Mastering international reference checks: a guide to best practice

Mastering international reference checks: a guide to best practice

Applying for a job overseas presents distinct challenges, and among the key hurdles to navigate is the process of obtaining and providing international references. These references can be a decisive factor in securing employment abroad, but they come with their own set of legal and cultural considerations.

In the realm of international job applications, the reference-checking process is not just a formality but a critical vetting tool that can significantly sway hiring decisions. This is especially true when candidates and employers come from different cultures and legal systems. Effective reference management can set a candidate apart in a highly competitive international job market.

Global Differences in Reference Checking

Each country may have different expectations with respect to reference checks. While some countries may allow for informal recommendations or character references, others might require a more formal and objective evaluation.

Moreover, cultural differences can impact the perception of references. In some cultures, a direct and candid critique may be standard, while in others, more nuanced communication prevails. Such cultural variances necessitate applicants to brief their referees adequately, ensuring they convey the necessary information in a manner that resonates with the prospective employer.

If you are hiring abroad, you may want to consider getting consent a full background check for peace of mind.

“A global reference check is an international background check which helps organizations make sure that their employees, partners, and suppliers come from the countries they claim to be from. The check also includes information about a person of interest’s education, employment history, criminal records, drug screening results, references for the individual and anything else that can affect their work. ” ~ Veremark

Understanding Legal Implications

Regarding the legality of reference checks, those governed under English law, like many other territories, must adhere to strict data protection regulations. Solicitor Jen Wiss-Carline explains,

“With regulations such as the UK’s Data Protection Act 2018 and the GDPR in play, both referees and candidates are offered a level of protection. It’s imperative for individuals involved in the process to have a clear understanding of their rights and to ensure all data shared is with explicit consent.”

These laws affect how personal information is stored, transferred, and processed. Companies requesting references from overseas must ensure they comply with local laws in both the applicant’s country and the country from where the reference originates. This compliance is essential not only for legal adherence but also to maintain trust in the professional relationships involved.

Selecting Appropriate Referees

When selecting references for an international job application, consider individuals who can adequately speak to your cross-cultural competencies and are familiar with your work on an international scale. It’s vital to choose referees who possess a global outlook and can effectively communicate your skills and experiences to a multinational organization.

Prepping Your References

The cardinal rule of presenting international referees is preparation. “It is highly recommended to have a candid discussion with your references about the requirements of the position you are applying for, the nuances of the company’s corporate culture, and the particularities of the international context,” advises John Duncan, a seasoned HR manager with extensive experience in multinational recruitment.

This preparation involves briefing referees on the job role, the prospective employer’s expectations, and any cultural nuances that may influence their assessment. Provide referees with your current resume, recent achievements, and any other relevant information that will help them to represent you accurately and effectively.

“Give them a framework,” says Priscilla Claman, the president of Career Strategies, a Boston-based consulting firm and a contributor to the HBR Guide to Getting the Right Job. “Tell them why you believe the company wants to hire you and how you are likely to be useful for that company so they can reinforce that. Gently remind your references of your past achievements and approach.”

Verifying International References

The process of verifying an international reference can be more complex than domestic verification due to time zone differences, language barriers, and international dialing codes. Employers often outsource this function to professional background-checking services equipped to handle such complications. As a job applicant, ensure that all contact details for references are accurate and include international dialing codes, emails, and preferred methods of communication.

Handling Confidential Information

Discretion and respect for privacy are paramount when handling references, as Karen Lee, a career coach specializing in international employment, indicates: “Confidentiality is key. Always seek permission before passing on someone’s contact information, be clear about who might contact them and in what context, and ensure your referees have agreed to this.”


Navigating the process of international reference checks is a multifaceted endeavor that stretches beyond merely listing past supervisors or colleagues. It requires a strategic approach that takes into account cultural sensitivity, an understanding of legal frameworks like the GDPR, and respect for the confidentiality of the individuals involved. By meticulously selecting and preparing referees, candidates can leverage these professional endorsements, significantly enhancing their prospects in the global job arena.

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