How Can I Tell a Recruiter “No” When They Ask for References? |

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Here I answer the question from someone who is asked for references by recruiter during the 1st interview and doesn’t want to provide them.

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I was asked the question I thought was great, "A recruiter has asked me for references at the time of the 1st interview. I don't really want to give it to them. How can I say no to a recruiter if they asked me for references during an interview?"

I want to start off by differentiating and start by answering the question about a contingency recruiters. That's definitely a place to say no. They may tell you that they want to check references on behalf of their clients. That's a great line. But what they are really doing is trying to use your contacts to recruit other people. I know this because I listen to sales trainers for years talk about this is a great gambit to get talent and you don't want to be complicit.

The easiest way to respond is to smile and say, "In due time but not right now."

If you respond by saying, "We need to have it because the client wants us to check references at the time that we submit a cabinet," (I want to be clear, not talking about retained search firm's or C suite professionals) I am answering in this way for the Average Jane or Joe who is approached by a recruiter and is being told that the client wants it.

"Great! I'll be happy to provide my references to the client."

"They want us to check the references."

"Not at this time."

"Then we can submit you."


Leave it at that. You know why? It's because if they can get you in the door they'll get you in the door.

And they can't. What they're trying to do is parlay one contact into 2 or 3 were they call them up and trying to recruit them, extensively under the guise of checking a reference.

So, they might say, "We need a former manager, it was start by contacting your manager in doing a reference check and then flip it in an effort to get recruiting business from them.

Or they may try to talk to a peer reviewers and then say, "Say! This is a position I am trying to recruit for. Is this something that might interest you? There are a lot of little gambits that go on with third-party recruiters.

I know there are a lot of people who might respond by saying, "Would you do that with a company?"

"NO!" Unfortunately, too many third-party recruiters or sleazy. We know this already. The idea is to push them off because you don't know if you can trust them yet (wink wink. Probably you can trust many of them anyway. There are exceptions, but most of them you probably can't.) And it's kind of like being on a 1st date with someone.

"Can I get a reference from your former husband or wife, please. I would like to get a reference from them. Maybe someone else you went out with previously because I want to know what you are liked by talking to them."

No, not on a 1st date, especially with an absolute stranger. Obviously, you would never do that in a dating situation! Here, I want you to do this very casually and with a big smile on your face, say, "In due time , we'll get that."

"But the client wants it!"

"If you can't present me with out that, obviously you don't think I am a fit. So let's leave it at that and just move on."


Jeff Altman, The Big Game Hunter is a coach who worked as a recruiter for what seems like one hundred years. His work involves career coaching, all as well as executive job search coaching and life coaching. He is the host of “No BS Job Search Advice Radio,” the #1 podcast in iTunes for job search with more than 1000 episodes,“ Job Search Radio,” “and his newest show, “No BS Coaching Advice” and is a member of The Forbes Coaches Council.

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