Fair Hiring Guide

Reference Checks

For UC Santa Cruz Guidelines for Providing Employment References for Current or Former Staff and Student Staff Employees, please visit Reference Check Guidelines.

Reference Check Form

The reference check forms are populated in the Recruitment Document Suite for each individual recruitment. Please check your folder to access and utilize the reference check form for your recruitment.

You can also find a generic .pdf version of a Reference Check Form in our Forms Library

Checking References

Always check more than one reference before the final decision is made about a candidate, including candidates internal to UC Santa Cruz. Speaking with a candidate’s former supervisors is especially important. The Recruitment Document Suite now includes the reference check form and instructions.

Reference checks are a critical part of the selection process and can provide information about a candidate’s past performance, which is the best predictor of future success. In addition, employers can be found liable for negligent hiring when an employee with a history of violence or other serious problems is hired without having completed a reasonably thorough reference check.

References may be checked at any time in the process, however, it is most often completed after all interviewing stages have finished and you know which candidates remain under consideration.

Note: In rare cases, in the early stages of a search, it may be difficult to ascertain certain key skills. E.g., things you can’t learn either from the application materials or from an interview might include leadership or supervisory skills, or complex event planning experience. If such knowledge is essential in deciding if candidates are qualified for an interview, it may be worthwhile to conduct the reference check early.

Advising the Candidate

As a best practice, inform candidates before checking references and let them know who you will be contacting. A candidate's permission is not required except unless the candidate has expressly stated that their current employer not be contacted. In this situation you should explain to the candidate that they have progressed to the reference check stage and you are ready to call their current employer. If the candidate refuses to give you permission, explain that without this information you may not be able to consider them further. You may choose to refrain from further considering the candidate if they continue to refuse to allow you to speak with their current employer.

It is legally permissible to contact references other than those provided by the candidate. Again, as a best practice, inform the candidate you will be doing this. If the candidate has concerns about a reference you are checking which they did not provide you with, you may certainly take those concerns into consideration.

Conducting the Reference Check

Job-related questions are the key to a good reference check. You can ask about what the candidate’s duties were, how their performance was evaluated, and what strengths and weaknesses were identified, how independently they work, and how long they were employed.

It is a good practice to develop a set of reference questions and use them for each candidate on which you are seeking information. Or, you may refer to the form provided here for a good list of reference check questions you can use as they are written, or modify to suit your needs. Remember that the illegal questions you cannot use during interviews also pertains to reference checks.

After identifying yourself and your reason for calling, ask what kind of work relationship the reference has had with the candidate and describe the job. The reference's first-hand observation of performance is most valuable, and you have a responsibility to evaluate the credibility of the information you receive in the reference check. You can do this by comparing the comments from one reference to another, and you may even follow up with the applicant to verify some of the information.

Important Note: You may ask about whether the candidate had an acceptable attendance record but may not ask about their illnesses, use of sick leave, medical leave, or workers’ compensation. Do not discuss a candidate's disability, and ignore any information about disability that is volunteered. If a reference begins to discuss impermissible areas, quickly steer the discussion back to job-related topics.

Internal Candidates

You should check the references of a UC Santa Cruz candidate in the same manner as any other candidate, including contacting current and former supervisors - this provides an opportunity to validate anecdotal or secondhand information

Hiring Managers and/or their designee can view the personnel file for UC Santa Cruz internal candidates upon receiving permission from the candidate, or may only view the candidate’s performance appraisals without permission.


It is not necessary to advise references of the circumstances under which the information they provide may be disclosed to the candidate. However, do not promise that the information they provide will be kept strictly confidential.

Note: Candidates who request information regarding the reference checks that are conducted will be told it is not our practice to disclose this information. However, candidates who make formal written requests are entitled to copies of the reference check notes.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ)

  1. How many references should I check?
    1. More than one. If you get inconsistent answers from the first two, you may want to check more in order to check for patterns.
  2. How much weight should letters of reference be given?
    1. Letters of reference that are general in nature should not be given significant weight. Letters of reference which speak to an individual’s specific accomplishments can generally be given more consideration. Remember that a letter of reference does not replace the need for a reference check.
  3. What if resistance is encountererd?
    1. Some organizations have a policy of not releasing information, but a law in California protects references who provide information unless their comments are untrue, without a valid basis, or given with malice.
    2. If you’re not getting answers to standard questions, try describing your work culture and its unique pressures, so the reference can give a realistic evaluation. For example: “We’re a high volume customer service office. The phones don’t stop ringing, the paperwork is endless, and we’re considering this candidate for a position in our unit dealing with our most demanding customers. Is that a work environment in which they would excel?”
    3. Sometimes giving the reference a structure for responding, e.g. “Some people look for new ways to reinvent their job, seek out opportunities and challenges, and assume responsibilities beyond the basic job description. Others adhere strictly to their job duties and don’t do more than the basics. Can you tell me where this candidate fits on that continuum?”
  4. What if a reference won’t give any real information?
    1. If a reference refuses to cooperate, put it in perspective. If other employers are giving rave reviews and one supervisor refuses to provide information, the silence shouldn’t necessarily disqualify the candidate. However, if a string of past supervisors are refusing to share information, this should raise a flag. If the flag is raised, ask for more references so you can assess patterns between them, or call some of them back and probe for more information.
    2. If you cannot get good reference checks on a candidate, you may also (1) inform the candidate you have been unsuccessful and will not be able to consider them further, (2) ask the candidate to encourage their references to participate, and/or (3) suggest the candidate sign a release to permit references to speak to you.
  5. What if a reference check reveals negative information?
    1. You may choose to inform the candidate that you received negative information and give them a chance to refute it, although this is not required.
    2. Be careful to not rely on information from the reference if it is not based on personal knowledge and which may be merely secondhand information or unsubstantiated rumor.
  6. Can I use negative information that a reference has given me in confidence?
    1. The only way to keep information completely confidential is to not record it, and then it is problematic to use it. Don’t make a hiring decision on information that cannot be verified. If you are unable to verify the information, you should contact the Staff Human Resources Employee & Labor Relations office for advice.

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