Getting a job in today's economy is a tough task, we are in a state where the amount of people looking for a job far exceeds the amount of jobs readily available. As a result companies can be more selective and stringent in their hiring process.
During the process of getting hired for a job, there are several indicators that serve as a good sign in your chances of landing the job. The following describes the typical hiring process that most companies go through in order to fill a job position within their business. The information is not set in stone but rather quite standard within the practice of HR.
Once you apply for a job, the first major indicator is quite obvious as you are selected for interview. At this stage they are happy with your credentials and want to meet with you in order to interview you to see if you are potential fit for their business. The company typically goes through a series of questions in an attempt to better understand your history, and see whether your personality may fit well for the job offer they have available.
If your experience goes well and you are selected as a potential candidate for the job, the next step is to offer you the job. Typically you only get a job offer after reference check, they need to confirm the experience and references you provided in you resume. This process typically involves using a reference checking service to ask a handful of questions relative to what you put down as your job description or as a character reference asking basic questions on your personality while on the job.
There are several limitations that are in place to protect you as a candidate from having a negative reference from an unhappy previous employers. The topic itself is a touchy one and somewhat of a gray area when looking at the entire HR process as a whole.
Typically it is recommended that the candidate call their references in advance mentioning that they may be called by a company that will potentially hire you. Be polite and let them know you have the expectation of getting an honest review regardless of their personal opinions or experiences with you. In extreme cases, you may also want to let them know that they are limited in terms of what negative things they can say about you and that it is against the law in certain ways.
In summary, getting a job offer after a reference check can be considered a last step in the overall hiring process.
If the company tells you that they are going to do a reference check, it's a good indicator that at that point in time you fit their requirements to be hired for the job. Barring any negative reference checks, you should feel quite confident that you'll be landing the job shortly after confirming your references.
We must reiterate however that this process is not set in stone, depending on the level of the job, checking references may be done across multiple candidates to select the person who in fact gets the best references of all the checks performed.