HR Operations

Reference checks

Reference checks are required prior to hiring an applicant, regardless of the position or whether the candidate is an internal or external applicant.

Though typically only the top candidate’s references are checked, you may check references for multiple candidates if you need additional information in order to rank finalists.


Most hiring managers conduct their own reference checks. However, at UW Medical Center and Harborview Medical Center, the HR employment specialist or recruiter may complete the reference checks for managers.


Benefits of Reference Checking

While interviews are an important part of the candidate selection process, reference checks are also critical component of demonstrating careful and thorough consideration of the candidate’s recent and past performance.

Reference checks can:

  • Verify information the candidate has provided
  • Offer additional information on a candidate’s skills, performance, knowledge, and work history from a source other than the candidate themselves
  • Help you assess the candidate’s potential for success in the position. Past performance is the best predictor of future success.
  • Help you rank candidates and move to a final selection
  • Protect the University from claims of negligent hiring.

Obtaining References

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

At least two reference checks should be completed prior to extending an offer of employment.

Acceptable References

References should be current and previous supervisors or managers who are familiar with the candidate’s work performance. For those new to the workforce or with limited work experience, references from former professors, teachers, or volunteer work supervisors are acceptable.

Absent work or educational references, some form of reference must be obtained.  In some cases this may include family members or personal friends of the candidate. When non-work references are used, the reference checker should document why other references are unavailable.

Consent to contact references

In order to complete their profile in UWHIRES, all applicants provide acknowledgement and permission to the UW to contact references regarding their education and work history.  During interviews, remind candidates that you will be checking their references if they are a top candidate. If a candidate requests that their current supervisor 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 supervisor.

Conducting the reference check

When checking references, it is important to treat all candidates similarly, whether internal or external applicants. Reference inquiries should:

Conduct references by phone when possible so that you can clarify responses if needed. Using the Telephone Reference Check (PDF) form helps you consistently ask the same questions of each reference. The form will also help you avoid asking questions that may violate federal, state, or local laws or UW policy.

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 or if there is someone else you can speak with. At minimum, attempt to verify dates of employment, position held, and if they would rehire the candidate into their former position. If you are unable to get a substantive reference from the current manager or supervisor, consult with your employment specialist, recruiter, or HR consultant.

If you have questions or concerns regarding information you receive from a reference, speak with your employment specialist, recruiter, or HR consultant, who will assist you in determining the appropriate action to take.

Current or former UW employees

When the finalist for a position is a current or former UW employee, you must obtain a reference from the candidate’s current (or most recent) UW supervisor. If the immediate supervisor is unavailable or if the employee asks that you not contact their current UW supervisor, you should request help from your HR employment specialist.

Additionally, contact your HR consultant to request a review of the candidate’s official personnel record. Your HR consultant will provide a summary of any documented performance or employee relations issues that occurred over the last three years of the candidate’s employment at the UW.

Providing references for internal hires

UW supervisors must provide other UW hiring officials (including hiring managers from other UW-affiliated entities)  accurate and verifiable (e.g., documented in a performance review, correspondence, etc.) information concerning job performance, experience, and other qualifications for the purpose of evaluating a current or former UW staff member for another University or UW affiliate position. Questions regarding how to respond to reference checks on internal UW candidates should be directed to your HR consultant.

Record keeping

You must document each reference check with legible, thorough notes of the reference’s comments.  Your notes from reference checks are part of the recruitment record and should be kept in accordance with the University’s retention schedule.