November 12, 2019

Can We Contact Your Current Employer? © Cici Mattiuzzi

When you apply for jobs, potential employers will want other people’s opinions about you and your work. “Can we contact your current employer?” is a checkbox needing a mark.

The question comes up on job applications and it comes up in interviews. It can be one of the most difficult questions a candidate is asked.

It is a question that causes serious indigestion for many candidates. You are working in one place and you are applying for new opportunities with other companies. You are not really ready to let your current employer know you are seeking employment opportunities elsewhere. You cannot afford to be viewed as disloyal or on the prowl for a new job, but you want to know what your options are and how marketable your skills are in the wider world.

There are many reasons people look for jobs when they are already employed. You may be underpaid or bored out of your mind. You may be looking for upward mobility. You may be trying to escape a bad situation before you are shown the door… You may have a nasty boss or a crazy coworker…

What should you do? You cannot afford to be unemployed because your family, your rent (or mortgage) depend on your ability to bring home a paycheck without interruption.

If you say yes, you may jeopardize your current employment situation. If you say no, you jeopardize your future employment. Or so you think…

My advice? If the question comes up on the application or if you are asked during an interview whether they may contact your current employer, just say “no”.

The employer should definitely ask you before they contact your current employer, and no, you should not give them permission until you have a written offer in hand.

I surfed the web asking that question in a variety of different ways and the articles all say that HR people and interviewers should know that you do not want to jeopardize your current job until you have a solid offer on the table. It is that simple. You just say “no”.

Because it may come up, you should think about your response - exactly what you want to say - in advance. Being prepared with a simple answer will make you feel much more comfortable when the time comes. The simple answer is: “no, I would prefer that you not contact my current employer until after you have made me an offer”.

This can be done in writing, via email, or verbally when the question is asked.

If you feel pressure to provide a reference in the early stages of your application process, give the name and contact information of someone who knows you professionally - someone you totally trust - but whom you are not currently working with or for. Your professional reference could be someone who previously left the company or who you know from a previous job or from your academic preparation.

Employers are highly motivated to check with professional references to ensure that they are getting the best possible candidates before they extend an offer. They will request references and will check the references you give them. They may eventually ask to contact your current employer.

If you want to give them a “safe” person at work that is ok. But not someone who will be shocked or angered about your search. You cannot afford to be unemployed!

Employers are not supposed to say bad things about employees… They are highly motivated to just verify employment dates. But still, it is not good to have this question hit your current boss out of the blue. If you were happy, why would you be leaving? Legally, employers can say anything that is accurate and factually correct. That leaves a lot of wiggle room in my opinion. What an employer can actually say is different in different states. In California they can ask, “Would you rehire this person?”

You need to have the opportunity to tell your employer, gently, that you are leaving, after you have received and accepted an offer… telling them you have learned a lot and you are thankful for the opportunity they have given you. Tell them that this was a difficult decision but it is a good move - personally and professionally. Then you can leave gracefully.