What To Do If Your References Don’t Respond (3 Simple Steps to Save the Day)

what to do if your references don't respond

Unresponsive References

You applied to your dream job and aced the interview, but when the hiring manager started reaching out to your references…..crickets. What do you do?

For job seekers, an unresponsive reference can be a nightmare. These are the people who are supposed to provide stellar recommendations and talk about all of your achievements. Missing out on that extra vote of confidence could push the hiring manager to look at other applicants.

In this short article, we will cover what you should do if your references don’t respond to the company you are interviewing with.



What is a reference?

A reference is typically a previous manager, coworker or employee you have worked closely with in the past that can speak about your overall work ethic and accomplishments.

Employers reach out to these references as part of their due diligence in the hiring process.

Why do you need a reference?

Employers have the option to get in touch with the applicants’ references as part of a background investigation to find out more about their professional history, abilities, and competitive drive.

Great references can attest to your virtues and impact/influence the hiring managers decision. Good reference conversation = increased odds of landing the job.


Reference Sheet
Source: Resume Genius

What to do if your references don’t respond?

So, what to do if your references don’t respond? Here’s the solution to help resolve the situation if your reference went MIA.

1. Let the employer know what is going on

First thing first, apologize for the inconvenience and say you’ll find out what’s going on to make things right with your prospective employer. This will go a long way and reassure them that you are taking action when something isn’t going right.

2. Verify contact information and reach out

You may not be getting a response from your professional reference because you have the wrong contact information or had sent over incorrect details. Start by making sure the information you have matches what was sent to the employer. 

If that was correct, reach out to your job references and have them send over their latest contact info (primarily their phone number and email address). 

Inform your prospective employer if there was a mistake – sending them the correct reference’s contact information.

Note: This is also a great time to make sure your reference doesn’t have the email from the potential employer sitting in their spam folder.

3. Find another reference

There is no need to freak out if the initial reference is not responding because the cat is already out of the bag. Consider choosing someone else to speak in your favor if there’s no way of getting a hold of them. 

Find a professional in your network that you can readily connect with and who is aware of how you perform at work. 

Explain to them that you have been selected for a potential job with (company) and they are reaching out to references. Then simply ask them if they would be willing to be a reference of yours. 

Finally, make sure they are aware of when to anticipate a message from the employer so they don’t miss it like your first reference. 


“While friends and family are acceptable referees, it is better for you to select someone who is not immediate family as their opinion may be construed as being biased.”

— Michael Paige

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Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ)

Do you need to give your reference a heads up?

If possible, give your reference a heads up about the hiring company potentially reaching out. A quick email, text, or call will do.

Mention to them a timeline, the company’s name, and thank them for helping you out as a reference. One of the many reasons why references disappear or don’t respond is that people don’t properly prepare them beforehand.

Do companies actually check references?

Companies do typically check references when they ask for them. Many low to mid level roles won’t have this as a requirement but many higher level positions are likely to have this request as part of the interview process.

Do employers call or email references?

Employers can both call and email references during the hiring process. The person you spoke to during the interview will likely let you know what form of communication they will use though.

Try to give them (your references) a decent heads up so they know what to expect. This helps prevent an ignored call they might think is spam. 

What if you don’t want your existing employer to be aware of your job search?

Some prospective employers will want to speak to references from your current job but the majority of them are aware that job seekers wish to keep their interviewing a secret.

Simply let them know your current employer doesn’t know you are searching for a new opportunity and for that reason you can’t provide references from them. Instead, offer references from employers prior to that and explain why they are just as important. 

If they are persistent about speaking to your current employer and you are okay with it getting out, find a co-worker or manager you have a good relationship with and explain to them what’s going on before the prospective manager reaches out. 

What if your references have retired or relocated?

If your reference has retired or moved on from an old job, ask if there is any updated contact information by calling the business where your reference once worked. Additionally, you might try looking for your reference on social media platforms like LinkedIn or Facebook.

What if you were dismissed from your prior position?

In this scenario, skip your most recent employer and find someone from an older position that you held.  

If they are adamant about contacting your most previous employer, reach out to them beforehand and try to come to a consensus on what transpired. Ask them to identify your perceived strengths and any areas where you need to improve.

After that relationship is hopefully fixed, ask if they could provide you with a reference based on this conversation.

What if your reference says bad things about you?

Ideally, you are picking past coworkers or managers that you had a positive relationship with and support your career goals.

Offer to give a few additional references who will attest to your character if a prospective employer says one of your references gave you unfavorable feedback though. 

How long does it take to hear back after references?

It can take several weeks to hear back about an interview after the hiring manager has checked in with your references.

They might still have to evaluate others applying for the role, discuss your interview with others on the team, or get final approval from the business to make the hire.

Can I get rejected after a reference check?

If there was a bad reference within the bunch you submitted, you could very well be rejected for the role.

The hiring process tends to be quite long though so wait it out for a week and then circle back with a follow up email to see where the hiring manager sits.

How many references should I have?

While one reference isn’t quite enough, you don’t need ten of them on standby either. 

Stick with 3-5 references to have at the ready but the hiring company will typically give you a number on what they are looking for.


Wrapping Up | What should I do if my reference doesn’t respond

The actual interview discussion itself can be stressful so making sure everything else during the interviewing process runs smoothly is key to success when searching for a new job.

This is especially true when it comes to having the best references listed and properly prepping them before that potential employer reaches out.

If those positive references aren’t answering, keep calm and follow the simple steps we laid out. Let the employer know what’s going on, verify the contact information and find a new reference if needed. 

This goes without saying but working hard is a simple way to generate a handful of positive recommendations from past employers. Once you’ve built those great relationships, an occasional email or LinkedIn message is all you need to do to keep in touch and use them as a reference later in your career.

We hope that helps and a job offer is on its way soon – best of luck!


Title: What To Do If Your References Don’t Respond (3 Simple Steps to Take to Save the Day)

Category: Interview

Tags: reference request, potential employer, alternate reference, backup references, reference call, checking references, new references, what to do if your references don’t respond, unresponsive references, do employers call or email references, when do employers call references, what do employers ask references, do employers check references, how long does reference check take, one of my references is not responding, is 2 references enough

Author: Reid is a contributor for theJub. He’s an employment and marketing enthusiast who studied business before taking on various recruiting, management, and marketing roles. More from the author. | Author Profile

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