of securing my job. The interviews had gone well, and all that was left was for my references to vouch for me.

I had listed three former colleagues who knew my work ethic inside out. But then, I received an email from the hiring manager saying that they hadn't been able to reach one of my references.

I was worried this would reflect poorly on me and I would lose the job offer.

But instead of panicking, I decided to take control of the situation. I immediately called the person. I found out that she was on vacation with limited phone access.

I apologized to the hiring manager for the inconvenience and explained the situation. I also provided an alternative reference, whose contact information I had verified.

To my relief, the hiring manager appreciated my prompt and proactive response.

She told me that my actions demonstrated responsibility and effective problem-solving, qualities they were looking for in a candidate.

A week later, I received the job offer.

Frequently asked questions

Can I follow up with my references to ensure they responded?

Yes, it is generally acceptable to follow up with your references to confirm whether they have been contacted by the employer and if they were able to respond.

What should I do if a reference gives a negative review?

If you suspect that a reference might have given a negative review, consider reaching out to them for feedback. For future applications, it may be best to choose references who you are confident will provide positive feedback.

Can I use personal references if I lack professional ones?

Some employers accept personal references, especially for entry-level positions or if you have limited work experience. Always check with the employer before listing personal references.

Is it necessary to notify my references every time I apply for a new job?

It is advisable to notify your references each time you list them for a new job application. This ensures they are prepared and willing to vouch for you when contacted.

Written by:
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co-founder / office worker
Alex has been an office worker for more than 10 years. He is dedicated to helping other office workers to achieve the perfect life-work balance through well-being, effective communication, and building productive habits.

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