What to Do If Your References Don’t Respond?

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what to do if your references don't respond

You’ve been applying for jobs. You find one that you’re excited about. You make it all the way through the interviews process and are onto the last step (reference checks).

But one of your references won’t respond to the company. 

Making it that far in the interview process only to have one of your references not respond is extremely frustrating and it can be difficult to know what to do in that situation. 

To that end, this particular is going to unpack what to do if your references don’t respond and make recommendations for how to handle that situation.

Give Your References a Heads Ups in Advance

reference check

The first recommendation about what to do if your references don’t respond is actually a proactive one that should take place before the reference check.

And that’s to let your references know that they should be expecting to hear from a company or companies that you’re interviewing with. 

By giving them a heads up in advance, your references will know to be on the lookout for a call from a number that they may not know, or for an email from someone that they may have otherwise deleted.

It will also give you a sense of their current status. If you email them and get a vacation out of office email, you’ll know that they’re traveling and can give the company a heads up. 

Likewise, if you get a message that the person no longer works at the company where you worked with them, you’ll know that you need to track down some other form of contact info with them.

If you can, giving a heads up in advance makes the process easier. And if you didn’t do it for this opportunity, certainly do it for others in the future.

How Long Should a Reference Take to Respond?

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In general, a reference should respond in less than three business days.

If it has taken more than three business days, the hiring company or you would be safe to follow up and check in on their status.

If they still don’t respond for another two or three business days after your initial follow up, then you may need to confirm if you have the correct contact information, if they’re on vacation, or what may be going on with that reference.

Why Are My References Taking So Long?

If you have a reference that is taking a particularly long time to respond, there could be a variety of things going on that would cause that. All of the following could be possible explanations:

1. They’re At a New Company

documentation

One of the issues that I’ve seen with references is that somebody provides the reference’s contact info from the company at which they worked together. 

In many cases that’s fine, but if the reference has moved on, that will result in an email bounce back or a call to a disconnected phone number.

2. You Have Old Contact Info

Similar to the previous point, the reference may not necessarily be at a new company, but you may have old contact information for them. Maybe you provided your employer their personal contact information and they moved and have a new phone number, or they got a new email address.

Whatever the reason, in many cases, the reference is not ignoring the request, but they’re simply not seeing it.

3. They’re On Vacation

family

Another common reason that a reference may not respond is that they’re on vacation. Particularly if you provided a work email address, a reference may not be checking their work email while they’re on vacation, thus not responding to the reference check as promptly as they might have if they weren’t on vacation.

4. They’re Busy

Sometimes the simplest explanation is the best and the reason a reference could be slow to respond is simply that they’re busy. They may be dealing with a crisis at work or at home and just be struggling to come up for air. It could very well be the case that they intend to be a good reference for you, but just haven’t been able to get to it yet.

5. They’re a Bad Reference

can a bad reference cost you a job

Finally, it’s possible that the person you provided is simply a bad reference.

And they could be a bad reference in a couple of different regards. The first is that they could be a bad reference in the sense that they are simply unresponsive and don’t want to give their time to providing a reference check.

The other is that they’re a bad reference in that they may not have thought as highly of you as you thought and they wouldn’t have great things to say about you on a reference check. They may be avoiding responding to the reference call because they would want to be honest, but wouldn’t want to be a reference that could potentially cost you a job.

What To Do If Your References Don’t Respond

thinking person

If you find that your references is unresponsive to the employers outreach, there’s a variety of things that you can do to try and manage the situation. Here are some of my top recommendations:

Communicate What You Know to the Employer

The most basic thing that you can do is communicate what you know about the situation to the employer. So if you know that the person is on a vacation, you can let the employer know to expect a slow response and/or a response what they return.

If you know that the person tends to be slow to respond, and it take a ping or two to engage them, you can make that recommendation.

Communication and expectation setting always makes things easier so if you have information that can help to manage expectations on response time with the employer, then use it as appropriate.

Reach Out to Check In

reference check

If your employer hasn’t heard from your reference, and you’re not sure why, then you can reach out directly to your reference to check in and give them a friendly nudge. They’re more likely to respond to you and that’s likely to get them moving, or at least get you the information you need to communicate back to the employer what’s going on.

Confirm If Current References Are Sufficient

If the employer has reached out multiple times, and you’ve checked in with your references and are simply hearing crickets, you can check with your employer to see if your current references are sufficient. Generally, you want to provide at least three references to an employer and if they’ve been able to check two of them, then that might be sufficient for the situation.

Provide an Alternate Reference

types of job reference relationships

If after all of that, you find that one of your references continues to be unresponsive, and the employer insists on getting a new reference, then you’re going to need to provide an alternate reference. 

If you don’t have an alternate reference, you’ll need to back to the employer and communicate that and ask again if your current references are sufficient.

If the references still are not sufficient, you’ll have to figure out a way to find alernatives. Just make sure not to provide any fake references, as they are the top reason for candidates to get rejected during the reference check phase.

Conclusion

Making it all the way to the reference check phase only to have a non responsive reference can be extremely frustrating.

But follow the recommended steps and hopefully you’ll be able to manage the situation and continue on to receiving a job offer.

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 serves as a career counselor on the side. He writes to share content, tools, and resources to help people discover and thrive in their own best fit work.

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