Can Employers Contact References Without Asking For Permission First?


can employers contact references without asking for permission first

When you’re applying for jobs, companies will sometimes request your references early on in the job application process. In some cases, they’ll want your references provided with the job application itself.

And that can be a bit concerning for applicants because, in many cases, you won’t want them to contact your references until you’re really serious about the company, the position, or even your job search.

To that end, this article is going to help answer the question “can employers contact references without asking for permission first?”

Can An Employer Call a Reference Without Asking For Permission?

thinking person

Employers must have the written consent of the candidate prior to checking references. It is also best practice or proper etiquette for companies to let candidates know when they will be checking references.

However, there are some important caveats to know and things to be aware of, which are listed below:

Providing Your References on a Job Application Could Be Considered Written Consent

request the offer in writing

Often, job references are submitted on a job application at the very beginning of the process. By submitting references and their contact information with the application, that could be interpreted as having provided written consent for them to be contacted.

There Could Be Informal Reference Checks Within Their Personal Network


Outside of formal reference checks with people that you provide, hiring managers could also rely on their personal references to do “backdoor reference checks.

A backdoor reference checks happens most often when a hiring manager realizes that you have a mutual connection, typically through LinkedIn, and then reaches out to that person to get their informal opinion on you. 

These types of reference checks are in a bit of a grey area as far as their permissibility, but  it’s something that could happen as you’re heading through the interview process. 

Mistakes Can Happen and Employers May Not Know the Rules or Proper Etiquette


The last caveat is that an employer simply may not know the rules or the proper etiquette and call your references without letting you know. This particular issue is rare, but it a risk to be aware of when providing your references on a job application.

What is The Best Way to Provide Your References


Even though employers technically cannot contact your references without consent, I still recommend listing your references as “available upon request” when you submit your job application.

That way, you indicate that you do have references to your employer. However, the employer would not able to contact them until they reach out to you later on the interview process to get those references from you. 

That enables you to know when the reference check process is actually happening (which will also let you have a sense of when to expect a potential job offer), and ensure that you can let your references know in a timely manner when to expect to be contacted.

Can Employers Contact Previous Employers Without Consent?

job reference phone

Employers must have written consent from the candidate to formally contact provided references. That rule applies to contacting formal employers as well.

However, it’s important to be aware of the potential of informal backdoor reference checks that do often occur when managers want additional information about a potential employee.

Can You Use Someone As A Reference Without Asking First?

can i list someone as a reference without asking them

Yes, you can technically use someone as a reference without asking fist. However, it’s not recommended, or proper etiquette, for a variety of reasons. 

For a complete breakdown of whether or not you can use someone as a reference without asking first, check out our complete article on the topic.


Hopefully, this article has been helpful in answering the question of whether or not employers can contact references without asking for permission first.

In general, an employer cannot and will not contact references without asking for permission. However, if you need to provide your references early in the job application process, I still recommend providing them as “available upon request.”

About the author

Dan Slocum

Dan is the founder of Best Fit Work and is a business professional with over 10 years of experience. He has been a hiring and people manager on multiple occasions, and has also gone through the hiring process himself at a variety of different companies. Dan writes to share content, tools, and resources to help people discover and thrive in their own best fit work.

Recent Posts