Skip to main content

Upon first inspection, everything seems rather straightforward when it comes to employer references. However, a good recruiter knows how to read between the lines; an employer reference glowing with praise may actually be an employer’s attempt to get rid of a bothersome employee, while a short, succinct one may be them trying to keep a good employee from jumping ship. What do we make then of today’s most common format, consisting of name, job title and length of employment?

Conversely, as candidates, most of us will have written ‘references available upon request,’ but few of us have actually had them checked. This leads us to ask, just how important are references? How often do employers check them? Moreover, can employers get into trouble for what they write? Luckily for us, Recruiting Times published an article last week that sets the record straight, so here are three reference myths we can finally put to rest.

You get in trouble for telling the truth?

This is both true and false, depending on the circumstance.

As the old libel lawyers’ parable goes: “the greater the truth, the greater the libel”. Libel itself may have fallen out of favour, but defamation remains a threat.

For instance, you’re writing a reference for an employee and state that they had extended sick leave. This may technically be the truth, but if the individual was suffering from, say, cancer, a disability or mental illness, they may feel discriminated against and you could end up in court. By law, there are characteristics that are protected to ensure impartiality and unbiased hiring, so stay sensitive and err on the side of caution.

Oh, and another thing – ironically, don’t always trust internet advice, particularly if the advice is from an American website. If in doubt, consult an expert.

Reference checking is more trouble than it’s worth


It is an undoubtedly time-consuming task, but hearing first-hand what a potential employee is like could save you from significant stress in the long run. Not to mention, training new staff is costly in both time and money, so any step that ensures the final batch of candidates are the best of the bunch is a worthwhile endeavour.

Invariably, there are exceptions to this. Many employers now require would-be recruits to complete Disclosure and Barring Service (DBS) checks, which can in fact make referencing obsolete in certain industries. Currently, workers who are subject to DBS checks are those within education, healthcare, social work and charities; basically, anyone who works with vulnerable people.

References aren’t accurate


While it’s certainly true that some employers resort to tired, old clichés, once again it takes an excellent recruiter to read between the lines. For example, someone who is “lively and bubbly” could be the office chatterbox, while a worker who is “always very relaxed” could regularly sneak off to take naps in their car.

A reference can only be as accurate as the one writing it allows it to be. So if in doubt, call them up and when writing them yourself, just try to be as honest as possible.

However, if chasing up references isn’t your cup of tea, why not leave it to the experts? Get in touch with Jefferson today and we can kick-start the search for you.

To see our latest B2B marketing and creative jobs please click here for more information.