employer is insisting on contacting my current manager before deciding whether to offer me a job

A reader writes:

I have recently been told that I am one of two finalists for a new job but the interviewer (the director) wants to contact my current manager directly before making a final decision.

I had already supplied four references, which included three managers from my previous jobs. Two of those manager references were from my last employer, only two years ago, and I have over ten years of experience in my field.

I expressed my hesitation about allowing him to contact my current manager, as my current manager is not aware that I am job hunting. The director suggested that I tell my current manager that I am a finalist but did not guarantee that I would get the job if all goes well with his talk with my manager. What exactly should I say to my current manager? Obviously, I’m concerned about not getting the job and having my current manager upset with me.

I would think long and hard before allowing your current manager to be contacted, because if you don’t end up getting the job, that can put you in a very awkward position with your manager. While there are some managers who will take the news that you’re looking to leave in stride, there are many more who won’t take it well at all — who will see you as disloyal or a short-timer, and who as a result will stop giving you good assignments, curtail any investment in your development, put you at the top of a layoff list (“she’s about to leave anyway”), or in some cases even fire you. (To be clear, not every employer responds this way – but enough do that it’s a big risk to take unless you know for a fact that your manager won’t react that way.)

Furthermore, this employer is making a pretty unusual request. Most companies understand that candidates don’t want their current employer contacted for all the above reasons, and it’s concerning that this one either doesn’t understand that or doesn’t care.

What’s more common is to make an offer contingent on a good reference from your current employer, who they contact only once the offer had been negotiated and agreed to. That last part is key, by the way — you don’t want them to contact your employer only once they’ve decided to offer you the job — because what if you don’t end up coming to terms on salary or other issues? Then you’re back in the same boat described above.

(Frankly, even doing it that way isn’t risk-proof, if there’s any chance that they won’t like what they hear when they finally do make the phone call.)

It’s certainly true that talking to references should be a big part of making a hiring decision. But that doesn’t require that your current manager be talked with. You have a 10-year track record of work to look at, other managerial references for him to talk to (including some from only two years ago), and it’s just not clear why it’s so crucial for him to talk to your current employer.

Personally, I’d push back. I’d say that you’re not able to jeopardize your current employment without a firm offer in hand from them, but that you’d be happy to supply many other references and to allow them to contact your current company if you end up being offered and accepting the job. I’d also mention that it’s really unusual for an employer to insist on speaking with a current employer without a firm job offer, given the risk to the candidate. If he doesn’t understand that, I’d take that as a pretty big warning sign about how this guy thinks (or doesn’t think).

{ 123 comments… read them below }

  1. Personnel Beach*

    I work in public education and we do extensive reference checks, including the current employer. We will not proceed with an application if we can’t contact them!

    1. Joey*

      Even if someone says they know it will jeopardize their job? That’s crap. Surely you know there are great people who work for horrible bosses?

      1. Personnel Beach*

        Our policy requires us to be completely thorough in our work history references. Our district Board of Education will not accept a candidate if we can’t contact their most recent employer. Too risky. Yes, we may lose some good candidates because of this policy, but for the sake of our children we have to be thorough!

          1. Joey*

            Fwiw I’ve worked for the govt and we’ve hired teachers conditionally. I think the difference is that board members need to stick to policy direction and let the pros handle implementation . To them it sounds good,but they don’t understand the implications of making such detailed decisions. It takes somebody with some balls to tell them their job is policy direction, not managing the details of implementation.

            1. Anonymous*


              The school district I live in is on the brink of losing its accreditation due mostly to school board members meddling in implementation and hiring rather than focusing on policy direction and management.

          2. Chinook*

            But teachers are a completely different kettle of fish. My experience is that the hiring process for the next year can take months and it is often not a surprise if someone is looking to go elsewhere because, unless they have tenure, they have no job security.

          3. Anonymous*

            I’m a teacher and my district doesn’t do this so its not all school districts that do. I did not allow them to contact my previous manager in the physical therapy company I worked for.

        1. Jamie*

          But why do you need to do it in the application phase? Why can’t you check with current employer when an offer is firm and accepted pending reference?

          Regarding the children – what you’re doing now is needlessly narrowing the pool of excellent staff and basically limiting yourself to those who are currently unemployed (not implying there aren’t excellent candidates in this pool, as well), those with no work history, or those who are willing to risk losing their current job over a tenuous application elsewhere.

          1. Jessa*

            Exactly. I would run like crazy from a place that wanted to jeopardise a job I had without any kind of firm offer. And it’s not because the applicant has something to hide from the new employer, it’s that if this falls through they may end up with NO job.

          2. College Career Counselor*

            While I agree with you, many places don’t want to do it that way. They want ALL the reference ducks in a row before the offer comes out. I think the OP is taking a risk by not letting them contact the current manager, even with explanation (horrible/vindictive supervisor, concerns about job standing or future promotion if an offer is not forthcoming). In this hiring environment, a lot of employers are looking for reasons to cut the pool down, even in the end stage of the process. I think this could be viewed as a red flag for the hiring organization. Not that they’d be RIGHT, but that they could certainly do it that way.

            1. Ask a Manager* Post author

              It’s a far bigger risk to jeopardize her current job with no guarantee of an offer. What the OP is describing is so unusual and so Not Typically Done that she should be wary of what it says about the employer.

              And as someone who is indeed constantly looking to cut the pool down, (a) I’d never do it by jeopardizing someone’s employment, and neither would most employers, and (b) it’s not typical to have that need when you’re down to two candidates; at that point, it’s about picking the best, not culling the pool.

              1. EnnVeeEl*

                I know a teacher that was putting out feelers, and someone from a school district contacted her principal – before they even spoke to HER about an interview. She ended up having a very awkward conversation with her principal about this. Oh, and she NEVER HEARD from the school district after this happened. No interview, no phone call, nothing. This has only happened once. I told her to pull her application and never apply to them again.

                1. Commsie*

                  This exact thing happened to a friend of mine who is a teacher! She specifically told the school where she was interviewing that her principal (a verbally abusive, unstable man) did not know she was looking, but they turned around and called the principal to ask for a reference. Their explanation was that they couldn’t risk burning bridges with a fellow principal – no consideration whatsoever for her own professional security. This principal has also been known to fire teachers mid-year for minor personality conflicts. My friend, who has received great feedback and is an extremely effective teacher, got so fed up that she ended up changing school districts entirely.

              2. Susan Joyce*

                I agree that this requirement makes me wonder about the corporate culture of the new employer. Sounds very self-centered and rigid and not particularly concerned about the damage created.

                Oh, sorry you lost your job because we talked with your manager. Too bad. Good luck.

                1. cedarfever*

                  I am in this boat. My current boss is under a federal investigation and asked to leave but has lawyered up. Anyway, I am trying to find work elsewhere because I want away from this mess. I know other schools contact her even though she isn’t on MY list. But I don’t get a chance to explain anything. People are leaving in droves and it makes her look worse. She has a motive for bad references.

        2. Anonymous*

          But why couldn’t you make contacting the current employer a condition on an offer that’s been agreed upon by you and the candidate? It’s not about never contacting the current employer but when

        3. Personnel Beach*

          References are done after interviews have concluded, but prior to an offer being extended. I have to say that in 18 years I have only had ONE candidate refuse to let us contact their current employer, and it turns out that district was investigating the candidate for child abuse allegations. Go figure!

          1. Ask a Manager* Post author

            If your candidates are all already in teaching job, I’m guessing it’s more normal in that field, even though it’s not in most….?

            1. Personnel Beach*

              It has been the norm in the last 3 districts I have worked for, and a policy that is very cut and dry. It has helped me to avoid law suits and bad hires, and a policy that I stand behind….being the “tired” advocate of children that I am. :)

              1. Joey*

                At some point you compromise the business if you don’t take any risks. And aren’t teachers and the children worth betting on? Not all risk is bad.

              2. Ask a Manager* Post author

                I don’t see how it helps avoid lawsuits and bad hires, because you could get the exact same information, but do it once a conditional offer has been extended. I don’t doubt they’re telling you that’s the reason, but if you think it through, you’ll realize that doesn’t make sense!

                1. Personnel Beach*

                  You’re right, it wouldn’t hurt to give a contingent offer before beginning references, but my hands are tied by policies and procedures. And again, I’ve only been told NOT to call a current employer by one candidate in 18 years, and she turned out to be a doozy.

              3. cedarfever*

                It’s unethical. Very typical of educators. All of you need a business ethics course. New teachers are all on a one year contract anyway. You are just calling the person’s boss so you can avoid a bunch more phone calls. Sorry, you don’t know how to manage people. My boss has asked me to do unethical things but if you want her opinion about me that’s your mistake. And if I don’t get that next position at work because my boss thinks I’m leaving anyway, I am suing YOU.

            2. De Minimis*

              I guess if a teacher has tenure then it wouldn’t matter, they couldn’t be let go, so that could be one reason why it would be okay.

              Also until they do get tenure, aren’t they kind of on a yearly contract anyway, so it would not be frowned upon for them to be looking elsewhere?

              My mom’s a retired teacher but I don’t remember how it was for her.

              1. A teacher*

                In Illinois we are moving to the Danielson Model for evaluation unless your district is already on it. Tenure doesn’t amount to a whole lot once this model is implemented. My district also doesn’t call former employers until after you’ve been offered the job and its been approved by the board. References yes, employer, not without permission.

          2. Joey*

            I wonder if it affects your applicant pool. You know, I wonder if it prevents people from applying in the first place.

          3. Karen Taylor*

            I have to say this: If you are telling applicants when they apply that permission to contact their current employer is required, then I think that explains why you have only had 1 in 18 years. I am currently job searching and have a very nasty, well-connected, vindictive employer. I have tolerated the abuse for four years and cannot take it anymore and I am currently job searching. I would never, ever use my boss as a reference because despite the fact that I have done everything for him except starch his underwear and iron his socks, he would give me a poor reference out of spite. The last three people that voluntarily left and gave MORE than a two week notice, he was actually telling clients that they were FIRED, when there was no truth to it. Anyone who gives a negative exit interview to the corporation that I work for…after the person is gone and can no longer defend themselves, he tries to make sure they are on the do-not-rehire list. I hate to tell you lady, but there are some people that work for employers like that. Yes, you are dealing with children, but as the mother of four children, I don’t think school districts are hiring the best applicants for the job. One teacher was so abusive to one of my children (that has never had any issues at school) that I told the principal that if she didn’t get a handle on it, I would report the teacher to the State for abuse of a child myself. I think your district needs to take a serious look at the policies…they are very outdated.

        4. AnotherAlison*

          This seems particularly strange in education, although I don’t know what the policy norms are in the industry.

          My general understanding is that 1.) it’s difficult to fire a teacher, and 2.) the blowback from a negative reference could be even worse than in a corporate setting, where we often hear that official policies forbid giving references.

          Both of these things would provide incentive for an administration to give neutral recommendations to bad teachers. First, to get them out of their own schools without firing them, and second, to avoid potential consequences from saying negative things that prohibit the teacher from getting a new position elsewhere.

          It seems like you’re going through a pre-offer reference check that’s a bad deal for the candidate and might not yield great results for you. I’d genuinely be interested to hear if you get good, non-positive information about candidates in these checks.

          1. Jamie*

            Maybe because it’s so difficult to fire a teacher is why this is might be more common in education – because the administration can’t fire you for looking elsewhere?

            1. Joey*

              I doubt it. Most govt jobs I know won’t fire you for looking and plenty do conditional offers.

              1. Cat*

                But unlike school districts, government jobs are likely to be hiring a lot of people from the private sector who MIGHT fire you for looking.

          2. StellaMaris*

            At least where I live, it is almost impossible to fire a teacher for any reason, unless they’ve actually been convicted for a crime concerning children. This drives me crazy, because some of them are flat out incompetent; I’ve spent a small fortune on private learning centers for both my kids, trying to make up the classroom shortfall.

            OP, this smells very bad to me. If the fact that they might endanger your present job means nothing to them, what will they be like when you’re ready to move on from them? I’d take a long, hard think about what this says about the company culture.

          3. Lindsay J*

            When I was in high school I had two teachers leave the district due to impropriety.

            One’s contract was not renewed because he began dating one of his students as soon as she graduated (and while there was no proof that he was dating her before she graduated, there was no proof that he was not doing so, either).

            One was suspended mid school year and then fired because he slapped a female student in the ass.

            Both eventually found teaching jobs elsewhere. The first guy the very next school year. The second sold cars for several years but eventually found his way back in.

        5. Josh S*

          “Yes, we may lose some good candidates because of this policy, but for the sake of our children we have to be thorough!”

          For the sake of [y]our children you have to lose good candidates? I don’t understand…

        6. Joey*

          You know what’s funny is I hear a similar argument from PD and fire- we put our life on the line day in and day out. But the reality is, using a single argument wears itself out. It loses its impact when that becomes the argument for every point you’re trying to make every single time. Its almost like you believe that argument far outweighs everything else like budget, fairness, performance, metrics, etc.

          1. Jamie*

            It doesn’t for me. I have had really bad days at work, but I’ve never been the first responder on a scene when someone I’ve worked with for 20 years has been stabbed in the neck and is bleeding out.

            And I’ve never had to apprehend the person who did that. My husband has done both.

            I know it’s a YMMV thing – just like with teacher’s or health care professionals or any other profession that is typically lauded…some are wonderful and are in it for all the right reasons and it’s a calling…some suck and should leave that profession immediately before someone gets hurt and the vast majority are in the middle.

            But the whole life on the line thing for cops and firefighters – that’s not worn off for me because if violence erupted at my job I would be perfectly within my rights to hide under my desk in the fetal position (likely in a puddle of my own making) until it was over…and if there were a fire my job would be getting my ass out asap and pulling down a list of employees in the building…but no one would ever ask me to tackle the dangerous part. That’s a pretty big deal for me and it does take a special person to be willing to accept that level of danger just to earn a living.

            1. Joey*

              But using that argument isn’t sustainable. You can’t operate a business if that singular argument always wins.

              1. Jamie*

                I’m not saying it’s an excuse for bad practices, I am nothing if not consistent in my belief in meritocracy always and everywhere – just that it’s a factor that isn’t diminished because it’s often repeated…at least for me.

                And last I checked the belief is nice but it doesn’t result in such a high income that their spouses can retire from IT. They people who hold that sentiment are often not the people in charge of union negotiations – or the union.

            2. Joey*

              What those folks don’t realize is that they’re not the only important ones. Can you imagine if your electricity or water were turned off or your trash stopped getting picked up. Chaos. Now we all know there are priorities and pd and fire are certainly priorities, but that doesn’t mean they’re the only priority.

              1. Jamie*

                Of course they aren’t the only priority – and I’ve never met an officer who thought they were.

                My husband would be lost without electricity and I can’t even imagine how pissed he’d be if he had to haul our garbage to the dump in his SUV.

                I just don’t think the sentiment that they assume a risk that most don’t negates the importance of any one else’s job.

        7. TheSnarkyB*

          I get that you’re saying your hands are tied because of policy, but this has nothing to do with being thorough for the sake of the children! Please don’t phrase it that way!
          If you check the reference after extended a conditional offer instead of before, nothing is jeopardized.
          I hate to nitpick, but using “but the children!” in any argument tends to hinder the conversation – and conversations lead to policy change!

      2. Anonymous*

        Yes, this is very common at public universities. OTOH, because it’s so common, it is not seen as an unusual requesst.

        1. Personnel Beach*

          Exactly…..our Teachers are never surprised when we ask to contact their current school district. It’s a given.

          1. JonnyBoy*

            But what about when you have a candidate from outside of education. I am in a situation where I have all of the requisite skills, 10 years in the professional setting for which I would teach, but would lose my current job should my employer be contacted. The students would lose out on years of professional experience, connections, and market knowledge. How is that “for the students”?

            1. Anonymous*

              It’s not to protect the students. It’s to protect the school district from liability.

              1. Karen Taylor*

                What liability? You can structure an application to protect from liability. You put questions on the resume that pertain to investigations or pending investigations. If they lie about it, then you have grounds to terminate them for lying on their application. By the way: Any employer, including principals, are setting themselves up for liability anytime they make subjective statements. Such as “difficult to work with” etc. If you have wrote the individual up, then that is factual, but if you start stating opinion, then that is where you run into liability issues if you render an opinion that costs someone a job. That is why most corporate employers stick to dates.

    2. Anon for this*

      For what it’s worth, our school district’s superintendent just left. If you had contacted the district about what kind of manager she was, she would have gotten glowing reviews, when in fact, people threw a party when she left for her new job because she was reviled. So, basically, you should take current people’s references in stride too, even in education.

      (And please don’t use “but it’s for the kids” as an excuse. It’s tired.

      1. RB*


        I’ve had school administrators tell me they’ve given good references to lousy teachers, just to get them out of their school. It is so difficult to fire a teacher today. My son’s music teacher physically hit a kid, but stayed on until his contract ran out because it was too difficult to term. Oh, and it was at one of the top rated high schools in the country.

        It’s not for the kids. If it was, the whole system would be different, including the hiring.

        1. Anonicorn*

          It’s not for the kids. If it was, the whole system would be different, including the hiring.

          I tend to agree. I think most teachers really are out there working for the kids, but so often the administration (and local & federal government) makes it difficult to do the best possible job.

      2. Chinook*

        Heck, I had one principal tell me to my face that I was a good teacher and sign off on my permanent certification and then tell the school district never to hire me again (I found this out from the next principal after the previous one was moved into a position with no interaction with children). I learned that the only recommendation I would ever depend upon for a teacher are the ones from parents and students. They see my work every day and really have no skin in the game on whether or not I get the next job.

        BTW, I did work in another school district after that but I am still angry at the sneaky move.

    3. Mileage*

      I’ve seen this practiced before in higher ed, and it’s beyond bogus (just think of the logic for a second). You are potentially causing your applicant to jeopardize their current position. The only exception to this would be if you were trying to hire a recent college graduate who works a retail job or some other “non-career” type position, and is looking to move into teaching or administration.

    4. Ty*

      That is horrid and has a manager your company would never be one I work with. How can an employee trust you and your company if it’s required that you jeopardize they current job.

  2. Personnel Beach*

    Anywhoooo….I feel like I opened a can of worms on education!! What about other industries? Has anyone experienced what the OP is going through?

    1. AnotherAlison*

      No! But, working in an everyone-knows-everyone-else industry, I am always alert to the fact people may ask around, with varying degrees of discretion.

      What the OP’s talking about seems way out of line to me. I’d possibly consider letting the company contact my HR dept. to verify employment, but not my manager.

      1. Karen Taylor*

        I agree with this too. I had one employer that pretended that they were from a financial institution in order to protect me. Nobody thought a thing of it, as this is a common verification. Yes, I would be ok with an employer calling the HR department, but not my boss directly.

    2. JM in England*

      Not as such. However, I have sometimes been asked by recruiters to give references pre-interview. In all cases I have refused, and making it clear that I have a policy of only giving references when I actually have an offer or am at least under serious consideration.

    3. Gigi*

      OP’s situation is very unusual in silicon valley high tech. What is more common (and may not be wise) is for people to ask their contacts in the previous company about potential candidates.

    4. Rebecca*

      Yes! Last summer I was contacted by another local company, and had a phone and in person interview. My manager found out and hit the ceiling! She screamed at me, pacing back and forth in her office, ranting about how we are a family, I should have come to her first, on and on. I thought she was going to have a heart attack. I calmly explained to her that we work for a business and sometimes people leave and work for other businesses. She just couldn’t understand why anyone would want to explore other opportunities.

      I didn’t take the job (it turned out to be the wrong fit for me), and nearly a year later, I am living with a whole different attitude from my manager. If I find another open position, I feel like I’ll need to explain her craziness to the other company & hopefully they’ll use my references and info from HR instead of contacting her directly.

  3. Rachel*

    I’ve actually had several first level interviews where the interviewers balked when I stated that I’d prefer they not contact my manager until we are further in the process.

  4. Kimberlee, Esq.*

    I’m actually not sure I really understand the difference here. I mean, sure, if there’s a second candidate in the mix, then it’s less secure for the OP to let them contact his/her boss. But, I mean, if the reference will be checked one way or another, OP is sort of in the same position still… if the reference check goes badly, that offer is worthless and would be revoked anyway.

    It seems like, after 4 references checked for two candidates, they must have two really great candidates and have determined that the only piece of information they don’t have to break the tie is a reference from the current employer.

    I agree that it sucks for OP, but I disagree that this is a warning sign for anything other than an extremely tight hiring process. I’d feel differently if those other 4 references OP provided hadn’t already been checked.

    In this case, the current employer reference is more than the formality it becomes when you’ve already extended an offer. They want the information to make a tough decision.

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      I don’t buy it. A reference from a single person is rarely going to be enough to be a tie-breaker in a case like this. They can make a decision without it; she has a 10-year work history to look at and numerous other references they can speak with.

      Right now, they’re telling her that her odds are 50/50. If they make her a contingent offer, her odds are far, far better than that.

      1. Kimberlee, Esq.*

        But what if they don’t have another tie-breaker? So, in a hypothetical that resembles OP, lets say they have two comparably EXCELLENT candidates. Like super great. Both have extensive work histories, both have four other references that have been consulted, but lets say that each of them have been at their current position for 3-5 years. So you only have their word on the most recent position, and it’s a decent chunk of their career.

        What would be the better next move to make the decision? Additional interviews? Asking them if there’s a current co-worker that they could contact? What would you do?

        1. Ask a Manager* Post author

          It’s just never really a tie like that. You can always make a decision without jeopardizing someone’s employment. People just aren’t so identical that it would truly be a tie. And if it is, well, it could be a tie after talking to the current managers too. You make a decision regardless.

        2. Amy*

          And what if the references from their current managers were both “comparably EXCELLENT”? Presumably, the potential employer would think of some other “tie-breaker.” So why not just do that other thing first, rather than potentially getting the second most excellent person fired without a new job lined up?

    2. Dana*

      Yes, but hiring managers make these decisions all the time without requiring a reference from the current manager. In this case they will hire one candidate and leave the other in a precarious position with their current employer. To not give a candidate the courtesy of preserving their good standing at their current place of employement is a big red flag to me.

      1. Jessa*

        Exactly, they want to hire people who already have jobs, but they don’t care if they jeopardise that job. Then when that person applies for another position in their company for example, they don’t get hired because well “they don’t have a job that the prior interviewer did them out of.”

        Um, just no. If you (the collective you of hiring managers) want to hire people who have jobs rather than the unemployed, then you have to take actions to NOT jeopardise those jobs.

    3. Y*

      “But, I mean, if the reference will be checked one way or another, OP is sort of in the same position still… if the reference check goes badly, that offer is worthless and would be revoked anyway. ”

      But if the reference check goes well, the OP is not guaranteed a job and will have to live with their boss knowing they are looking. It’s not the same outcome.

  5. Marie*

    I have actually never heard of this before. However, I did have a friend recently tell me that she was asked for several personal (non work related) references. I am an in HR so she asked me what the purpose of this could be and I am at a loss. I am sure that most people can find a few friends to say some nice things about them. Wouldn’t a former manager, co-worker, or subordinate’s reference hold more weight? I am just curious. In my current job we require 3 business references… and this one time a candidate used his grandmother as a reference and I thought that was weird. Very nice grandma, but a very weird reference check.

    1. Jamie*

      I’ve never understood personal references either. Sure you can speak to my family…they love me. They also have a vested interest in my employment. And my friends think I’m delightful – and don’t have the slightest idea of what I’m like to work with.

      Useless, imo.

    2. RB*

      I have seen the personal references asked if there is a very high level background check. In my staffing and recruiting days, I placed people in Federal government positions that required an FBI check which will include fingerprinting and even talking to neighbors. Some state employees at a Level 2 or higher will go through that, as well.

  6. Marie*

    Oh and just for the record, I don’t think that my manager would be ok with me using her as a reference while I was still employed. She would probably start looking for my replacement and even if I didn’t get the job and stayed, she would probably be very skeptical of any off-site appointments or personal days I had in the near future. I agree that every manager will handle this differently and if you were in a situation where your manager knew you were looking and supported this search then that’s great.

  7. Frieda*

    The more I think about it, it’s not just the lack of a firm job offer for the OP that bothers me so much about this. It’s that the hiring manager presumably wants to contact the current managers of both finalist candidates, meaning that it’s not just that someone might be negatively affected by this, but that someone definitely will–one of them won’t get the job, but their employer will know about the job search. I can’t imagine working for a company that would be so callous about someone’s livelihood.

    1. KarenT*

      the hiring manager presumably wants to contact the current managers of both finalist candidates, meaning that it’s not just that someone might be negatively affected by this, but that someone definitely will–one of them won’t get the job, but their employer will know about the job search

      I couldn’t figure out exactly why this bothered me, but you just summed it up perfectly.

  8. Julie K*

    Several years ago, a friend had received an offer from a company, but he hadn’t yet negotiated anything or accepted the offer, and they contacted his current manager for a reference without telling him they were planning to do it. What a mess! He was upset and embarrassed because he didn’t have the opportunity to tell his current manager that he had an offer and that they would be calling for a reference. He wasn’t sure if he would take the new job after this huge error on their part. It was a while ago, so I don’t remember exactly, but I think he ended up taking the job, and, knowing him, he used the error as leverage when negotiating salary, benefits, etc. I would find it hard to trust an employer who did that, unless they had an excellent explanation for why it happened, along with a seriously sincere apology.

    1. KarenT*

      That’s a horrible place to be–I wouldn’t want to take the job because an error like that is a red flag in my eyes, yet the current employment situation could now be in jeopardy. Ugh!

  9. Elfine Starkadder*

    I work in a state university setting. A little over ten years ago I was working in one administrative department and had applied for a position in another. The online application form required an employment history with list of supervisors, which I supplied. The form also had a checkbox that said “Please do not contact my current supervisor,” which I checked. I allowed the hiring manager to contact past supervisors.

    We had a pleasant couple of interviews, I gave my references while reiterating that he should not contact my current supervisor, and let him know I would be on vacation for a week but would look forward to his decision when I returned.

    During that week he contacted my current supervisor directly to talk about my performance, even though I had asked him not to do it, twice. The supervisor, blindsided, gave me a glowing review but the seeds of resentment were sown.

    I got the job offer in a voicemail when I returned from vacation. I called the hiring manager and asked him why he disregarded my request that he not contact my supervisor. “Oh, he and I are old friends,” he said, “I knew he’d give an honest opinion and that you really wouldn’t mind.”

    But I did mind and I turned down the offer. If he was that dismissive of my confidentiality, how could I trust him in the workplace? I told him so and he seemed baffled by my attitude. One bullet dodged….

    It took me six more months to find another campus job. During that time my supervisor geared up a campaign against me consisting of unofficial complaints, bad verbal performance reviews (but good ones on paper), and subtle harassment. It was a struggle to maintain my cool but I left under good terms with the rest of my department.

    Except in professional areas where (as previous commenters have mentioned) access to current supervisors is de rigueur, I’d be uncomfortable with any request to contact my current boss.

        1. AP*

          I want to tell you guys how much I love you/this, but I must consult my Abbé Fause-Maigre to express it properly.

  10. twentymilehike*

    Maybe it’s a test? Maybe he’s going to not hire her if she gives into the request, but not actually contact her manager. Thought, I can’t imagine that would be a good test …

  11. jesicka309*

    When I got my first full time job after university, I was working part time for their competitor.
    After going through two interviews, I received a phone call asking for my references. I had two (uni professor and my supervisor of 5.5 years from my McDonalds uni job). They insisted that they wanted to speak to someone at my current role, as the other references ‘weren’t relevant’. It was such a hard decision to make – do I tell my boss that not only am I interviewing, but I’m interviewing with their competitor??
    I ended up asking for more time, so that I could go into work and talk to them. I was too chicken to ask my boss, so I quietly asked my coordinator (who I was assistant to) if she would be my reference instead, but please don’t tell boss! Luckily she said yes, as I think she knew I was unhappy and wanting full time work. But she could have easily said no, or told my boss, and I could have been out a reference and/or both jobs.
    Long story short, I got the job, but managers insisting on this rule end up eliminating many candidates who are new to the workforce, or are in unstable/volatile work situations.

  12. Thought*

    I was just fired for job hunting when my current boss found out through the grapevine that I was interviewing elsewhere. He’s a total F&*king lunatic but still, it happens.

    1. Anonymous Accountant*

      I’m sorry to read this. Hope you find a much better job soon!

      The same thing happened to me 3 years ago. My boss discovered I was applying to other jobs when an HR rep of a place I applied contacted them against my asking them to refrain from contacting my manager at the time and offered other references. He fired me and they didn’t offer me the job.

  13. Rayner*

    It’s really wrong that this company is asking people to potentially jeopardize their current jobs for the sake of a reference when they’re not even sure they’re going to offer the actual post to the candidate.

    Like AAM said, it could be okay, but it could mean the employee is pushed out/punished in some way by managers/co-workers for thinking of leaving.

  14. Foam Chick*

    Ok, related to this. My first career job was for a company that no longer exists, and I have no contact information for any of the owners. My current job is only my second career job. This is incredibly awkward to explain at job interviews. The interviewers I have met with won’t let me get past the first visit unless I will give them the green light to contact my current employer, which I always end up refusing. Is this normal?

    1. Anonymous Accountant*

      Is there another reference you can offer? Another supervisor under whom you worked or will they accept former coworkers as references?

      It may not be ideal but given the unusual circumstances, they may understand.

  15. Sandra*

    Asking a current manager may not yield the information the new job is looking for anyway. Current management can give a “meh” review to a current employee to keep them. This happened to my friend who was top his sales department at a company where his manager got a % of his sales – luckily one job figured it out and took the review with a grain of salt and counterbalenced it against the glowing reviews of prior managers and co-workers. He is happy at new job.

    1. Acoward*

      I think this is the biggest problem with trying to use current employers as references. If they want to keep you why the heck would they give you a good review?

  16. Caryn*

    This is relatively similar to a situation I was recently in. I was a top 3 finalist for a Project Manager position with a huge tech company in Massachusetts. They told me that I was in their top 3 and that they’d like to check references – they asked for 3 references, one must be a manager. I gave them 3 management references from 3 different employers. Then, they came back to me and wanted 3 peer references. So now we are at a total of 6 references. Then they said that they wanted another 2 references. I am not kidding. This was also right before Christmas when tons of people were travelling. They then asked for another reference from a company I worked for in 2002! Really? Long story short, I provided all references and in the end, I did not get the job.

    1. College Career Counselor*

      That situation sucks and is more and more the case for higher education administration. They want two managerial references, two peer references (both at your current institution and at other ones), and at least two references from people you supervised. I wonder if the 360 review is making its way into the hiring process…

  17. One of the Annes*

    The government agency I work for also insists on this (requiring that the final two or three candidates allow their current managers to be contacted). If you refuse, you’re cut from consideration. Ridiculous.

  18. Nameless*

    I am in the process on applying for a new job. I can’t imagine anyone calling my current manager/owner. Based on past experience, one guy gave a month’s notice and he was fired two weeks into his notice. The manager wanted to just make him feel he was fired. Anyone who leaves the company is resented, so even with conditional offer I can’t do it. My manager, the owner is just spiteful once you give notice

    1. Jerry Vandesic*

      At that point the ex-employee can file for unemployment, increasing the ex-employers unemployment insurance costs. Not sure that was a smart move.

  19. Anony1234*

    This is making me nervous.

    I have re-entered the job searching realm after a hiatus of a couple of years. I have a couple of part-time jobs, but I’m hoping to get a decent full-time position. However, I’m nervous as to how both jobs will react, especially one that sort of gave me a hard time when the second part-time infringed temporarily on the first one. My boss acted resentful towards me, barely speaking to me for nearly a month. In actuality, there would not have been a problem had a coworker been more cooperative with scheduling, but when that coworker refused to be a team player, instead of getting angry at that person, the boss took his anger out on me. While the company knows in long-term, I’m not staying put, I cringe to think about how they will react when it is time for me to leave entirely because it will hamper scheduling. I’m not saying that to toot my own horn; the absence of anyone will strain the schedule. Therefore, if they find out I’m looking elsewhere, while it not being a surprise in reality, I don’t think they will fire me, but I don’t think they will be exactly happy either. And I don’t want to go to work facing that attitude everyday.

    And it scares me just as much to know that there are HRs and hiring managers out there who either balk or totally disregard requests against contact with current employers.

    I don’t mean to sound naive. It’s just another thing to add to the mix between writing the awesome cover letter and dotting all the i’s, crossing the t’s, etc.

  20. Katie the Fed*

    These posts always remind me just how strange the federal government is, comparatively. It’s not a problem at all where I am to be looking for another job and to explain that you’re doing so. I have people working for me who are looking elsewhere, and I help them with their applications. Yes, I’ll be sad when they leave but they can’t stay forever and they need to do what they can to enhance their own professional development.

    I suppose the big difference is that it’s so hard to fire people in government. It’s doable, but not easy.

  21. Jane*

    I understand the desire to speak with the person’s current manager but it just takes the power imbalance between job seeker and prospective employer way way too far. The prospective employer owes the job seeker absolutely nothing yet expects the job seeker to jeopardize his or her current position for the mere possibility of a job offer. To me that is just wrong. There are some companies which are so intense about this kind of stuff that they don’t even allow employees who have already secured other jobs to work for two weeks – they are escorted out the same day! Imagine working at a place like that and having your boss find out you went on an interview – you’d be fired on the spot for disloyalty and be given a few minutes to pack your things and go. While I’d hazard a guess that most employers aren’t like that, it just highlights the point by showing one extreme.

  22. Lore*

    I had this happen last year and it was a big factor in my ultimately deciding not to accept an offer. I’d had two interviews in mid-December and they started checking references. I’d been required to provide three with the application–a current senior colleague, a supervisor from a freelance/volunteer position (paid copy editing and volunteer editorial work), and a business partner from a previous side venture–but had been tracking down current contact info for a former supervisor (boss’s boss technically, but actually supervised aspects of my work that were more relevant to this job than my day-day manager) who had recently changed jobs. I gave them the additional info at the first interview when they asked for hard copies of all my materials. So I was very surprised to get an email at 5 pm one day saying,”We really can’t go further without talking to a supervisor so I’m going to call your current manager tomorrow. Okay?” I pushed back and reminded them of the fourth reference and they backed down (and in fact then proceeded to sort of make me an offer without ever contacting her. (Sort of in that they wanted me to commit to accepting before they would provide a written offer but that’s another story.) But that moment really soured me on that manager and thus the job. I mean, what if I hadn’t gotten that email until the morning?

    1. Julie K*

      What difference does it make if you commit to accepting the job before they give you the offer in writing? I don’t understand what they gain by that (or stand to lose by just giving you the offer in writing).

      1. Lore*

        I didn’t get it either. Their logic was that preparing an offer packet was a lot of work for them and they weren’t going to go to the trouble to do it if I was going to turn them down.

  23. Sweetsong*

    The State of Michigan asks for a current supervisor as one of the professional references. My employer/owner of business is a chronic liar. How in the world can a person get a new job when prospective employers are willing to ask chronic liars for information? Bad practice.

    Sometimes a current employer has jealousy issues and does not want to help out his/her employee.

  24. Val Giovanni*

    This may shed some light on the wonderings of some in the field of education, and why someone (like myself) would note want to list the current employer as a reference. I found this thread because I am looking for a job outside my district, which is a one-school district. My supervisor is my superintendent and principal. The school isn’t doing well due to administration (mostly). While I still have a job for this coming year, I will be laid off in June, as enrollment is continuing to decline quickly. The principal cannot fire me for looking, but she could make it very uncomfortable for me, and may well give me a poor reference for having the temerity to want to leave. It’s a big risk for me. I have nothing to hide, and have been given glowing recommendations by my previous principals.

  25. Dougary*

    I’m presently struggling with this very issue. I’ve recently applied for several positions and always check Do Not Contact my present employer. If asked for a reason I simply say contact me first.
    One of the positions applied for resulted in 2 face to face interviews and phone interview. During the phone interview I was asked why I did not want my present employer contacted. I explained that I had not informed my employer that I was job seeking, but I would do so with a bonafide offer including a negotiated salary and benefits.
    I was told that job offer could not be made without checking current employer reference.
    This was a red flag to me as I had explained that once my employer knew I was job seeking that they would immediately begin looking for my replacement even if I had not found another job. Which means I was going to lose my job.
    At that point in the phone interview I declared that it was not a good fit for me and ended the interview. I did however write a letter to the administrator of that company and explained the situation. I have not heard back from them, but I made it clear that they were missing potentially great workers because of this particular interviewer.
    I’m still job seeking, but at least I’m still employed

  26. Lexy*

    Thanks everyone for your comments and stories, this is really helping me. Im job hunting atm and almost all have stated that they will need to contact referees before offering the job. This didnt sit right with me in an interview i went to a couple of weeks ago so I declined it and at least now I know that Im not stupid for doing so.

    I have no idea how my manager would react to me job hunting or even if HR would tell her when they got the request through but I’d rather keep my job and any opportunities that come along than have to explain to a new employer that I was fired for ‘disloyalty’. I think its a completely unprofessional and unethical way to go about it and I dont see how a prospective employer cant see that! As an individual Im sure they would feel the say way in the same situation.

    Im worried though that due to this ‘policy’ Im never going to be able to move on to another job because, unless the new job is amazing, its probably not worth taking the risk to allow contact with my employer. is there actually anyway around this? Perhaps it would be worth negotiating that contacting other referees is fine,(in my case it would be ex-employer and college/uni tutor) but just leave the current employer until a firm job offer has been made?

  27. Acoward*

    I would be hesitant for a company to contact my current employer because I know very well that my current employer doesn’t want to lose me and they may give me a bad reference just to ensure that I don’t get another job. How do you deal with that?

  28. Mark*

    I thought that companies can only legally verify duration of employment, current position or status, and wages. In my company, any persomal feelings about the canfldidate, or their work, simply open the possibility of a lawsuit if they are fired. That being said, crappy assignments, lack of training and developmental opportunities and being let go are very real possibilities. If they like you enough, they should make you an offer contingent upon verification of employment, duration of employment and wages, not how your current manager likes or dislikes you. It is just not worth the risk without a solid offer as others have indicated. That would be like someone saying I will buy your house, but only if you let me move in without obligation and rent free for a month. No one would allow such foolishness to take place. Just my two cents.

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