What To Do If Your Previous Employer Is Ignoring Your Reference Request

Someone waiting by their emails as their previous employer is ignoring their reference request

Job searching is often stressful. Between talking to agencies, prepping for interviews, and completing assessments, it can take a while to secure the right job for you. The last thing you need is a previous employer ignoring your reference request and ruining your chance to secure a brilliant new role!

Read on for the main reasons why your employer may be ignoring your requests and how you can mitigate this risk from occurring again in the future.

What are references?

Professional references can be either ‘basic’ or ‘detailed’. Usually for professional references, it is your new employer asking for a reference from a previous employer. Whilst, you can have references from HR, colleagues, or other managers in the company, ideally, they should be written by your direct line manager.

Basic vs. detailed references

A basic reference only includes your name, position, and the start and end date of your employment at the company in question. Detailed references, on the other hand, can answer questions set by the new employer, and give details about your skills and employment. This can also include if you had any disciplinaries (as long as you were found culpable from an investigation, not just if you were suspected or if the investigation is ongoing) or unspent convictions that relate to the job, such as stealing or fraud.

Do previous employers have to provide you with a reference?

Whilst your new employer can request a basic or detailed reference from your previous employer, there is no obligation on them to provide one – it’s just a professional courtesy.

So to answer simply, no, employers do not have to write you a reference. The situation of a previous employer ignoring reference requests is not unusual.

Employers are only required to give references:

  • In certain industries where references are obligatory, such as in the financial sector
  • If providing a reference was written into your contract
  • If they previous gave you written confirmation that they would provide one

Potential reasons why a previous employer is ignoring your reference request

If you find that your potential / new employer is struggling to get in touch with your previous manager, it might not simply be because they don’t want to give you a reference (though this might be the case). Other potential causes of your previous employer ignoring your reference request could be:

They may now work for a new company

One potential cause is if your old manager is no longer at your previous company. This is more likely to be the case if it has been a while since you worked there and the current employees at that company might not have had direct contact with you or remember you well. Therefore, they might be hesitant to provide a reference, especially if your potential / new employer is requesting a detailed reference.

They’re too busy

This is often the case. They may have not seen it as a priority or just forgotten. You can try to contact them yourself to remind them to respond to your new employer, but this might not work.

They don’t want to give a positive reference

The reason a previous employer is ignoring your reference request could be because they don’t want to give you a positive reference, but do not want to give a negative one either. A reference has to be fair and accurate; your employer cannot give you a bad reference unjustifiably. If they give negative unsubstantiated information and you lose your job offer due to it, it can put them in legal hot water. Therefore, they may believe it is easier to ignore your reference request altogether.

You might not have left the company yet and they don’t want to give you a reference because of it

Asking your employer for a reference before handing in your notice, especially if you are a permanent employee with no end date, is a bold move for sure! For various reasons, your current employer may not want to provide you with a reference in this situation.

What to do next?

If your previous employer is ignoring your reference request and you are unable to get in touch with them, there are a few different options available to you.

Find someone else in the company to provide a reference

Ask your potential new employers if they would be happy hearing from a colleague, HR or a different manager in the company. They may allow this and it would be a good option to try if your previous manager is completely uncooperative or uncontactable.

Ask your recruitment agency to chase them

If you have been working with a recruitment agency to secure the role, it’s likely they will be the ones trying to secure the references on their client’s behalf. Don’t hesitate to get in touch with your reference agency to discuss the issue. As a recruitment agency, we have plenty of experience collecting references and know all the tricks of the trade to get what we need for our clients. We can also work with your new employer to see whether they’d be happy with a reference from an alternative source.

Tips for mitigating the risk of a previous employers ignoring your reference request

Finally, here are some key pieces of advice to help you avoid falling at this hurdle in the future.

Have at least 3 references available

Aim to have at least 3/ 4 potential referees with 2 of these as backups in case your previous employer ignores your reference request.

Contact references in advance to check that they are happy to give you a reference

When you are next planning on applying for a job, it is good practice to contact the referees to make sure that they are happy to be approached regarding providing a reference for you. This can save some issues going forward if you are already aware of who might be reluctant to provide you with one.

Inform your referee of who might be contacting them

If they are not expecting to be asked for a reference, your previous employer could just be ignoring calls from unknown numbers or presume your new employer trying to contact them is just spam. Ideally, you will let your referee know if a new employer is planning on contacting them. This would ensure that they are looking out for it.

Ask for personal contact details

If your previous employer is comfortable with sharing their personal contact details with you, then you won’t need to worry about whether they change companies in the future.

Connect with them on LinkedIn

This is an easy way to keep in contact. You can message them to check their work contact details are correct and if they are happy to provide you with a reference, even years after working with them.

Ask for a written reference before you leave a company

One final tip when you are leaving a company is to ask for them to write you a reference on company headed paper, which you can easily pass on to your next employer. This is particularly useful for contractors who have lots of experience with different managers. You can collect your references and use the best and most suitable ones for your new contract role.


For assistance on securing your next perfect IT job opportunity, check out our latest job openings or send in your CV here. We will contact you if we find a great match!

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