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Human Resources

Here’s What Your Firm Needs to Know About the ‘Reverse Reference’ 

For hiring managers and leaders it’s important to approach the reverse reference request with tact and sensitivity.

By Nick Hobson, Inc. (TNS)

Asking for a “reverse reference”—where a job candidate asks to speak with current employees of the company they are interviewing with—has become more common in recent years. Job seekers are emboldened (rightly so) to gather as much information as possible about potential employers. By asking to speak with current employees, the candidate is seeking insight into the firm’s culture, work environment, and potential growth opportunities.

This type of reverse reference can be particularly useful in industries where employee retention rates are low or where the job market is highly competitive. In these cases, a candidate might want to hear directly from current employees to gain a better understanding of what it’s like to work for the company before deciding to accept a job offer.

The heart of the matter

The employee-employer relationship is just that—a relationship. It’s based on a mutual agreement where both parties have certain expectations of each other. Just as an employer wants to hire the best candidate for the job, the candidate also wants to work for the best employer. Underneath the request is an assumption about what it means to be employed. The best relationships are ones where there is balance and fairness.

For too long it was an abusive relationship where employers and large organizations held power over employees. Such an imbalance in power has been improved over the years with the rise of labor unions and employee rights movements. But even today, the implicit assumption is that employers run the relationship. That’s changing as we see such movements being put into practice.

Requesting a reverse reference from current employees can be seen as a way for the candidate to ensure that the firm aligns with their own values and work style, just as the employer may use reference checks to ensure that the candidate is the right fit for their company.

Approach it with care and honesty

For hiring managers and leaders it’s important to approach the request with tact and sensitivity. Employers should consider the privacy of their employees and ensure that any conversations between the candidate and employees are strictly confidential. The company policies should also ensure that the employees giving the reverse references are randomly sampled and can provide a balanced view of the organization and the employee experience.

It sends a signal to the candidate that the organization cares about its most important asset: its people. And this starts before Day 1 during the interview and recruitment process.

By viewing the hiring process as the start of a mutual relationship, both parties can approach the process with a better understanding of what each other expects and how they can work together toward a successful partnership. Who doesn’t want that?


Nick Hobson is chief behavioral scientist at Apex Scoring System.


(c) 2023 Mansueto Ventures LLC; Distributed by Tribune Content Agency LLC.