Dear Job Doctor, I’m worried my current employer will know I’m looking for a new job if I provide references, is it normal to be asked for them?

Providing references is a normal part of the recruitment process. This is usually when there is an offer of employment. Most employment contracts state that acceptance is ‘subject to references’, this means that if the references taken are not to the new employer’s preference, they have the right to withdraw the offer.

A reference check (qualitative and investigative) helps employers confirm their own evaluation of you and to understand previous performance and maybe areas for further development. It is not usual to request a reference from your existing employer unless there is a mutual awareness and understanding.

Clearly, it is important to select a referee who is most likely to provide a positive report. Don’t just ask them will you be prepared to provide a reference, ask if they are prepared to provide a ‘positive’ reference. Please ask for their commitment to confidentiality, don’t just assume it!

A Background Check is different

A background check is used to confirm that everything on your resume is accurate, it can include job titles, employment dates, education and for some organisation or positions both credit rating and criminal checks.

For Employers

Although references held are out of scope for a GDPR disclosure request, once it’s released it’s out of the company’s control and could be shared with the candidate.

Many international organisations have a ‘no reference’ policy, where only the dates of employment are provided. This is to prevent any litigation which may occur if a negative (character) reference provided resulted in an employment offer being withdrawn. It has been known for a company to pay damages as a result.


Darren Robinson is the Managing Partner at Anderson Wise, an independent local recruitment firm in Luxembourg.