Reference Checks

All job candidates applying for a staff position at Indiana University are subject to reference checks, in addition to background checks. Reference checks should be completed for both external and internal candidates.

External Candidates: An offer for employment can be extended contingent upon the successful results of the reference checks. The hiring department is responsible for completing these reference checks.

Internal Candidates: Current IU employees being hired by another unit or department are subject to internal reference checks. An offer for employment cannot be extended until the reference checks have been completed. The hiring department is responsible for coordinating a reference check with the existing department.

Benefits of conducting reference checks on internal candidates include:

  • Verifying skill sets and determining whether candidate is a fit for the vacancy
  • Determining areas where the candidate excels
  • Identifying any documented performance concerns
  • Providing the current supervisor an opportunity to prepare for a potential loss on their team
  • Allowing the current supervisor and the future supervisor the opportunity to begin discussions on a mutually agreed upon transition date

Below are guidelines for both external and internal candidate reference checks, templates to aid completion of checks, and frequently asked questions to assist Human Resources professionals (or a person acting in an HR-related role) in completing required reference checks.

On this page:

Reference check templates:


Why perform reference checks?

  • Conducting a reference check is a critical part of the recruitment process, as past behavior is one of the best indicators of future performance.
  • Information from references is likely to prove very useful in evaluating a candidate's skills, training, experience, and ability to perform a position’s duties.
  • Checking multiple references demonstrates that reasonable care was used in the hiring process, helping to protect the university from claims of negligent hiring.
  • Multiple references allow us to look for consistency among comments.
  • For internal candidates, it provides a courtesy to current supervisors. In addition, it also provides an opportunity to start a discussion on the candidate’s potential release date.

Who needs to have references checked?

All final candidates for staff positions at IU are subject to reference checks, whether they are an external candidate or an internal candidate (currently employed at IU).

NOTE: For part-time job offers, you are NOT required to complete the reference checks NOR the attestation, but it is preferred that you do both.

When should references be checked?

The most common and recommended time for conducting a reference check is after the final interview process for the top candidate(s).  It can also be done earlier in the process to assist in determining the interview pool or to prepare for the interviews.

At whatever point the reference check is done, the candidate needs to be informed in advance of the reference checks being completed.

IMPORTANT: Candidates should be informed that you are contacting their references PRIOR to starting any reference checks. To help expedite responses from the references, ask the candidate to reach out and inform their references that the checks are beginning and to be prepared to respond to requests.

What does the general workflow look like for a reference check process?

At the initial interview:

Ask all candidates for their references (including one for their current supervisor).

  • Internal candidates should be informed that IF they are a finalist, you will be asking them to notify their current supervisor prior to any outreach for a reference. This allows the employee to progress through the process at minimal risk to see if they are even interested in the position. If they do not become a finalist, no contact will be made with the current supervisor.
  • External candidates may wish to not provide their current supervisor’s information. You can let them know that for external candidates, offers can be made contingent upon later completing a reference check with their current supervisor.

When the finalist candidates are identified:

Notify your top candidates that they are a finalist. At the same time:

  • Internal candidates should notify their supervisor at this point, if they have not already.
  • External candidates should be asked to contact their references to make them aware that the reference checks are in progress, so that their references are responsive to requests and respond promptly.

Conduct the reference checks:

  • See the additional FAQs on this process.

When reference checks are completed and satisfactory:

  • Notify the person designated as your HR Business Partner for Job Offer (JOF) approvals that the checks have been completed so that they will be able to attest to this in the offer approval stage.
  • If unfavorable checks occurred, please review the FAQ on unfavorable checks.

IMPORTANT: For internal candidates, reference checks must be completed BEFORE the job offer is routed for approval.

How many reference checks need to be completed?

For external candidates, it's recommended that two to three reference checks should be completed, including a former supervisor. If those external candidates have been with their current employer for a long period of time (as their only employer), these references may need to be completed after a verbal offer has been made.

For internal reference checks, a minimum of one reference check with the current supervisor is required.

How do you obtain the list of references?

During the interview process, you should request references from the candidates who are considered finalists.

The candidate should provide you with a minimum of three professional references that include: name, phone number, email address, and a description of the working relationship to the candidate.

Who is considered an appropriate reference?

  • Professional references should be requested. These include former or current supervisors, co-workers, clients/customers or anyone who has worked directly and most recently with the applicant who can comment on the applicant’s work performance.
  • For those new to the workforce or with limited work experience, teachers, or volunteer work supervisors are acceptable.
  • Absent work or educational references, references such as family members or personal friends of the candidate may be obtained. 

Can we contact other people not listed as references?

It is not recommended to contact any references which were not provided by the candidate. If there are individuals you would like to contact that are not listed as references, ask the candidate if you may contact them. The candidate may have a legitimate reason why they do not want that individual used as a reference.

For internal candidates, it would be understood that references will be conducted through their current supervisor and their HR representative. Internal candidates should be made aware of this during the interview process.

Who performs the reference checks?

Hiring departments are responsible for completing reference checks.

For external candidates:
References for external candidates can be conducted by any of the following:

  • Hiring manager
  • An assigned member of the search committee
  • HR Business Partner (HR professionals or a person acting in an HR-related role)
  • Someone designated by the hiring manager

For internal candidates:
Best practice is to contact BOTH the candidate’s current HR professional and their current supervisor. Checks can be conducted by the following:

  • Hiring HR professional consult current HR professional, OR
  • Hiring manager consults current supervisor, OR
  • Combinations of the above (either HR professional or hiring manager can do the outreach).
  • Additional reference checks provided by the candidate may be completed but are not required.

NOTE: The preferred method is for the HR professional to complete the reference checks on internal candidates whenever possible.

What if a reference is reluctant to answer questions?

If the reference is reluctant to provide information, assure them that the candidate has consented to the reference check process. If the individual is still reluctant to provide information, ask what they would be willing to provide. At a minimum, attempt to verify dates of employment, position held, and if they would rehire the candidate into their former position.

What happens if no responses to reference checks are received?

The first step would be to reach out to your candidate and ask them to contact their reference, encouraging them to respond. If that does not work, you can do the following:

  • For references on external candidates, document that multiple attempts were made and proceed based on good faith effort.
  • For references on internal candidates, please contact your IUHR Employee Relations Consultant to ensure that the candidate does not have any relevant corrective actions on file, then proceed. If you do not know who your Employee Relations Consultant is, email .

What if an unfavorable check occurs, or raises questions about the candidate’s ability?

Unfavorable responses should be handled by the hiring unit’s HR professional. For a candidate who has received an offer contingent upon the reference checks, best practice would be for the HR professional to consult with IUHR Talent Acquisition and/or IUHR Employee Relations if it would rise to the level of rescinding an offer.

While it is important to consider any unfavorable comments carefully, they should not immediately disqualify the candidate from further consideration. There are two sides to every story. Should this situation arise, the best course of action is to ask for specific examples to support the unfavorable comments and then check additional references. You should disregard information when the person giving the information does not have first-hand knowledge of the situation being discussed.

Be sure to speak with multiple references and to formulate a specific question that asks about the deficiency. For example, if one employer says that the employee had a problem with tardiness, ask other references if the candidate was prompt, dependable, able to meet deadlines, etc.

Additional consultation is available, as needed:

  • For unfavorable references on external candidates, contact IUHR Talent Acquisition at .
  • For unfavorable references on internal candidates, contact your IUHR Employee Relations Consultant. If you don’t know who that is, email .

How should reference information be evaluated and used in the selection process?

Information received from references is one data point used during the selection process. Look for consistency from reference to reference, with what is documented on the resume/application materials, and with what is observed during the interview process. If reference information is not consistent, discuss the inconsistency with the candidate, trying to find out what may have caused the inconsistency.

Is there a template for conducting reference checks?

A template is available for download on this page. Please use it for consistency in how you complete your reference checks. Download a template:

We realize that some units may have already been using an established template created within their unit. You may continue to use that as your practice as long as you are using it consistently.

Can I email the template to the reference in order for them to complete it?

Yes, you can email the form to the reference and ask them to complete the form and return it to you. However, best practice is to do the reference check over the phone (or for internal ones, in-person if possible) as you can ask follow-up questions or seek clarification.

How do I attest that references have been completed?

Effective January 26, 2023, when submitting a JOF (Job Offer) for a candidate in TAM, the person submitting the offer will need to click on the “Reason” dropdown menu on the left side of the page. If the person submitting the offer does not make a selection, a selection will be required at the HR Business Partner approval stage. The choices in the reason dropdown menu are:

  • External-Ref Check Compl  (meaning external candidate and references are completed)
  • External-Ref Check To Be Compl (meaning external candidate and references are in progress)
  • Internal-Ref Check Compl  (meaning internal candidate and references are completed)
  • Internal-Ref Check Grace Per (meaning internal candidate and references are not completed)

Internal-Ref Check Grace Per is an option that is only available until April 30, 2023. Beginning May 1, 2023, the grace period will end and this option will no longer be available. This allows for 90 days for units to get their in-house practices in place to comply with the attestation process.

What happens if the attestation does not get completed in the Job Offer (JOF) stage?

If the attestation is not completed by the time the HR Business Partner is approving the JOF, when the HR Business Partner clicks to approve the offer, they will get the following pop-up message in TAM:

Attest to Reference Check before approval will be allowed (23000,32)

Please note, as the HR Business Partner, you are required to attest to the reference check status prior to performing your approval of a Job Offer.

To do so, return to the Offer Details tab, select 'Edit Offer', and then confirm the attestation from the 'Reason' dropdown menu on the left side of the page.

Consult with IUHR Talent Acquisition for any questions on this. 

How to Perform, Document, and Retain Completed Reference Checks

Phone calls, in-person discussions or emailing templated forms are acceptable methods of completing external and internal reference checks. To document a reference check being completed, please use one of the following methods:

For reference checks completed on external candidates:

  • Document discussion using a template: Record who you spoke with, when you spoke, and the results. Download a template.
  • Emailing a template: You may choose to email a reference check template for completion to the person providing a reference. Follow up questions may need to be asked based on the responses provided.  

For reference checks completed on internal candidates:

  • Via email: “Thanks for the time you took today with me to discuss ____. I appreciate the feedback. I will keep you posted on any offer acceptance and the potential start date. Thanks.”
  • Document discussion using a template: Record who you spoke with, when you spoke, and the results. Download a template.
  • Emailing a template: You may choose to email a reference check template for completion to the person providing a reference. Follow up questions may need to be asked based on the responses provided.  

NOTE: Completed reference check documentation is confidential. Your notes from reference checks are part of the recruitment record and should be kept in accordance with the university’s retention schedule.

Reference Checks DOs and DON’Ts


  • Disregard information about which the provider does not have first-hand knowledge, or which is unrelated to the individual’s skills or performance.
  • Use caution when evaluating comments that are “off the record.”
  • Protect the confidentiality of the recruiting process and the privacy of your applicants whenever possible. Information learned through the recruitment process, including information from references, should be treated as confidential.
  • Keep documentation of your recruitment effort.
  • References should support information supplied on the application, resume, and as stated during the candidate’s interview.
  • Treat all candidates fairly and consistently.
  • Only request information that is relevant to the candidate’s skills and qualifications in relation to the vacancy.
  • During interviews, remind candidates that you will be checking their references if they are a finalist. If an external candidate requests that their current supervisor/employer not be contacted, you may still proceed with checking their other references and may extend an offer contingent upon a favorable reference from their current/employer supervisor.
  • Talking to the reference by phone is preferred in order to ask follow-up questions or for clarification.


  • Do not conduct any reference checks until you have notified the candidate(s) that you will be doing so.
  • Forms of discrimination that apply to interviewing and hiring also are applicable to reference checking. Do not ask any questions based on age, ethnicity, color, race, religion, sex, sexual orientation, gender identity or expression, genetic information, marital status, national origin, disability status or protected veteran status.
  • Do not ask questions that can be answered with “yes” or “no.” Be sure that all questions are open-ended and relate directly to the position.
  • Your inquiry should be as objective as possible and relate directly to the finalist’s job performance and job duties and to information provided on the application, resume, or during the interview.