prospective employer called current employer

A reader writes:

I recently interviewed for a position in a company that is opening a new branch in my area in the early fall. I went through the entire interview process, a phone interview and then meetings with 2 HR reps, a branch manager and a VP. Everything went great. I was very clear in the interview process that my current employer was not aware that I was searching for a job and that if I wasn’t offered a position with this new company, I was comfortable staying with my current employer because I am well thought of and can have a long term career there if I choose to stay.

In the past week, I have heard from all my references that they have spoken to the HR rep checking references and all went well. I have also heard from my current employer that someone called and said they were planning on offering me a position and needed to verify my current salary. I was speechless.

To make matters worse, this was over a week ago and I have not received a job offer from this company. I know that this perspective employer is interviewing for all positions and has a lot of time on their hands to make offers, but now my current employer is just sitting back and waiting for me to give my notice. I know that my current employer plans to counter but I don’t know exactly what they said to the person on the phone. What if it caused this new company to reconsider offering me a position? Is this ethical? I have no problem with them verifying salary and employment history with my current employer but couldn’t they say I was trying to buy a car or something? What do you make of this?

What I make of it is that this prospective employer committed a major violation of accepted practices and basic etiquette and common sense.

It is very, very typical for job-seekers to ask that their current employer not to be contacted for a reference, since in most cases the current employer doesn’t know the employee is looking. Commonly, once you’re a finalist for the position, a prospective employer who is determined to speak with your current manager before extending an offer will tell you that you’re a finalist and explicitly seek your permission to do so.

You’re luckier than some people, in that it doesn’t sound like this is jeopardizing your current job. For many people, it could — which is why it’s not done.

I want to continue attacking them, but in the interest of being constructive: If you want to move this along, you could call the company and explain that you’re now in a bit of an awkward position since they gave a heads-up to your current employer, and ask what their timeline is for moving forward.

And if you do end up working there, have a word with their HR folks at some point.

{ 6 comments… read them below }

  1. Rachel - Employment File*

    Even if our candidates check on the application that we can contact their current employer we ALWAYS double check ahead of time with the candidate.

    I would give a call to the company and ask them what’s going on. You’re certainly have the right in this situation.

  2. Anonymous*

    Thanks for the feedback. I have accepted a postition with this company. Because my new responsibilities include overseeing HR you can bet I will be bringing this up…politely and professionally of course.

  3. almostgotit*

    M. Scott Peck firmly declined to equate “being polite” with his more noble idea of “being civil.” As you are safely employed now and also overseeing HR in the aftermath of this debacle, it sounds like some serious head-knocking would be in better order.

  4. Anonymous*

    I am currently going through a very similar situation. I’ve interviewed with a potential employer and apparently am a finalist in the selection process. The hiring manager has contacted me insisting that they contact my current manager/supervisor for a reference, even though a job offer has not yet been made. Am I obligated to allow them to contact my current mgr, at the risk of jeopardizing my standing w/ my current employer??

  5. Anonymous*

    Last year I applied for a science camp instructor job at my university. I sent in my cover letter and resume and got invited to the preliminary "group interview" which I passed. Unfortunately I didn't do so well during the individual interview as I was not very well prepared. I failed to answer some critical questions and needless to say I did not get the job.

    I am reapplying this year because I really want this job. The co-directors of the camp change every year. My question is should I create a new, different cover letter or send in the same one as last year (the former co-directors seemed to like it)?

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