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Advice / Job Search / Interviewing

4 Ways to Do a Reference Check on Your Future Company and Make Sure It's on the Up and Up

It’s been a grueling job search process, but the finish line is finally in sight. You can almost feel the offer letter in your hands. So, you sit down to call up some references and make sure you’re making the right decision.

Yes, you read that right. You’re calling references, too.

While most people skip this step, a “reverse reference check” gives you an added edge when interviewing and negotiating with a company. You might also save yourself the headache of accepting an offer to an organization that’s not the right match for you.

The only catch is that, unlike the hiring manager, you don’t have a tidy list of names to call on. Instead, you’ve got to do a little digging. I promise, it’s worth the legwork!

So, get nosy, and take the following steps:

1. Check Employee Reviews

You first stop should be a site like, where employees anonymously review companies, their leadership teams, and interview processes. You get an inside look at what it’s like to work at the organization you’re interviewing with. (I could say something about taking the reviews with a grain of salt, but I’ll assume you know how the internet works!)

Read the reviews and take notes on the downsides you see. Jot down questions about any red flags, such as a weak onboarding process or complaints about poor work-life balance—you’ll want to consider them against the other parts of the reverse reference check. If reviews of a company are generally negative, think about cutting your losses and moving on. is another great resource in this regard. You’ll be able to tell right away if a company’s cheap-cheap like a baby chick based on how its average salaries compare to others in the industry.

2. Look Into What Customers Say

I’ll be frank: Companies that treat their customers like crap usually treat their employees badly, too. Standards of ethics and conflict resolution trickle through every level of a company.

During this part of your reference check, check out the company’s Better Business Bureau and Yelp ratings. And yes, the BBB is considerably more reliable than Yelp. Of course, there are always some haters, but try to get a general sense:

  • Does there appear to be recurring problems of a concerning nature?
  • How does the company handle complaints?
  • Are there issues that go unresolved?

Social profiles can be another great source of information. For example, if customers complain on Facebook or Twitter, does the company reply with an offer to help, or blow them off?

Feel good as you gaze? That’s a great sign.

3. Activate Your Network

One of the best ways to get an accurate sense of a company’s culture, potential fires, and strongest selling points is to speak with someone who used to work there (ideally, recently). But you may not feel comfortable contacting strangers out of the blue. Not to mention, there’s no way of telling what ties a former employee may still have at the company, so your inquiries could get back to the hiring manager.

Before you contact a complete stranger, hop on LinkedIn to determine if someone who’s worked there is in your network—even as a second or third degree contact. Ask your connection if she’d be willing to make an introduction for you. This way, you’ll seem less like a random lookie-loo and more like a trustworthy person acting out of due diligence.

Here’s a script to get you started:

“Hi [name of your friend]! I’m considering a role at XYZ company and noticed that your connection so-and-so worked/works there. Would you consider making an introduction for me? I’d love a chance to ask a few quick questions about the culture. Thanks in advance for your help!”

4. Get it Straight From the Horse’s Mouth

Alright, this isn’t exactly a reference check activity, but it’s something you should do throughout the interview process. And that is to ask questions about the company culture, point blank.

  • How would you describe the environment here?
  • What does it take for someone to be successful at this company?
  • What’s one thing you would change about the company if you could?
  • Why are you proud to work here?

Final thoughts: A reverse reference check is twice as important when you’re considering working with a virtual company. There’s plenty of fly-by-night “work from home” opportunities out there—not just the spam ones you see in Instagram comments—and they’re not worth your time. You want to be part of a virtual team that invests in its culture, treats employees and customers fairly, and is the type of organization you can grow with.

So, turn the tables with a reverse reference check. You’ll be glad you did!

Photo of woman on the phone courtesy of Shutterstock.