I just wanted to point out that this article hits close to home. Someone we know, in their most recent experience, was hired by the County in their local area as a Civil Engineer. This article brought them back to how they obtained their current position. The Department Director of the County that they were trying to get a job with called their current supervisor for their work history, at the time without their direct knowledge. On the application, they did note that the prospective new employer could contact their current employer but that did not specify when and who they will call. It was a total embarrassment for them as their boss at the time found out that they were seeking the County position, but they were not the one who notified him first.
To answer the title: Yes, employers do check work history and references! Employers will also run background checks to see previous work history and education. This is only done to protect the company from fraudulent applicants. A person seeking a new position should always check with their references to ensure that their contact information is still valid. Nothing is worse than a prospective employer contacting your reference and the phone number is no longer valid.
If you do not want to use your direct supervisor as a reference, you can always find a colleague who you got along with and they can put in a good word for you. Although it is preferable to have a supervisor, we all know people who’ve had prospective employers contact their colleagues as a reference.
In parting, the quality of your job references is just as important as your resume. A job seeker’s mindset should always assume that the prospective employer will call all your references so it is important to seek references that know the quality of your work and can vouch for you.