we made a job offer contingent on references — and the reference was bad

A reader writes:

We have recently offered a new employee a job, with a job offer email that included the following line: “The position is permanent and will be subject to a 3-month probationary period and reference check.”

We made the offer contingent on references because one of his references was his current employer and he didn’t want us to approach them until he’d handed in his notice.

We have now had references back and the one from his current employer was really worrying, which has made us think that he is definitely not the person for the job. Can we retract the offer? Help!

This is a really tough situation, and it’s one of the reasons that offers contingent on a reference-check can be sticky. You’re asking someone to resign their job, while keeping open the possibility that you might yank the offer they’re accepting.

That means that you have a high responsibility here to not just immediately rescind the offer but to try to get more information.

So, first, look at it against what you know of him from the other references. Were the rest glowing and this the only bad one? If so, consider why that might be: Was this a very different type of work than his other jobs? Since it’s from his current employer, is it possible that they’re pissed off that he’s leaving? Or that they’re unreasonable people, which is why he’s leaving?

Of course, it’s also possible that the reference is completely objective and accurate, and even prohibitive to hiring him.

But you don’t know that yet, and you have to get more information.

Go back to him and say this: “As you know, our offer was contingent on a positive reference check. When we talked to your current manager, she raised some concerns for us about X and Y. Can you tell me anything about that?”

You might hear something that puts your mind at ease, at least when you balance it against the other references you talked to. For example, you might hear that it’s true that he didn’t excel at X and Y but he was told not to work on those projects this year and instead to focus on A and B. Or you might hear that everyone else was pleased with his work and he has written performance evaluations to back that up, but that the manager you spoke with came in a couple of months ago and had a very different vision for his work. Or, who knows. Regardless, the idea here is to give him a chance to tell you his side of the story and not take the word of one person (who you don’t know) as absolute gospel.

If you end up in a he-said/she-said situation and don’t know who to believe, ask him if he’s able to put you in touch with anyone else from his current job who can speak about his performance; he might be able to put you in touch with people who will back up what he’s saying. Or you can ask if he has copies of performance reviews for that job or anything else that might help you get a better understanding of the areas that are concerning you.

This is extra work, certainly, but because you made him a contingent job offer and he’s already accepted it and resigned from his old position, you owe it to him to give him the chance to respond and to weigh what you’re hearing as fairly as possible.

{ 338 comments… read them below }

  1. UKAnon*

    Yes, please talk to him OP! We hear so many times on here about toxic workplaces, people who know their bosses are going to give a bad reference out of spite etc etc. Could it be that he’s a bad employee? Yes. But it’s also possible that something related to his current workplace or even his personal life has been having a negative impact, and at a new job he’ll excel again. Ideally this would have come up in interviews, but the fairest thing to him now is to give him a chance to explain.

    1. Allison*

      Seconded. I left my first job on bad terms with my manager, and I think anyone who worked with me in those last two months would’ve given me a crap reference, but in the jobs I’ve held since then I’ve been doing really well. Truthfully, I wasn’t exactly a model employee at that first place, but a big chunk of it was that I wasn’t meshing with my team or the office culture which put me in a generally bad mood.

    2. Jeanne*

      If OP doesn’t at least talk to him, then they are one of the toxic workplaces also. Can you imagine having the job offer withdrawn with no explanation? Awful.

        1. annonymouse*

          I’ve never had this kind of problem or heard about it where I’m from (Australia)

          Reference checks come after the interview but before the job offer.

          You do need to provide a reference from your current job but as long as it is someone you worked closely with or a supervisor (maybe your direct boss / department head – depending on the situation and relationships to make your choice about who to use) and someone who you know will give you a good reference then you’re all set.

          Demanding the reference be from your current boss right after you’ve resigned? Not a good move. At best they’ll be supportive but probably stressed with replacing the person. At worst they’ll be gleefully ruining your reputation to either get back at you or get you back in their company.

          1. Ella*

            Does this reference sound positive or negative?
            I asked my manger how the reference went as he knew they were going to call so I asked and this was the reply:

            the reference check went for 10min…there was a lot of positives….the question was near the end and I was asked if there was one thing you think she could improve on what would you say and with that I said you needed to organise yourself better but you have improved in the time I have been here and you are still new at the position and that will come in time….i was asked if I would hire you again and I said yes, you are a great team player, fantastic with customers and liked by your workmates. Also that I wouldn’t want to lose you. Very hard to give a reference check on someone you have worked with in less than 2 months.
            Not sure how to feel about it? Would like some advise if this reference could damage me for getting the position?

  2. Bend & Snap*

    What a weird thing. I can’t imagine asking a candidate to resign and then expecting a good reference when so many people/companies react poorly to resignations. It seems like a very flawed way to hire someone.

    How were the other references?

    1. Ann O'Nemity*

      I don’t require applicants to use their current manager as a reference for this very reason. Though I do make offers contingent on background checks.

      1. NickelandDime*

        Ugh, I just worry that this might be one of those situations where the manager goes nuclear whenever anyone resigns. Some take it as a personal affront.

        1. lawsuited*

          +1 I’ve had such bad experiences, that I assume all bosses go nuclear when one resigns. One of my bosses made me sit through hours and hours of “resignation meetings” trying to get me to admit that I was abandoning the firm (I was a 2nd year associate and gave 6 weeks notice) and then told the staff I was leaving to receive psychiatric treatment (not true, I do not have a psychiatric illness). Another boss completely ignored me when I emailed, called or spoke to him during my notice period, and weirdly started sending gifts to everyone in the office but me (like, cupcakes on everyone’s desk but mine, a flower arrangement for everyone but me). Both bosses would have been complimentary about my work the day before I resigned, but the day after….just a whole bunch of crazypants weirdness.

          1. Senor Poncho*

            Read post before reading your handle. Of course it’s a law office. Yeesh.

          2. Liz in a Library*

            I had an attorney friend whose firm, no joke, lied and told other employees she was leaving because her boyfriend wouldn’t marry her. Law firms can be bizarre places.

            1. Melanie*

              I would second that law firms can be crazy places. I worked at one law firm for a horrible, horrible man when I first started out, and though it took a little time, eventually I was able to leave. I worked there a little over a year. When I first got to the firm, I made friends with a woman and I had been working there about four-five months when she was fired for something she did not do. Or rather, to hear her side of the story, she choose to quit because of an event that happened, and I believe her point of view is probably correct because the other employees and my employers worked so hard to brainwash me that I think it started to work. I continued to be friends with the woman (it is sixteen years later and we still are friends). Other people in the office knew we still spent time together and they kept telling she was a bad person, spending time with her would lead to my downfall (they actually used those words), etcetera. The way I saw then, and the way I still see it now, is that I am there to work for you eight hours a day and for eight hours a day I am doing what you tell me to do. But on my own time I do whatever I please (except for things that are illegal, of course) and see whoever I want. I felt like they treating me like I was a child who didn’t know right from wrong! All the other employees decided to make it their mission to get me fired. If someone was supposed to complete a task but it did not get done, it was my fault. If someone did something wrong or forgot to do something important, like contacting a client regarding an issue, I was blamed. I spent the next roughly eight months with about a half dozen people doing everything in their power to get me fired. It was tough, but I stayed until I found another job, which unfortunately did not last long. So while I was looking for work I registered with a temp agency and I had to take a variety of tests, including psychological tests with questions like true or false “All my coworkers are trying to get me fired.” I am waiting and waiting in the office to find out when they would be able to place in a temp position. They told me they could not help me. I knew I had done well on all the knowledge assessments, so I ask why they cannot help me. Their response? My answer to that question shows that I have severe psychological problems and I am completely unemployable! In retrospect, I understand that my answer might indicate a psychological problem, but at the time I was coming out of literally having spent months and months with people actively working to get me fired. While I will never answer that question in that way again, I completely understand what you are saying about what bizarre places law firms can be.

          3. Not So NewReader*

            You see this in other sectors, too. I had a boss that would tell people the resigning person was mentally ill and so on. Another boss stopped speaking to me when I resigned, it was sad to see him turn his head when we were the only two people in the hallway.

            Very seldom do I see people who can rely on their boss to give a good reference. OP, please use the advice that Alison lays out here. There are many, many of us that pray for a new employer who is willing to follow these steps.

          4. Rachel*

            Yikes. I thought my old job was petty when they disinvited me from the staff retreat (which, since this was a non profit took the form of helping repair the summer camp. It cost nothing) by leaving my name off the car pool assignment sheet handed out the morning of. (I gave them 6 weeks notice, and this was about four weeks in). “This is a team building day and since you no longer want to be a member of the team…”

            I considered myself lucky that they limited themselves to treating me as persona non grata and telling all the volunteers/board members/others that I left to get a BA (I already had a master’s degree and went back for a PhD). They absolutely trashed the reputations of a few coworkers who left. Urgh.
            God, that job sucked. When I quit, I felt like I was breaking up with my manager. “It’s not you, it’s me.” “Is there another job?” “No, no! I just don’t think I’m right for this anymore”

          5. vpc*

            I just left a position where my supervisor and her supervisor were nothing but awesome. They had been encouraging me to apply for positions, because there was no opportunity for growth in our department and that couldn’t be changed (gov’t positions); they both agreed to serve as references, although only one got called; they offered me whatever extra support and guidance I needed during my four-week notice period to transition my projects to coworkers.

            Awesome happens. I wish it were less rare.

    2. Jerry Vandesic*

      I would never resign if there are still contingencies regarding the job offer. Resign only when the contingencies are taken care of and the offer is solid. If that means passing on an employer that requires a reference check with the current manager, you might very well want to pass. Otherwise it’s a huge financial risk. I’d also point out that a potential employer would look pretty weak from a management/recruitment POV if they can’t put together a solid offer before the candidate resigned.

      1. CrazyCatLady*

        Agreed – for me, all contingencies need to be taken care of before I give my notice.

      2. Jessa*

        The problem in this case is the contingency was that they had to talk to the current job. Most people do not want their current job to know they’re looking. So either you out the person as job searching, by calling the current job while they still work there, or you let them resign and then you’re in the mess the OP wrote in about. There are enough companies/managers that are outrageous about people looking for work or leaving, that the current practise is to NOT call the current job. If most jobs were reasonable nobody would care if they were called. Now this person is out of a job. And if they were clear they didn’t want the current company called, they probably had reason. So I’d very much take a review from the company they just quit with a Gibraltar sized grain of salt. Because if the offer does end up being pulled, this person is now out of work and really badly stuck as they now know that the last job is either honestly or not tanking them.

        1. Melissa*

          The counter to that is that they don’t have to talk to the current job. They choose to do that as part of their process, but they don’t have to do that and can change their process if they wanted to. And honestly it might be a good idea, because current employers are never thrilled when an employee is leaving and there’s so much potential for things to go wrong.

          1. AMT*

            Exactly. They’re basically forcing all potential hires to risk being jobless just so they can speak with a manager who may or may not be bitter about the employee leaving.

        2. Case of the Mondays*

          It’s common in my industry to require a reference at your current firm. The way I handled it as an applicant is I accepted a contingent offer but did not put in my resignation. I then told my boss I had a job offer but needed a reference first. After the reference panned out, I then formally resigned. At that point they would have known I was looking but if the rug was pulled, I still technically had a job. If your new job is your second after college/grad school/change in careers you really need a reference from your current work for it to be valuable.

      3. Becky B*

        This is so true.

        A friend of mine ran into something similar yet with a twist. He was offered a job, took it, had his start date set, etc.–and only then was told that it would be contingent on what his references would say. Seemed a bit backward to me. I’m hoping to hear something positive from him. One very dubious good part is that he didn’t have a job to resign, so he’s not kicking himself over that, but is still out there interviewing.

      4. Raine*

        Same here. In fact, I won’t even bother applying to a place that indicates a reference check will only take place after you’ve already resigned and/or started the new position. I mean, seriously? In this economy? You have got to be kidding. (And this is coming from someone who has always passed any kind of background or reference check.)

    3. Anonathon*

      For real, who makes an offer contingent on a reference from the current manager? I could see that (maybe) if the manager already knew that the employee was leaving due to, say, a cross-country move. But it makes no sense as a general practice …

      1. PlainJane*

        At my current employer, the policy is to not offer an on-campus interview without speaking with the current manager. Seriously. Put me in a terrible spot, because I wasn’t sure I should let my then-current manager know I was looking. It all worked out, but I’ve since advocated for changing the policy (unsuccessfully thus far).

  3. NickelandDime*

    OP, please look into this further. We’ve all had bad managers – you just never know what the back story is on this. Also, maybe look again at doing offers contingent on a reference-checks like this. I’d love an update on the situation. I hope this works out for everyone. I feel bad for the potential employee and the OP!

      1. RMRIC0*

        I could see some issues still arising with the current employer, since she has another company calling about one of her employees with probably little head’s up.

      2. Adam V*

        That’s worse though – you’re putting their current job in jeopardy without even having an offer in hand.

        1. Jessa*

          On the other hand now the offer is in jeopardy and the candidate is now completely out of work, and probably has no extra savings in place because they thought they had a job. I mean why would you plan for time between jobs when you don’t HAVE time between jobs.

          1. Ask a Manager* Post author

            Well, because life happens and you can be out of work unexpectedly! I realize that not everyone has the luxury of having savings, but most people in the U.S. do have that option — and they should ensure that they have them.

            That in no way changes how the OP should act, but I wanted to respond to the idea that you don’t need savings if you’re not going to have time off between jobs!

            1. Lionness*

              Thank you, I about fell out of my seat when I read that. Of course you need savings (if, of course, you have that luxury) even if you don’t plan on time off…that is kind of the point of savings: to plan for the unplanned.

              1. Adam*

                Agreed. Everyone should have an emergency savings fund for just in case. Three to six months living expenses is what’s usually recommended.

                Do I have that? No, nowhere close to it. I’m trying but my job pays me peanuts in an area with a borderline absurd cost of living ratio depending on who you ask. But as soon as I find a job with a (hopefully) much better salary one of my first priorities is getting that savings fund finished.

                1. KJR*

                  We had one, then our dog got sick. Our sweet little dog is still around, our savings are not! I’d do it again in a heartbeat. I agree with the savings sentiment though, it’s just going to take a while to build it back up again. Life happens.

                2. Adam*

                  Sorry to hear about your dog. Glad he was able to get the care he needed. That’s exactly the sort of thing savings are for! I often hear people refer to them as “emergency funds” instead.

                3. Ruffingit*

                  Yeah, I cringe when people say “well, of course you should have savings!” Not everyone can do that. Right now, I’m making close to the poverty line for the size of my household. My husband is making some money on the side selling his woodwork, but he cannot at this time get a full-time job because someone has to stay home with my mom, who lives with us and is quite ill. She has nine different doctors in various specialties so you can just imagine the number of appointments. I am finishing intern hours to be fully licensed in my profession. I am working a regular job with a salary, but the salary stinks for the amount of work I’m doing. Still, I get my hours so that is the plus to the trade off.

                  I’m not out there spending a ton of money. We buy our clothes from thrift stores and spend very little on entertainment. Trying desperately to put away savings, but then the car needs brakes and then I got a huge bill from the IRS that I didn’t expect at all. Drained savings to pay for that because who the heck wants the IRS on their back? And so on and so on.

                  We’re doing our best to put away money with the parameters we’re working with, but it’s not easy. Hoping things will be better in the future, but right now, it is what it is.

                4. MashaKasha*

                  Second what KJR said. There was maybe one two-year period in my life when I had six months’ living expenses in savings. Then I paid a divorce attorney’s retainer. Then I bought a house, because no one wanted to rent to us as we had a dog. Then kid #1 went to college. Then the dog got sick. Then kid #2 went to college. Now kid #2’s 15yo car died and I’m helping him buy a replacement. It’s just one darn thing after another. I’ve had times during the past 12 months when, outside of my 401K, I had maybe a couple hundred dollars between all my accounts and the cash in my wallet. Would I like to have six months’ salary saved? Of course I would, my employment, like most of us here, is at-will and I fully realize I can lose my job any day for no reason at all. It felt very liberating to have an emergency fund when I had one. Is it possible for me to have one now? no, not at the moment.

                5. Jessa*

                  The problem with this, is that in the US with insurance issues, and other problems, many people just don’t. One car repair, one kid getting ill, one pet being sick. Heck our prescription copays even with very good insurance basically wipe our our ability to put money aside (multiple medications for chronic conditions that cost over $40 a month each.) You can be living paycheque to paycheque and not be splurging or overspending on anything. And I’d think this is true for more people than is realised. Are some people who have no savings overspending? Yes. But not everyone is in a job that pays enough to put anything aside.

                  The fact that it’s a good idea to put money aside is lovely. Every time we’ve managed to do so, we’ve had to spend it out very quickly due to illness or some unexpected expense (some people work jobs with no sick leave, so making up a day’s pay is very hard.)

                  I get that this blog is usually for more white collar workers, but most of my experience is in small offices or call centres (even as management you don’t get paid very well there.)

                  I guess my point is that the assumption that people have that money is just…not the best idea because nowadays I’d be surprised if it’s not more people don’t than do.

            2. Ad Astra*

              It’s so nice when people acknowledge that not everyone is able to put money in savings. I can’t tell you how many times I was scolded for not having an “emergency fund” when my student loan payments were nearly double what I was paying in rent. The only way I could have put aside any significant money would be to cease all entertainment spending, which is a miserable way to live when you’re 23 and single. And I think my combined entertainment/clothing budget was like $200 a month.

              1. Helka*


                It’s also terrible advice for someone who’s trying to get out of debt. The interest on any savings account is going to be a fraction of the interest any kind of debt is going to be accruing, so setting that money aside to molder becomes a financially terrible option.

                1. Adam*

                  There are many different thoughts on this. My personal view is that if you are in debt you work as hard as you can to get out of debt as quickly as you can, THEN work on the savings fund. If you do have debt when you consider how much of your money goes towards that in a given month and then imagine what your savings would be like without it, even if it’s only a bit of wiggle room it’s still a lot better. Plus the added relief from stress of and comforting feeling of not owing anybody anything does wonders.

                2. Natalie*

                  @Adam, I’m not so sure about that. Emergencies are inevitable, and with no cash emergency savings you’ll just end up dealing with the emergency with debt. And that emergency debt is usually the most expensive, unsecured kind – high rate credit cards, payroll loans, the pawn shop, etc. Particularly in the case of an installment loan like a student loan, I’d take the time to build up my emergency savings while making the minimum payments, and once I had a reasonably sized fund *then* devote the extra cash to the debt.

                3. More Cake Please*


                  I agree with you. Personally, my plan was/is: 1-month’s savings > destroy credit card debt > get month-ahead on paychecks [so I don’t need to worry about waiting until X day to pay a bill] > work on 3-month’s savings > reward vacation? > work on 6-month savings > someday… destroy student loans. The month I destroyed the credit card debt, one of my pets got sick and passed away. It was a relief to walk in to the vet and know that I wouldn’t have to put him down because I couldn’t pay or afford a payment plan for his care OR go right back into credit card debt.

    1. Jeanne*

      It does seem time for OP’s company to discuss this policy. Can they check references first? Can they ask for a different reference at the old workplace than the current manager? It’s worth looking into.

      1. snuck*

        That’s what I’m thinking…

        My question is – were the non-employer references all fine, and just the employer one dodgy?

        I’d ask all the other references first, before an offer was made… and if the policy is that you can’t offer without talking to the current employer… go with your gut from the previous references, and then pick up the phone after the offer if you must, but do it in the full knowledge that unless it’s an awful reference you still plan to employ this person. You are both having to make a commitment here…

        If it IS awful then go back and talk to the applicant, ask their side, explain all the other references were good and that’s the only reason you spoke to the current manager, and then work out based on the applicant’s response where this sits… but I would assume you’d rarely be doing this if you reference check with the other references first.

  4. Katie the Fed*

    I feel like unless we’re talking about something illegal (sexual harassment, theft, etc), you really owe it to him to at least give him a chance after talking to him and finding out a bit more.

    But if we’re talking something illegal – I definitely wouldn’t mess with it.

    1. Chriama*

      ‘Definitely wouldn’t mess with it’ as in wouldn’t hire the guy, or as in wouldn’t ask him about it? I just feel like a malicious former employer can make up anything they want to. At what point is the accusation serious enough that the likelihood of it being a lie is overwritten by the magnitude of the alleged crime? Is that something you should still follow up on, or should you assume that no one would be crazy enough to slander an employee to that extreme (slander in the legal sense of the word, since it would be a lie that incurs a loss for the former employee)?

      1. Katie the Fed*

        I suppose you COULD give the employee a chance to explain, especially if the other references were glowing. But if you have a report that your new hire is a serial sexual harasser, for example, you’re exposing your company to a lot of liability if something happens.

        1. Jader*

          I totally see what you’re saying and at first I agreed with you. But after more thought, if he really was a serial sexual harasser, stealing from the company or something similar, why didn’t they fire him?

          1. TootsNYC*

            People are often really reluctant to fire someone.
            They may give him crummy assignments, no raises, lots of grief, etc., in an attempt to drive him out. (and once he’s already resigned, they don’t need to worry about whether a bad review with make it harder for him to quit)

            1. Jessa*

              They may also let them leave quietly. How many stories in the press are this teacher or that doctor molested someone, committed malpractise, etc. and it’s found out that former employers just let them go.

              1. TootsNYC*

                I know of a place where someone misappropriated funds–criminal charges -could- have been filed. They chose just letting him resign suddenly and without explanation–it was simply easier, less risky (in terms of libel) and much less expensive (no lawyer fees for guiding the board members or employees as they testified against him).
                Part of the whole deal was that they wouldn’t ever say what he’d done to anyone else.
                The board member I know was furious and frustrated that this guy could go on to get more jobs in the field–and that he’d done this at the previous place, apparently, with the same end result. Which they hadn’t known about. And the cycle would probably go on.

                So yeah, that “current employer” reference might be good while he works there because they’re hoping to get rid of him without fuss; it might be neutral later because their hands are tied; it might be negative because it’s accurate or negative because they have it in for him.

        2. Evan Þ*

          True. But I still wouldn’t put it past some bad bosses to make up stories about that when someone resigns.

      2. Stranger than fiction*

        I’ve got t to say, even a sexual harassment accusation deserves hearing the candidates side. Just as there are malicious managers, there are malicious women and men who could lie about such a thing to cover their own ass

    2. Future Analyst*

      I agree, but unless charges were filed, I don’t know that I would necessarily believe a manager about an employee’s misdeeds. Certainly dig deeper, and if there is no further evidence of wrong-doing, I wouldn’t write the employee off just yet.

    3. Laurel Gray*

      And if we are talking something illegal, I am going to be super curious why this employer still has this employee employed yet is giving them a bad reference.

      If Fergus stole $10k from the company and is paid it back through wage garnishments and still got to keep his job, why even mention it during a reference check?

      And what other illegal activities could CurrentEmployer allow but be warning FutureEmployer about?

      (I am speaking as if the candidate is currently employed.)

      1. Katie the Fed*

        That’s a good point. I suppose it’s possible the employee was still under investigation, but we’re getting into the realm of pretty unlikely.

        1. Chriama*

          And I do think it’s possible that this employee is job hunting because they know they’re going to get fired, and the time you happen to check references just coincides with the results from the investigation. But I just feel like any claim (good or bad) a single referencee makes needs to be backed up — either by similar comments from other people, or some sort of official and unbaised record. I mean, that’s why we check multiple references in the first place, right?

          1. Anna*

            Yeah, I’m a little confused about the OP’s letter, actually. It seems the ONLY bad reference was from the current employer and there isn’t a lot of reflection on why that may be. Just a reaction that the current employer couldn’t possibly have any alternative motivation for giving a bad reference, therefore the reference is valid, despite the other references seemingly being good. What makes this bad reference more valid than the other two good references?

            1. Chriama*

              Yup, that’s the weirdest part to me. How is it that a single reference from the current employer, where the candidate is presumably doing similar work at the moment and where the reference-giver has reason to be biased in one direction or another, outweigh multiple references from other parties? I don’t want to doubt the OP, but the lack of information in general makes me feel like they haven’t done enough due diligence yet.

              1. Ask a Manager* Post author

                It depends on how credible the reference was and what they said, which is information we don’t have.

                And as I wrote further down, think about how many people are incompetent at their jobs; we hear about them here all the time. They too presumably looked fine on paper and had okay references, but it’s possible that they could have one reference who actually had high standards and saw their ineptness.

                1. Chriama*

                  That makes sense. I guess that I personally identify more with a job candidate than a hiring manager so, lacking more information, I’m likely to favour the candidate. I wish the OP would come back and elaborate!

          2. AnonaMoose*

            “this employee is job hunting because they know they’re going to get fired” – I don’t know about that. In fact, because the candidate was transparent and actually gave the OP the contact number without any line of BS (‘they’re all crazy, I wouldn’t expect a glowing reference, my boss is on extended leave’ etc), makes me think that the OldBoss is retaliating because the candidate gave notice.

            I do agree that OP needs to find another reference but I am not sure getting another one from this job is appropriate either. I would ask for either two character references or another reference at an old job.

            1. AnonaMoose*

              Also, the fact that the candidate has to go through this because OP asked for CURRENT employer references is ridiculous. This is exactly why it’s standard that we DON’T ask for current employer references.

              1. Anon21*

                Weeelll, yes and no. The reason most jobs don’t require current employer references, as I understand it, is that it is not reasonable for the candidate to expose themselves to the risk of losing their current job before they have an offer from the prospective new employer. That is, the concern is about informing the current employer that the candidate is searching. Obviously, that bridge has already been crossed here, so the concerns at play are somewhat different.

              1. OhNo*

                I’m curious – what if the employer’s complaint was solely a character issue, like laziness, ethical issues, or something like that? Would another work reference still be preferred?

                (Also curious: what if the employee doesn’t have another work reference?)

                1. Ask a Manager* Post author

                  Yep, you want to know what people are like at work, not in their personal lives. I don’t care if someone is lazy in their personal life; I only care if they’re lazy at work. Character references CAN reveal info that’s relevant to work, but work references are far more likely to.

        2. Laurel Gray*

          Yes, even if an investigation is still pending, employer could still disclose that there is one and what it involves without going into detail and I too think this would be pretty unlikely.

  5. Adam*

    The whole thought of checking references with your current employer makes me twitchy anyways. It sounds like the candidate included them to begin with and I know sometimes hiring managers may reach out to current employers of their own accord, but either way the thought just makes me squirm. My current search is the only time I’ve ever purposely listed my current manager as well as a current co-worker as references since they both understand what a trap my current office is and would totally get out themselves if not for reasons.

    1. Jennifer*

      Heh, yeah, I’m doing the same thing myself for the same reason. But usually this sort of thing is kept secret for well, to avoid things like this.

  6. AndersonDarling*

    The candidate is leaving for a reason and we know the top reason people leave their jobs is because of a bad manager.
    Did the bad reference say that the candidate was on a PIP or probation? That would be a concrete sign that the candidate is not performing up to standard. Otherwise, it could just be huffing and puffing from a big bad boss.

    1. Adam*

      I often try to give managers the benefit of the doubt as I know being the boss is rarely easy, but sometimes a bad fit will lead to bad impressions. I’ve been considered a great employee at every job I’ve ever had, even ones I hated…except for one. It was a part-time job I had post college for a couple months. Everything started out ok, but it was an intense job that threw a bunch of information at you straight out the gate and I just couldn’t catch up. And this was all compounded by the fact that my manager literally was looking over my shoulder at just about everything I did. It was so bad that some days I would leave the place physically shaking from stress. I was never disrespectful, but I’m sure if you asked my manager for a reference I wouldn’t come across very well at all.

      1. LawBee*

        Oh, ditto! Except my manager assumed that I, the 21-year-old, knew all about the highly complicated details of the position I had been hired into (which, btw, was advertised as an admin assistant position with very basic skills required), and never EVER checked up on me. I remember being so stressed out that I could barely eat. And I can ALWAYS eat.

        And then she called me on the phone, screaming that I had ruined everything forever. Hearing her scream “you’re fired!” was the best thing that ever happened to me.

    2. the gold digger*

      Even a PIP can be a sign of bad management. At the company where NotSergio is the CEO, it was a common practice to put people on a PIP. A co-worker of mine was put on a PIP and she immediately went to an employment attorney and said, “Just give me a package and fire me now.”

      The NotSergio people, who are not in the US, were astonished. “But we put lots of people on a PIP!” they said. “It doesn’t mean we are going to fire you!”

      And indeed, it was true – they used it as a management tool. But my friend, who has always gotten rave reviews wherever she worked, started looking for a new job immediately and found one right away.

      Some of the questions I would ask are

      1. How many people in your office have been on a PIP in the past year? (At SergioLandia, it was about half.)
      2. What has been your turnover the past year? (At SergioLandia, it was about 25%, including one guy who never came back from lunch.)

      It can be really hard for someone who has never been in that environment to understand, but some workplaces are horrifyingly toxic and the negative comments of someone who works there should be discounted.

      1. ProcReg*

        OH MY GOSH! Absolutely. I was put on a PIP that I later proved to be a witch hunt. The management was on the losing side of a merger, and they treated the winning side terribly (proof that management was bad).

        The end result was me moving out of that position, because of not reconciling an account that no one else was reconciling, either. In other words, someone looked really bad, and it wasn’t me. :) I showed over 150 documents to prove I wasn’t bad at my job.

        1. Natalie*

          A friend of mine just left a job where she was put on a PIP because they wanted to restructure her department. About halfway through she was meeting all of the measurable goals and yet it was made clear that she was still going to be termed at the end of the PIP. (We’re still not sure why they didn’t just lay her off, unless they were concerned about the unemployment hit or something?)

      2. Elysian*

        Totally agree regarding understanding how the company uses PIPs. I was on a PIP once because my manager had a pet project she never told me about, but thought I would be bad at. She told me I needed improvement on Pet Project before seeing me work on it at all. I actually have done extensive studies in the area of her Pet Project, and I still have no idea why she wanted me on a PIP for it. It was just bizarre and I’m pretty sure she just didn’t like me. I wouldn’t take a PIP as a sure sign that the employer’s concerns are legitimate.

      3. AGirlCalledFriday*

        I was put on a PIP, my only one. The principal put me on one because I was late a couple times during the winter (bad weather and terrible car – I was still always there before the kids, I was there even when the other teachers called off because of the weather, and sometimes I WAS actually there but outside of the room prepping for class), she didn’t like that I disagreed with something she said during a meeting (she felt that as it was my first year at that school I wasn’t allowed to have an opinion about anything, even though it was her first year as well), and she disliked that I modified tests and classwork for a student who didn’t really speak English, instead of failing him (she told me to remove the modifications and just fail the student, even though orally he knew the content).

        This principal was a terrible manager, and inept. She was completely disorganized and threw extra work at the teachers at the last minute, she interrupted class time and scolded teachers in front of students for sitting down or having paper on the floor. She once disrupted my class to tell me that students should have all their books in their desks, rather than the locker system I had that worked very well. After telling students to empty their lockers into their desks and finding that there indeed WASN’T room, she was like, “Oh well, I guess some of you will have to keep your books in your lockers while others keep them in their desk,” and walked out, leaving me to clean up the chaotic classroom with the kids and books and papers and everything in disarray, PLUS demeaning me in front of the students, PLUS wasting 20 minutes of precious time.

        The principal was fired midyear, but was able to continue at the school in a different role. She fired me the next day, even though I had not done anything wrong. She told me that she didn’t need a reason to fire me, but then presented my firing as ‘gross misconduct’. Said gross misconduct was my receiving a text message update on my phone when a family member was in a severe car accident and in the ICU. I even notified the principal and requested permission to receive updates! Later, the school admitted that they KNEW it was a family emergency and that I had no record of ever having been on my phone for anything at all prior to that.

        I am leaving education for good – hate the way I’m treated as a teacher – and I can’t wait to take that horrible experience off of my resume.

        1. Cam*

          I have two cousins who are teachers and I’m constantly hearing stories just like this. One told me that this year, her cheap principal forbade all the paras from attending the end-of-year celebration (only for “real” teachers) and instead gave them their own party the next day, consisting entirely of a half box of stale donuts from the real teacher party.

          You have to really love teaching to have that kind of job, because you’re certainly not getting respect or money.

          1. AGirlCalledFriday*

            “Real” teachers? What a joke. Everyone who works with kids in a school is invaluable. School is just politics nowadays, often with administration that hasn’t spent much time in the classroom actually teaching, all on a power trip. Right now it seems that the better you are, the more of a threat you are.

          2. Ad Astra*

            One of the things my husband likes best about teaching is the respect he gets! He likes to command a room, and was extremely unhappy when we moved to a new state and he had to work in the service industry. And the money in his district is pretty darn good — a little more than I make in marketing.

            But any sane person would GTFO if they had to deal with with what AGirlCalledFriday or Cam’s cousins did. A major example of YMMV.

            1. AGirlCalledFriday*

              I never have any problem with the kids – it seems that I’m particularly gifted with winning the hearts of my students, time after time. I’m always the favorite teacher, even though I’m super strict, and my kids always improve a ton. I have a really good reputation for that. But administration is often terrible…though I blame that on constant parent complaints and a board that doesn’t know what education really is, as well as societal pressure. And while some parents are amazing…too many are not.

              I will miss teaching, and I worry about finding something I’m equally good at, but I seriously feel like if I don’t leave the profession I’ll lose myself. It’s not worth it. It’s true that your boss can make or break your experience, whether in education or not. At least outside of education I’ll likely just have one boss, and not 30+.

              1. LawBee*

                my super strict teachers were always my favorites. <3

                It's so sad that you're leaving teaching.

                1. AGirlCalledFriday*

                  Thank you LawBee. By the way, bees are my class theme wherever I am!

                  I’m super strict – but I explain why I’m strict and I temper it with a lot of love and fun. But I’m always exhausted, I get too involved with the kids, and it’s painful to see how terribly education and teachers are viewed in America. I may one day return to teaching, but only overseas, where it’s still a respected profession.

                  Respect goes such a long way. I find that the best bosses anywhere are the ones who actively respect their employees – their time, their efforts, their ideas. Maybe that’s what I find disturbing about this post. I don’t believe it’s respectful to pull a job after the candidate has given notice, even though there was the sentence disclaimer that it could happen. Honestly, when I read the OP’s sentence…I’m not sure that it would have really sunk in, I’d be so excited about getting the job…and the disclaimer is sort of sandwiched in there. I understand that a company has to look after itself, but treating potential candidates with respect is part of that.

        2. Jenna Maroney*

          Ugh, I can’t say this surprises me but it does horrify me. A good principal is worth their weight in gold but a bad one can destroy a school, no matter how hardworking and caring the teachers are. I’m currently earning a teaching degree after working in several non-
          -teacher roles at various schools, and I’m kind of sadly grateful I learned the importance of working under a good principal the hard way before I ever had my own classroom. (My current coursework is dealing with the teaching of English language learners, so I’m particularly appalled that you were castigated for using best practices instead of making an ELL’s already stressful schooling even harder.)

          1. AGirlCalledFriday*

            Yeah, the principal was really, REALLY angry with me that I dared to question her judgment there. She flat out told me that if I expected this student to receive any kind of assistance, he needed to be failing everything. Modified, he was pulling Bs and Cs…that was a heartbreaking report card and parent conference. I heard that after I left, the parents pulled their child out of the school. It was such a shame.

        3. Melissa*

          OMG, this is so terrible. It’s just so sad to see good educators driven out by mismanagement and poor treatment. I remember in high school we had some really good teachers who were occasionally harassed by administrative staff because they were a bit out the box, and the entire class would cringe when one of those admins would wander into the classroom because we knew something completely unnecessary (and disruptive to our own education) was about to happen.

        4. MissyMay*

          Failing to modify work for ESL students when they require modifications is illegal.

          1. Ad Astra*

            I was thinking the same thing, though I imagine parents of ESL students are often the least equipped to bring a complaint to the right people. Assuming it’s a family of immigrants (and not, say, an overseas adoption or something), they likely don’t know what their rights are in American public schools.

            I can’t for the life of me understand why a professional educator would oppose modifications for students who can learn the material but struggle with the specific way it’s presented. Like, why are you even in education if your priority isn’t helping people learn?

            1. Helka*

              A really jack-ignorant principal may have been afraid that it would be reported like all the teacher cheating scandals that have been going on out there. (Which is also ridiculous because iirc every one of those scandals has come from a school where the teachers were pressured to put test scores above everything else.)

          2. AGirlCalledFriday*

            It was a private school, and again – an incompetent principal. Who yes – also put test scores ahead of everything else. Before I took the class, the other students complained about working with this particular student because he ‘was stupid’. When I arrived, I made sure to give this student lots of opportunity to show his strengths, and lots of praise. He was phenomenal in science and had an incredible imagination! It wasn’t too long before the other students wanted to work with him. It disgusted me that the principal made me change his grades – and THEN she put that on the PIP, that she had to tell me to change the grades because I ‘wasn’t doing it right’.

            And of course I had to move overseas to get a job after that, because with all the teachers being laid off it killed my career. :(

            1. Tau*

              As someone who was an ESL kid in a US school, thank you so much for what you did for him. I’m sure neither he nor the other students will forget it, even with the principal undermining you like that.

        5. Ineloquent*

          My husband is starting his student teaching in art next month. Stories like this terrify me. How do people like this get positions of authority in schools? And how are teachers supposed to combat it?

          1. AGirlCalledFriday*

            Art? Oh no…I understand if that’s his dream but it is NOT a good choice for stability. Honestly, the best advice I could give is to have him study graphic design or something on the side, so that if he gets laid off, can only find very low paying positions at private schools, or has to travel to 3-4 different schools a week he has something to fall back on. A lot of schools even had the regular teachers teaching art, rather than hire someone…but that’s elementary.

            1. Ineloquent*

              No worries – he’s not in it for the money. I’m the primary earner. He’s in it because he loves teaching art, not because he’s ambitious.

              1. AGirlCalledFriday*

                Oh well in that case – best of luck to you both! Maybe when I’m older and don’t need the money so much I’ll go back to it…

          2. Jeanne*

            People like this get authority in schools the same way we get bad managers anywhere. Schools aren’t different.

        6. ScarletNumber*

          I think teaching is a whole other kettle of fish when it comes to these things.

      4. ThursdaysGeek*

        I was on a PIP once too. We had a new manager, and he made me a tester, which was something I hadn’t done before. I think I made a good try at it, in spite of no training, but he thought I was too slow, plus I wasn’t willing to work 50 hours a week, which was what he decided was the minimum needed to be meeting expectations. I left. He was gone not too much later.

        He would not have given me a good review, and I’ve not been interested in keeping in contact with him. But the other people I worked with depended on me, and I worked well there for 6+ years before he came.

        1. Anna*

          In one of my very first out-of-high-school jobs (and I’d been working since 14), I was written up twice for being late. The funny thing is, I didn’t know about the first write up until they gave me the second one. They literally said to me, “We forgot to give this to you, so you need to sign this one too. If you get one more you’re fired.” I did sign them, but I wrote on the second one that I hadn’t know about the first one. I worked for a poorly managed fast-food joint.

      5. Pennalynn Lott*

        When I worked for a Microsoft contractor *every single person* went on (and off) PIP all the time. They, too, used it as a “management tool” (when, really, it was management who were the tools).

        I also was put on PIP within a couple weeks of a new, misogynistic manager taking over our department at another company. I was the highest producer, had made President’s Club, sent on a trip to Kauai, and won Rookie of the Year, but he hated women; ergo PIP for me but a steak dinner at a strip club for my male coworkers. At that company, PIPs were used as a way to signal, “I want to fire you, but HR won’t let me without this one step,” so I found a new job before my 30 days were up.

    3. Dana*

      If you’ve already spoken to the reference, this is probably moot, but I’d be very interested in what the former manager was doing to fix the situation with the former employee. If they were mostly bashing out of spite, I feel like their response would be all “well they weren’t worth putting on a PIP” or “we don’t do that here” or other things that would make me question their judgement. If they had concrete ways to tell you “look, we tried to help them and it didn’t work/they were uncooperative” maybe listen to their reference a little more.

    4. Engineer Girl*

      One technique is to talk to the manager again and get specifics. Liars love to use generalizations and labels. They like to use terms such as “bad attitude”, “difficult”, “insubordinate”, “sloppy”. Your job is to ask “can you explain what that means?”. If it is really happening then they can give you detailed specifics. If they are lying then they’ll give you more generalizations. Details will also let you decide for yourself if it is a problem.
      At that point you need to go to the employee and also ask specifics.
      I know I was labeled as having a “bad attitude” because I wrote discrepancy reports when I was told not to even though they are required under our company’s processes. I was also asked to falsify a test report on that same program. The managers wanted to make the software look like it was working. It was actually so bad it had to be re-architected three times.

      1. Engineer Girl*

        Oooh. I just noticed this:

        he didn’t want us to approach them until he’d handed in his notice.

        This is very telling to me. He’s worried about something.

        1. Ask a Manager* Post author

          Maybe, but it’s also the reasonable act of a person who wants his boss to hear he’s leaving from him — not from a reference-checker.

          1. Engineer Girl*

            That’s how I meant it, and am disappointed that so many others took it as though I thought he was hiding something. He could simply be worried about the reaction his manager would give. But a person with no worries wouldn’t put any restrictions on reference checks.

            1. Jazzy Red*

              At one of the places I worked, there was one manager who was batshit crazy. We always suspected that he’d had at least one stroke which affected his judgement and impulse control. He would think it was funny (really, as in humorous) to call the new company of an employee who was leaving and tell them all sorts of terrible things about this person.

              It can be dangerous to your career to have your current employer know that you’re job searching. You never know what a pissed-off or crazy manager might say.

        2. Jeff A.*

          Would you want your current boss to find out you’re leaving through your new employer, or from you?

          I don’t think this is a telling statement at all.

        3. CrazyCatLady*

          Yeah, about losing his current job when his employer finds out he’s looking elsewhere.

        4. Raine*

          I know lawyers who have been worried in the extreme that they’d be fired in an instant if their firm had even the whiff of a scent that they were looking for another job.

        5. John B Public*

          Considering some of the toxic workplaces that have been written about here, I wouldn’t be surprised if didn’t want his work contacted before he gave notice. There also are plenty of places that will escort you off the premises as soon as you give notice- meaning you don’t have an opportunity to grab your contact list or personal effects, or wind up projects and such. Plus there’s the random crazy manager who gets violent. I think I could stand to skip work and call in my resignation in that case. Don’t have that opportunity if your new job calls and spills the beans.

          1. MicheleNYC*

            There are 2 large athletic companies that do exactly this. If you leave one for the other within 24 hours you are asked to pack your things and leave. There is no finishing up projects or sending one last e-mail. You are paid for the 2 weeks and any outstanding PTO.

            1. Not So NewReader*

              One place I worked if you went to work for the competitor you were blacklisted, you could never be rehired.
              This was an improvement, previously, if you got caught shopping at the competitor’s store you were fired immediately. Under the blacklisting plan you could at least shop there if you wanted to.

              OP, is your company a competitor for this new hire’s company? Maybe your company is a “good” company but the new hire’s old company is similar to the one I am describing here. In my story the competitor did not spend time training people but they paid well. And they paid extra for people from my company to go to their’s. It was worth it to the competitor because although my employer paid poorly they did invest in regular training for their employees.

        6. MashaKasha*

          Not telling at all to me. This is how it’s normally done in my world. Giving your management tangible proof that you’re looking for another job is like painting a target on your back. Next time they need to lay somebody off, they’ll go with you – after all, you’re going to leave them soon anyway, since you’re looking.

        7. TootsNYC*

          I’ve never worked anyplace I’ve considered toxic. And I would NOT want you to call my boss for a reference until AFTER you made the decision that I was the one you really, really want to hire.

          I’d want to be confident that this particular reference check was a formality, and not something you were going to use to really shape your decision. Because, well, even though all my bosses were reasonable human beings, I just didn’t want to declare to them, “I’m so unhappy that I’m job hunting” until it’s actually going to happen.

    5. Steve G*

      I’m surprised about how many comments are saying this could be or probably is a disgruntled soon-to-be former boss. Every single day, we read multiple posts (sometimes dozens in the open threads) about horrid or lazy or overstepping coworkers, so why are “we” all now assuming the manager isn’t telling the truth? Is it really a shock that there might be less than stellar worker out there?

      If someone called you out of the blue to ask about a subordinate, it is 100X easier just to tell the truth, rather than make up a bunch of negative, coherent stories on the fly. If the manager was disgruntled and started making up negative stuff, it would either not tell a cohesive story or would be lacking in details.

      1. Raine*

        Because for one thing, until that moment the worker still had a job so presumably wasn’t THAT horrendous to the employer?

        1. John B Public*

          This. If they didn’t fire him before now, he can’t have been all that bad.

        2. Ask a Manager* Post author

          But we don’t know what the reference said. It could have been “we have him on a PIP because his work quality is terrible” or “we’re in the process of replacing him” or “we’re working with him on some serious issues.” Or it could be “he’s good at X, which is 85% of his job here, but he’s terrible at Y,” and Y is a big part of the new job.

      2. Anonymous Educator*

        Because the alarms didn’t go off for the other references (presumably former managers). So if this one manager is badmouthing the employee, this one manager is the outlier. We can’t say with absolute certainty, of course, but it’s a reasonable assumption to make that there’s a strong possibility it’s a disgruntled soon-to-be-former boss. And, yes, we read about those all the time, too!

        1. Ask a Manager* Post author

          See, I don’t think that’s a reasonable assumption either. I think we have no idea what the explanation is. It could be a bad boss. But it could also be a great boss — one who’s finally holding the person to a high standard after a string of inept bosses who didn’t (which explains the other references being fine). Or it could be that this job is a different type of work than the previous jobs. We don’t know, and we can’t assume.

          1. Anonymous Educator*

            I’m not saying it’s definitely the case, just that it would be a reasonable assumption… one of several reasonable assumptions.

      3. Tomato Frog*

        I think the point is to tell the OP this is a possibility that she has a duty to investigate, because this candidate put in his notice. It’s not so much about the probability that the manager is lying as it’s about doing your due diligence so you don’t unnecessarily screw someone over.

      4. Not So NewReader*

        “Every single day, we read multiple posts (sometimes dozens in the open threads) about horrid or lazy or overstepping coworkers, so why are “we” all now assuming the manager isn’t telling the truth? ”

        OP wrote in because the situation bothered her. Buried in between the lines of her question we are reading, “Please help me salvage this situation, I do not want to be responsible for a person becoming unemployed.” Although it is an odd way of expressing it ,we are actually on OP’s side. We are reading her question as “noooo, I don’t want to do this. Give me something to hold on to here” and we are giving her food for thought.

        It looks like everything else about this person checked out okay. It’s not a huge leap in logic to assume that something is up with the boss that gave the reference.

        So, yes, we do hear the horrid coworker stories here, but we also go case-by-case when we are thinking about an OP’s situation. Had OP wrote different details than what she did, probably our advice would change. Even if OP jumped in to add details in the comment section we might change our advice- we have done that before. Matter of fact, I have seen people say, “If I had known this before, my earlier post would have been way different.”

      5. Katie*

        I agree. I am chasing down my former boss now as my current one promised me a good reference and then back tracked big time! I am in teaching, have an interview for my dream job this week and have every expectation my boss will sabotage me again. However, when thinking about it I realised my SLT is so bad they are actually not capable of giving good ones as they are all complete incompetents.

        I would ask for other references from the current job as if the person hasn’t got anyone willing to vouch for them that says more than a manager who may be less than honest.

    6. Retail Lifer*

      Upper management here doesn’t really like me (they don’t like most of us, actually) but I haven’t gievn them any concrete reasons to fire me. I’m making my sales numbers, my team is caught up with training, I show up and do what I’m supposed to do, etc. This is the only job I’ve ever had where I fear what the reference would say.

    7. Stranger than fiction*

      Even a pip can be trumped up by a bad manager and could be why hes looking

    8. Liane*

      I had a friend who almost lost out on an internal opportunity over PIP Abuse by a toxic manager (not even someone he reported to!) and an HR person. I don’t feel comfortable giving the details, since it is Friend’s Workplace Horror Story and not mine, but suffice it to say there was forgery, the HR person was fired and the manager was given a written warning and a harsh lecture.

      Note: by Friend’s account, (Corporate) HR did their job well. They were on it within a day and had everything resolved quickly. And Friend got the position he wanted.

      1. Not So NewReader*

        Wow, that is great. I think you friend works for a decent company. Nice to hear these things do happen.

  7. My 2 Cents*

    A LOT of managers are total dicks about employees who are resigning, so I wouldn’t put much stock in the person’s response. It’s the boyfriend/girlfriend who has been broken up with scenario, they are stung by it and bitter. Unfortunately there is not the majority of people that you would think that are mature enough to understand that this is part of business and they need to rise above it.

  8. Cambridge Comma*

    I think everything hinges on what exactly about the reference made you “think that he is definitely not the person for the job” whereas everything else you found out in the recruitment process gave you the opposite impression.
    Your retracting the offer may serve the interests of the person who gave the bad reference, if they want the candidate to have no choice but to keep working there.
    If I read about a company doing this on Glassdoor (retracting an offer after the candidate had given notice for something that wasn’t criminal) I would definitely think twice about applying there, so you may cost yourself future applicants in the long run.

    1. AndersonDarling*

      Agreed, I would stay way from any company that retracts offers. Actually, if I found out they check references after the offer, that would be enough for me to question their hiring practices.
      How often does the OP get good references from the candidate’s current manager? There was only one time in my career that I was in a situation where my boss would be supportive of me looking for another employer. The other 70% of my bosses would be ticked.

      1. Kyrielle*

        I am now working at a place that makes the offer contingent on the background check, including references – but they are VERY up front about that, and you can include or not include your current place of work. Plus they tell you how long it should take, so you can tailor your “start date” to allow you to give notice _after_ the background check clears.

    2. LizaNW*

      “I think everything hinges on what exactly about the reference made you “think that he is definitely not the person for the job” whereas everything else you found out in the recruitment process gave you the opposite impression.”


  9. BRR*

    In general what’s the norm for contacting a current employer for a reference? Is it to make an offer contingent upon it, skip it?

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      It varies. Employers are more likely to want to do it if you’ve been at your current job for a very long time (and so all your other references are from a long time ago) or if this is the only job that directly relates to the new one.

      1. Mallory Janis Ian*

        When I was being screened for my current new job, they wanted to talk to my current manager, but I talked them out of it because I hadn’t told him that I was looking. They said that if my other references were very good, that they would forgo talking to the current manager. Also, my then-current manager had also been my manager at my immediately previous job for the preceding six years, as he had hired me to work at his private firm from that job (I considered THAT his reference of me). In the end, they were satisfied with talking to my former manager and a senior admin from that job, but I was sweating it for a little bit. I didn’t want to let my boss know that I was looking until I actually had a job offer.

    2. Cordelia Naismith*

      I’m not a hiring manager, but I think generally you check references before extending an offer, not after. If you can’t reference call their current employer because they’ve asked you not to, as in this case, I think most people generally find other references to check with. As this letter demonstrates, making offers contingent upon a reference check only works if the references are good.

      1. Cordelia Naismith*

        Whoops! I should really hit refresh before I comment, especially when I’ve had the tab open a while.

      2. TootsNYC*

        I agree! I don’t want to commit MYself until I’m sure, and if I need a reference in order to be sure, then I check that first.

        If they really don’t want me to check w/ their current boss, I guess I’d be asking for some senior colleagues at their company, and I’d be asking for some concrete info, and carefully evaluating their credibility.

        I’ve been a “senior colleague” reference for lots of people, and by the time I’m done, the reference-receiver has a very clear picture of that person’s strengths and weaknesses. I often have a really clear picture of what someone does, and how good they are at it. Sometimes better than their boss would.

        So I am inclined to think that it’s possible to get an accurate reference from someone who is not your current manager. And if I like you enough to seriously consider hiring you, then I’m willing to do the extra work of sifting through this sort of reference.

  10. Ann*

    It’s not clear to me whether this policy (offer contingent on current boss’s reference) is a company policy. The OP said that the applicant offered the reference himself, but was that after the OP requested it? If so, that policy should probably be reconsidered for all the reasons that other commenters have mentioned. But even if the applicant himself asked that you use his manager as a reference, it would be the right thing on your part to do a little more digging.

    1. Delyssia*

      I completely agree. I can’t tell from what’s written if the applicant offered the current employer as one of the references completely unprompted, or if it was required (or strongly encouraged or somesuch). If the OP’s company is asking applicants to provide their current employer as a reference, I’d encourage them to reconsider.

      Though, either way, especially since it appears it was just one negative reference, I think it’s worthwhile to try to find out the other side of the story and then make a decision.

    2. Anna*

      The OP said the applicant asked they not contact the current employer until he’d put in his notice, which is still problematic.

      1. Ann*

        Of course, but I just couldn’t tell if this was something that the OP needed to rethink at the company level. A lot of people (including me) are saying, “You should reconsider your policy of requiring the current manager’s reference,” but it’s not clear whether there even is such a policy. If the applicant specifically offered his current manager as a reference, then I think that’s maybe not the best idea, but I understand why the OP felt the need to call the manager. That said, it probably should have occurred to the OP that a reference in this situation might not be made in 100% good faith, hence the need for extra legwork.

  11. TotesMaGoats*

    +1 to everyone saying talk to him or talk to another reference. there could be so many things going on. i’d also like to know what the reference actually said.

    1. Stranger than fiction*

      Also super curious what was said during interviews about why hes leaving. I understand you cant trash talk your current employe while interviewing but often the interviewee should be able to read between the lines if hes unhappy at current job

  12. MissyMay*

    I have a former colleague who will always give me a bad reference. She more than likely has Borderline Personality Disorder (look up splitting as it relates to BPD). I’m not the only person she does this to. She’s intelligent and articulate but a very unhappy person who feels she is responsible for administering all the justice in the world.

    1. MissyMay*

      I will also add that I left one job due to the incompetence of the management and was let go from another when I discovered my employer was committing fraud.

  13. MsMollyD*

    You also mentioned that the job comes with a three month probationary period, so if you’re still on the fence why not give the candidate that three month trial run? I know it would be a pain to have to redo the search after three months, but if it’s a question of one bad reference, it might be worth giving the candidate a chance to show what they can do in person and make up your own mind.

    1. Mike C.*

      This is what I’m thinking. Look for the specific issues that were brought up and see what happens. There has to be a reason they made it to the top of the pile to begin with, right?

      1. neverjaunty*

        Argh, no. This attitude is exactly why so many rainmakers and superstars get away with being horrible people at work. “Yes, but his sales figures are great…” “Sure, he’s a complete glassbowl, but he must be good at what he does or he would never have made it this far, right?”

        1. Mike C.*

          No, because once they show themselves to be a jerk you can cut them loose. If it turns out that one reference was being vindictive you haven’t financially ruined them.

          1. Kat M*

            Eh, I think it’s a bit of a stretch to think the person was “ruined.” And, regardless, it’s not the company’s concern.

            1. Cat*

              Whether or not someone is “ruined,” not needlessly subjecting people to what could be long-term unemployment is the concern of decent people, generally.

          2. neverjaunty*

            And in the meantime, they’ve inflicted their jerkiness all over your company and your other employees, and you have to deal with the costs of turnover.

            It really isn’t a dilemma between “ruining” somebody and just assuming bad reference are all lies.

            1. Anna*

              Why assume he’s a jerk, though? I don’t understand. We have a 6mos probationary period where I work. They just recently let someone go at the end of their probationary period because it was clearly not working out. That’s what the period is for. There was a reason that this person rose to the top of the PAPER pile and clearly they did well enough in their interview. But on the job it became really obvious that they were not cut out for the role and they were cut loose.

              1. neverjaunty*

                I didn’t say he must be a jerk. I said that the attitude that problematic reference can be safely ignored because ‘well there has to be a reason he rose to the top of the pile’ enables jerks. People occasionally comment that it’s amazing how many co-workers they’ve had with horrible behavior who nonetheless manage to land and keep jobs in this economy – well, this is one reason.

                1. Cat*

                  But Mike C. wasn’t, I think, saying “his paper credentials are great so he must be fine.” I think he was saying “apparently everything else including the other references and in-person interview checked out, so what are the odds that this particular thing is a deal-killer?”

                2. Ask a Manager* Post author

                  @Cat, it depends. After all, think about how many people are incompetent at their jobs; we hear about them here all the time. They too presumably looked fine on paper and had okay references, but it’s possible that they could have one reference who actually had high standards and saw their ineptness.

    2. Anonaconda*

      This is what I was coming here to say. You already have a contingency plan for letting this person go if it turns out they’re not who you thought they were. Unless we’re talking about accusations of illegal activity, or behavior that would open the company up to a liability, why not move forward with the trial period? (After speaking to the employee, of course.)

      I also have to say that the language quoted in the letter did not make it clear to me that the offer could be rescinded based on a negative reference. You might want to verbally emphasize this to applicants in the future.

      1. Not the Droid You are Looking For*

        Our offer letters used to state the reasons an offer could be rescinded, but at that point it was just the background check.

        We were expected to call references prior to making an offer. A few of my hires stated it made the offer letters sounds “scary,” but it always felt very fair.

        1. Jerry Vandesic*

          I would wait until your company completed the background check before I would resign. That might push a start date out a bit longer, but it sounds like that’s the process your company chooses to follow. Not a big deal.

          1. Not the Droid You are Looking For*

            I think that is totally fair :) I just appreciated that it stated something along the lines, “Your offer may be rescinded for the following reasons:” rather than “contingent on a successful background check.”

            From our HR department’s perspective by the time I was submitting offer letter paperwork, the only thing that should cause an offer to be rescinded is if it came out that they had something that came up on a criminal background check that hadn’t been noted on the application.

            There was even a little check box on the new hire form that said “I have completed a satisfactory reference check.”

    3. TootsNYC*

      This is what I’m thinking. Unless you’re talking a serious liability for your company, I think this is what that period is for.
      If the person can do the job to your satisfaction in those three months, it almost doesn’t matter what anybody else thinks of her/him at previous jobs.

      And I sort of thought that’s what the probationary period was for–to substitute for the fact that you can’t really check on their recent work, bcs it’s so rude to contact their current manager -before- you are committed to them.

      I also think you have a responsibility to work with someone throughout that probationary period. You’ve asked a lot of them, to commit to you, and give up an existing job, or a continuing job hunt. You should be putting in some effort here! If they’re not performing well, you should be training them, giving them feedback. You really should be doing almost as much work as you’d do if they were a 3-year employee who was suddenly not doing well. PIP-level work, almost, even if your company’s policies allow you to fire them without a formal PIP.

  14. YandO*

    I don’t think I would accept an offer contingent on a reference from my current employer. It would be a complete crapshoot. They might give me glowing review or they might turn me into “the worst thing that ever happened to our business” like they do with every single person who came before me. Co-owner spent an hour telling me what a horrible person was that assistant who DARED to get a job with a good salary, benefits, and promotion potential after she graduated college. They treated her like daughter and she LIED to them. She USED them.

    Or that other woman who stupid. Or the other one who was bipolar and would not do any work and only cry. Or the third one. The fourth. The tenth. Every single one of them was terrible. Besides me, naturally. I am to “never leave us or I will hunt you down”

    References are very important but for the love of common sense please remember that there are MANY employers who lie, exaggerate, don’t know how to handle conflict, feel bitter and angry, have history of mistreating their employees and then blaming those employees for leaving.

    My employer has a lot of things to rave about when it comes to my performance. And lots of things he can say to ruin my reputation, which will be true but not in context. Like he can say I was often late to work without mentioning that I often stayed late for client meetings, where I was non-exempt employee and they did not pay overtime. I could work for free or I could cut my hours. Is he going to explain that to a reference checker? Not a chance.

    He blamed old employee for using work phone for personal use, but he told me specifically on numerous times to get rid off my personal phone and use work phone as primary phone. I declined and then I found out that he did the same with old employee and then fired her using that as justification.

    Please, talk to the guy. Really.

    1. Bekx*

      Yes, same thing with my last job.

      Guy before me: “Oh, well he didn’t really know what he was doing.”
      Guy before him: “He didn’t want to work full time.”
      What she told the woman who took my place: “Well, this wasn’t really what Bekx wanted to do.”
      What she told the person who took the woman after me’s place: “You know, she was just out of college. She wasn’t really prepared to have a full time job.”

      My old boss actually liked me, but she always had a reason as to why the people who left the company were WRONG and how it had NOTHING to do with her. “She wasn’t dedicated to the cause.”, “We wanted to fire him anyways but he would have probably claimed racism.” (ugh!!), “She and I never really saw eye to eye.” There was always an excuse.

      1. NickelandDime*

        This is wrong. Why not keep it neutral, like, “They wanted to explore new opportunities.” If I heard something like this in an interview, it would raise a red flag for me. People leave. Why play The Blame Game?

        1. UKAnon*

          I guess that’s why it can be good to ask in interviews why the position is open. “He would probably have claimed racism” would have me running for the hills because anyone who could actually say that out loud is, not to put too fine a point on it, probably a bit racist.

            1. UKAnon*

              Exactly! If they stay neutral it gives you nothing, so it’s never going to sell the job to you (except “Oh, everyone in the position for more than 5 years is given a new role earning at least a million dollars a year”, in which case sold) but it can definitely put you off forever…

            2. Bekx*

              First job out of college. I think I DID ask but they gave me some bs answer like “He wanted to freelance” and then a week later they started complaining about him and how he didn’t know what he was doing.

              She also told me to “Read a book” to learn Java when I told her I didn’t know that language and she wanted me to write a program from scratch. It’s on the computer, so of course I would know how to do it! That’s why I get paid! /s

              1. James M.*

                Ouch! Personally, use of java is a deal breaker. Not because of the language/runtime environment, but because I’ve known too many buddies who did a stint in a java shop. It’s not worth the risk, imho.

    2. Courtney*

      That’s my employer to the letter. They’re a good employee until they leave and suddenly they were so awful “it’s good we are rid of them”.

    3. Jo*

      I’ve heard similar things at my job. This one coworker, she bad mouths everyone who previously worked there but when they come back to the office to say hello, she is the first person to run over and hug them and say hello. And a lot of times, she quotes things that aren’t facts but hearsay.

    4. Three Thousand*

      They treated her like daughter and she LIED to them. She USED them.

      Wow. I have very little doubt they treated her exactly as they would their own daughter.

  15. RVA Cat*

    You already have a 3 month probationary period. If the reference was correct, then any continuing problems should come up during that time. I can’t see what could be so bad that the reference said that wouldn’t allow you to give him a few months – since obviously they did not fire him for it.

    1. AnonPi*

      I was thinking along the same lines – unless you talk to him about this bad reference and find out that there really is something majorly wrong you missed, then do the 3 month probation and see how he work out. That way you’re not missing out on a potentially good employee over one bad reference (that in my mind would be questionable when its coming from the currently employer anyways), and if it doesn’t work out after the probation then cut him loose.

  16. Mike C.*

    So OP, what do you expect a candidate to do once they’ve had to resign from their current job and you decided for some reason to pull the offer at the last minute? Do you believe they can simply get their old job back or what?

    1. neverjaunty*

      On the flip side, what does the employee expect will happen if the offer is contingent on a reference he told them not to check before he accepted the offer, and where the job was explicitly probationary? Are you arguing that a new employer always owes somebody a job because they would be unemployed otherwise?

      Look, I agree with everyone here who has pointed out that the OP’s next actions 1) depend on what the ‘bad reference’ actually was and 2) what the employee has to say about it. But it’s not as though OP deliberately screwed up his old job, or pretended that the offer was firm when it was secretly dependent on references. Going on rabid attack as if she did really isn’t helpful here.

      1. Mike C.*

        No, I’m saying that you shouldn’t offer someone a job and then yank back the offer once they’ve resigned from their current job.

        Furthermore, there are many, many ways to get this sort of information without having the candidate risk their livelihood, so given that, why must the OP hire people in this manner?

        1. Shell*

          But the post says one of the applicant’s references is his current employer. Most applicants choosewhich references to put on their shortlist for employers to call, so if he chose to put his current employer as a reference, isn’t this a predicament of his own making?

          1. AGirlCalledFriday*

            But that actually makes me feel like the problem is the management, not the candidate. I would imagine that if the candidate thought it would be a bad reference, it would not have been provided.

            1. Shell*

              We’ve had stories on this site where applicants were still blithely listing their previous managers as references despite the fact they performed poorly under said managers. This can really go either way.

          2. Kelly L.*

            It sounds like this particular applicant might have, but some hiring managers will call other people from your work history even if you didn’t list them specifically as references, and indeed Alison has recommended this, IIRC.

            1. Shell*

              Alison has indeed recommended this, however, I feel like any reader of Alison’s site would know that it’s pretty gauche to call current employers as a matter of course since it puts applicants at a significant disadvantage. So given that, I’m leaning towards the applicant volunteering his current employer as a reference, hence why he gave notice first.

              1. Mike C.*

                Most readers would also know that drug testing for the vast majority of office jobs is incredibly dumb but it’s still incredibly common.

              2. Anna*

                I don’t think that’s the case. If it were, why ask that they wait until he gave his notice? It seems weird to me. It sounds more like they require all managers and he asked them to do him a favor and not contact his current manager until he gave notice.

          3. AndersonDarling*

            I assumed that it was a required reference. The application wanted the names of all managers and has a little checkbox that says “Can we contact?” I think I have had that on every application I’ve filled out, but I don’t expect then to actually contact my current employer.

            1. Anna*

              Exactly this. It sounds like a requirement, especially since he asked they not contact that reference until he gave notice.

          4. Mike C.*

            Given the request to hand in a resignation before the reference was called, I get the impression that this wasn’t a choice.

          5. the gold digger*

            My current job told me they would contact my then-current employer, SergioLandia, which had me in a cold sweat. They would not not do it. I had no idea what HR would say and I had no choice in the matter.

          6. Liane*

            “Choose”? Hmm, AAM has stated many times that prospective employers *don’t have to* go only with references chosen by the candidate, and* shouldn’t* do so.

        2. neverjaunty*

          So if you offer somebody a job and then find out afterward that they hid critical information that would have kept them from being hired, is it wrong to “yank back the offer” because then it would be financially harmful to them?

          It’s a problematic situation because the employer wants to know what the person’s current job is like, but the employee doesn’t want to get fired by giving their current boss as a reference. OP’s company disclosed up front that it was a contingent offer with a probationary period. The fair thing is to do everything possible to find out if this is, in fact, a deal-breaker, and “bad reference from immediate past boss” is likely not one.

      2. AGirlCalledFriday*

        The candidate may not have screwed up his old job either. Many jobs are probationary but barring extreme circumstances employees aren’t often let go. A new employer doesn’t ‘owe’ anyone a job, but the OP checked the other references and based on those and the candidate determined that this particular candidate was the best person for the job. I really, REALLY don’t understand the necessity of consulting the most recent employer. Such a reference is hardly likely to be unbiased. The candidate has interviewed and accepted in good faith, the OP’s company is not. A candidate with stellar references – enough to be considered the best candidate – is hardly likely to be a terrible employee in disguise. It’s a lot more likely that a great candidate left a toxic job or had some sort of personal situation.

        Now, if the reference stated that the candidate did something dangerous or illegal, that obviously trumps all. But again, I think that’s not very likely.

    2. NickelandDime*

      You’re right Mike C. This puts the job seeker at a terrible disadvantage. I know this wasn’t what the OP intended, but it does. They really need to re-evaluate doing this in the future.

    3. LBK*

      I’m not sure why that’s the OP’s problem – they didn’t require the candidate to give notice. The letter says he didn’t want them to contact the old employer until he’d resigned, not the other way around.

      1. Mike C.*

        Social convention would say otherwise. Surely you don’t think it’s a great idea for your current boss to be directly contacted by someone who may or may not be offering you a job, right?

        1. LBK*

          I’m not on board with the idea of contacting the current employer overall, but if it’s going to be done, I don’t see why that requires giving your notice first. If they’re going to be bitter and give you a bad reference, I can’t see it making much difference whether you’ve officially quit first or not.

          Your comment made it sound like the OP required the candidate to quit his job while only giving a contingent offer, which isn’t what happened.

          1. De (Germany)*

            Your boss hearing about you leaving for the first time and then being asked for a reference on your work should really not happen in the same phone call. That’s just a recipe for a very bad reference.

            1. LBK*

              Huh? I’m not suggesting that you just shouldn’t say anything and let your manager receive the reference call without warning – you can tell your manager that you’ve been job searching and need a reference without giving your notice in the same conversation.

              1. Mike C.*

                Don’t you think that it might have negative repercussions in a lot of workplaces?

                1. LBK*

                  You think it’s going to go better to quit and guarantee an end to your employment than to stay in a potentially negative environment where at least you still might be able to keep your paycheck for a little longer if things don’t work out with the offer?

                  Faced with the decision to a) not quit and risk my manager reacting poorly or b) quit and then attempt to get my job back if the offer falls through, I’d easily choose A.

                  And for what it’s worth, I think it’s less common that it will have negative repercussions than you’re asserting. In many cases managers know when it’s time for their employees to move on, and even if they’re panicked or frustrated at the thought of having to fill the position, they’re not likely to be truly vindictive.

                2. Not So NewReader*

                  One place my husband worked anyone that gave notice was fired immediately. You see this over and over and it would be foolish to believe that this would NOT happen to you. Of course if you give notice, you too, will be fired on the spot. We are talking fired as in no severance, no insurance, and escorted to the door.

              2. De (Germany)*

                So, in that scenario, what if your boss gets called and then you don’t get the new job? It could take months before you are finally able to leave and I don’t think the majority of bosses will be happy with this scenario (knowing their employee is only staying until they found something better, and actively looking)

                1. LBK*

                  Is that worse than being unemployed? I’m not sure the stress of navigating that situation is any worse than the stress of not having a paycheck.

                2. Seattle Writer Girl*

                  A former employee of my husband’s was fired this Febraury after he was overheard asking for references–for the Master’s degree program he was applying to start in the fall (9 months away). And not only did he lose his job but he was also forced to sign a resignation notice (rather than a termination) so he wasn’t able to file for unemployment.

                  This stuff really happens, People. Beware!

                3. A Cita*

                  How was he forced to sign that? I’m curious how they coerced him into it. I mean, they already fired him, so what more could they do to him. No way would I sign that, unless there was something else on the table like a nice severance package.

                4. Not So NewReader*

                  @ A Cita, well for starters they can order everyone in the place not to talk to you. Anyone caught talking to you will be written up for insubordination.

                  I have seen people have their work taken away from them so they have nothing to do all day. Then they write you for not doing anything. I have seen people buried in killer work loads. Then you get written for not meeting your goals.

                  They can threaten you with write ups all day long for every move you make.

                  I am sad that I know this stuff. Yes, I have seen people decide that being without food is preferable than having their job.

                5. A Cita*

                  @Not So New Reader

                  That’s truly awful. I’m glad I’ve never seen that in my years of working.

                  However, I was wondering how they forced him to sign a paper saying he resigned rather than terminated so he couldn’t collect unemployment. He was already fired. They’re never going to give him a good reference. What could they hold over his head to make him also give up his unemployment benefits?

                6. Not So NewReader*

                  @ A Cita. If you have a good friend at work they can threaten to fire the friend. In more rural areas, they can tell you that they will put it out there what a lousy worker you are so that no one will hire you. This also works in slightly more populous areas if jobs in your field are scarce. Yes, you can get blacklisted. In the past I saw a boss tell an employee that he would block the employee from getting Cobra. (but-but-but— yeah, I know– it shows you how dim the boss was.) They can tell you that you broke the company car and if you do not sign you will have to pay for the repairs. Skip the part about how it was not you who broke the car. And some people give in just because the boss is screaming at them and they want the screaming to stop. I am sure there are plenty of other examples out there.

            2. puddin*

              Not to mention the fallout if you decide not to take the job and have to interact, face reviews, contribute etc. at the current job.

          2. Anna*

            Right. He specifically asked that they wait, which kind of sounds like they require applicants to provide current management as a reference and there isn’t much room for negotiation.

            1. LBK*

              That still doesn’t mean that he had to quit first, though. That was his own choice knowing that he only had a contingent offer.

              1. Mike C.*

                There aren’t many options here if the candidate needs to get out of their current job.

              2. Anna*

                But in this specific case it becomes a loop of craziness. The offer was contingent on him getting good references. He asked that they not contact his current manager until he gave notice. He gave notice believing he would get a good reference and with a contingent offer. The offer was contingent on him getting good references, etc. Do you see the problem? What if they were REALLY shoddy and said it was a contingent offer based on references and then didn’t check them until after the person started working? We know it’s happened. There was no good outcome for this process. If the reference is because the manager is pissed he’s moving on, then the applicant telling the manager they should expect a reference call soon for a position would mean the manager would still give a bad reference, then the company would have pulled the contingent offer, and now the applicant is left without the new job and now at a job that knows he’s trying to leave. What if the applicant said nothing? Then the manager would have found out from a call for a reference. Outcome the same. Basically even if the reference was accurate, the hiring company did not handle this in the best way possible for all people involved.

  17. Ad Astra*

    Oh man, this would be my worst nightmare as a job seeker. Job offers contingent on a positive reference from your current manager make it incredibly difficult to get out of a toxic workplace or bow out gracefully from a situation that’s not a good fit.

    1. Liz*

      It’s not at all uncommon in other countries. I can think of plenty of jobs I, my family and friends have had where there was a 3-6 month probationary period and offers were made contingent on references. It’s like “subject to survey” when selling a house.

      1. Schnauz*

        Not quite the same as “subject to survey” since you can have a survey done yourself to avoid surprises. You can’t exactly call up your employer to see what reference they would give you if you’re trying to not tip them to the fact you’re looking.

      2. Brightwanderer*

        But there are often accompanying legal protections for workers in those countries that don’t exist in the US. For example in the UK references are generally written not conversational, and employers must keep them completely factual. Because they’re written down it is easier to challenge a malicious bad reference that is factually inaccurate, and so most employers are very very wary of ever giving bad references. (Even when warranted, which is the unfortunate flip side.)

        1. Ad Astra*

          Ah, yes. We have almost no legal protections in the U.S., so maybe that’s why this bothers me more than it bothers some of the other people commenting. Other countries also have stronger safety nets for the unemployed (right? That’s my understanding, anyway), so losing a job might not be as financially devastating in many other developed countries.

    2. AndersonDarling*

      Especially because we are told to not badmouth our current employer in interviews. You’re between a rock and a hard place. Do you say your boss is crazy? Or do you stay respectful, keep your mouth shut, and hope they don’t contact your current boss?

      1. Mike C.*

        This is also a great point. I can’t tell you how many times an interviewed would press me on the reasons for leaving. I gave all the normal bullshit answers, they saw through the bullshit and I could never say, “I’m trying to leave a toxic workplace”.

        1. neverjaunty*

          There’s an art to telling an interviewer “because it was a toxic nightmare” without coming right out and saying so. It’s surprising how many employers value that skill.

          1. Mike C.*

            It’s a bullshit skill. I shouldn’t be asked to lie or otherwise make impossible decisions during an interview. It’s incredibly unethical.

            1. MissyMay*

              I think if you can calmly describe the problems of your previous employer/employment without going off the deep end while accepting whatever might be your responsibility in the situation, people should accept that. If you still sound emotionally distraught, that is probably a red flag.

            2. Graciosa*

              No, you shouldn’t be asked to lie, but I don’t think answering a question about why you’re leaving a position requires lying. There may be a whole host of reasons beyond getting away from a toxic boss and incompetent management team.

              If that’s the environment you’ve worked in, you probably
              1) have learned as much as you can in your current role (so that you’re looking forward to the exciting challenges available at NewCo),
              2) are anxious to move to an environment that offers more opportunities to develop your skills,
              3) have reached the point where you realize that you and your current employer have different visions of your role, or
              4) have realized that opportunities to advance your career at CurrentJob are regrettably limited, forcing you to consider other alternatives to progress as a professional in your field.

              Yes, you are expected to choose an explanation that doesn’t involve badmouthing your current employer (however well deserved).

              If you can’t bear to do this (and settle for telling only the truth, but not the whole truth) you’re certainly free to make that choice, but I don’t see why that puts the interviewer in the wrong for having asked the question and heard your honest answer.

      2. lawsuited*

        You should be respectful, but you don’t have to keep your mouth shut. I think you have to share specific difficulties you had in your previous workplace, without using angry, bitter or otherwise emotional language, in order to gauge whether the new workplace operates differently or whether it is more of the same. When asked why I was leaving my old job, amoung other things, I commented that my boss was in the office approximately once per week, and so my most common communication with her was via the 20-60 emails per day she sent me (mostly after regular working hours), which was not a strong fit for my working style. My new boss was able to read between the lines that my problem was an absentee boss, and assured me that she is in the office every day and would communicate primarily by regular update meetings rather than email. She wasn’t lying, and I’m happier than I’ve ever been at work.

        1. Mike C.*

          The owner of the last company I worked for abused the H1-B visa system, hide laboratory operations from our auditors and was an abusive bully. How do you talk about that while “remaining professional”?

          1. Soupspoon McGee*

            “I am leaving because I expressed concerns about safety and ethics.” Still not ideal.

        2. Ad Astra*

          This is one of those situations where it really helps to devise and practice a diplomatic answer, so you’ve got it ready to go when an interviewer asks.

    3. BRR*

      This particular post has made me pretty anxious as I’m trying to get out of a situation that’s a bad fit.

      1. Ad Astra*

        If it makes you feel any better, I’ve never had a job offer that was contingent on a reference from my current manager.

  18. YandO*

    you know what really makes me frustrated about contingent offers? Not even the offers themselves, but the attitude employers have when potential employees pause at the thought of consequences. I just had contingent offer on background check. I am sure it will come back fine, but I am not cool giving notice until it does. However, their start date is so soon that I have to give notice right of way. And their annoyance with me and them acting like I am such high maintenance for having an issue with this is a huge red flag in my book.

    1. hayling*

      Good call. You never know what a background check will drag up. Sometimes they will screw up and it will take a long time before they get correct information.

    2. Chriama*

      That’s totally a red flag. If they can’t be flexible on the start date & they also want run a background check, they should at least commit to making sure the check is completed really quickly. I might back out of a job if the employer acted like that.

    3. Not the Droid You are Looking For*

      I was kind of taken back the first time I had a potential hire tell me that they would not be willing to give notice until everything was complete and all contingencies were gone. It wasn’t a huge deal to push things back, it was just the first time I heard it.

      His background check came back fine, I sent over a PDF of his signed offer letter and he gave his notice that day. My boss was a little grumpy, but my thought was, if this is what he needs to feel comfortable, it’s totally worth it for a great candidate.

      1. Anna*

        And it makes sense to do it that way. It was an inconvenience for you guys, but not a major one I’m guessing, and it offers the applicants the most protection they can work out.

        1. Not the Droid You are Looking For*

          The only slight inconvenience was that it meant he would finish training (4 weeks) right as our busy season started, as opposed to having a week in between.

          But honestly, it was so worth taking an extra week on the front end to make he felt comfortable rather than pushing him into something (or losing him) to meet a time table.

      2. CrazyCatLady*

        I think anyone who gives notice without making sure contingencies are taken care of is being a bit careless or naive. Even knowing there would be nothing bad on my background check, who knows what would be a deal-breaker for the employer. I want to make sure the offer is completely firm before giving notice at my current job – otherwise I could end up unemployed.

        1. Kyrielle*

          Or is in a lucky situation. I gave notice before the final background-check contingency. But the new company had told me very clearly what they were background checking and I was confident of the results; and I was a very valuable employee at my prior company and confident in my ability to ‘change my mind’ (if I agreed to stay a while!) if I absolutely had to.

          And my husband was employed full time in a good job; being completely wrong would mean painful economies, not a disaster.

          But that’s a really rare set of circumstances, and I was _still_ a lot happier when the background check cleared.

          (I also wanted to give notice first because they’d need to contact my current employer – but in this case for one of the good reasons Alison mentions; I’d worked there 17 years, and it was my only industry-relevant job. Yes, I could provide a couple former managers as references, but the most recent one not with the company didn’t respond when I reached out to him, and the one before that was…8 years prior, I think? Not ideal.)

        2. Not the Droid You are Looking For*

          What’s crazy was thinking about the times I had given notice with a “contingent upon background check” on my offer letter. Until I had someone say, I’ll wait to give notice after everything clears, it had never crossed my mind.

        3. Erin*

          This is a good point, although it doesn’t help our OP or the person they’re hiring (or not hiring). But yes, I admittedly did not even think of this before. He should have had a firm offer in writing before giving notice. =/

      3. lawsuited*

        Right, the relative risk-reward of this kind of offer doesn’t make sense. The risk for the employee is that they may be left jobless if they give notice at their current job and then the new job offer falls through. The reward for the employer is a start date 2 or so weeks sooner. The scant reward to the employer is not worth the very significant risk to the employee, and employers who don’t recognize that have been too inward-focused, IMO.

    4. Sunshine Brite*

      Same here. My current job pushed back which I was surprised at because it turns out they start people in cohorts for training and one was coming up in 3 weeks. I waited a week and still gave notice before the check came back with my fingers crossed and a little savings in the bank because I needed to try to make the leap. I had the advantage of previous checks because my job is always going to be contingent on background checks and nothing weird came up previously, but still.

    5. Case of the Mondays*

      I think for the feds this is practically required. Your background isn’t complete until 6 months or so into your employment which is ridiculous. It is also redone every so many years.

      1. AnotherFed*

        They do an interim check that covers the basics before you start, and plenty of candidates wait for that to come back clear before they resign from a previous job. They also come talk to you if anything weird comes up before they automatically reject you. For example, my first background check turned up a hit and run report, but it was from halfway across the country and while I was at school (and my car was under a tarp at my parent’s house), so they cleared me and passed that info back to the reporting sheriff’s office.

  19. Taylor*

    Also, as far as I have learned, you never want to say a position is permanent if it really isn’t. It can be seen as a contract and that employee can take you to court saying you promised them a job. If I am wrong, please correct me!

    1. UK Nerd*

      Based on the description of the position, this is probably in the UK, in which case ‘permanent’ is standard terminology for a job that doesn’t have a set time duration. Plus most of us have employment contracts.

      1. Aunt Vixen*

        That’s what it means in the US as well. I am a permanent employee of a contracting company; if they lose the contract I’m on, I’m subject to layoff for lack of work, but right now I’m permanent because I’m not an independent contractor and I’m not a temp.

    2. Anna*

      That’s not what the definition is in the case of employment. It means specifically it isn’t a temp job or a job contingent on funding, or a job with a pre-determined end date. So a researcher position on a specific project might not be permanent, but a research coordinator position in the lab that is working on that project might be.

  20. Dan*

    Things like this make me happy I was laid off from my last job. I actually had former managers go out of their way to set me up at my new gig. And it’s a much better one.

  21. hbc*

    You’re never going to escape the fact that the most recent employer is going to have a lot of negative feelings associated with an employee who left them. They’re either relieved that a problem employee has left, or they’re scrambling to fill in for a good employee and ticked off (at least subconsciously) that they didn’t have the opportunity to line up a fully-trained replacement. It would take a Zen master to give a completely fair, untainted review.

    If you’re not comfortable taking it up with the employee directly for some reason, at least follow up with the other references or find another at the previous company. Or make sure to test out the problem areas quickly and intensively during the three month trial period. Don’t ignore the information, but don’t dismiss it entirely either.

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      I think that first paragraph might be overstating it. I’ve given lots of great references to resigning employees, and I’ve had great references from current employers. (And it’s not just me — I know lots of other people where that’s been true.) It’s not unusual for that to happen. The issue is that it’s also not terribly unusual for there to be bosses who are jerks or have bad judgement.

      1. Not the Droid You are Looking For*

        I have given great references for current employees. In fact, one of the things I was most proud of as a manager was the fact that my team felt completely comfortable coming to me and saying, “I’m ready to move up/on.”

        1. Anna*

          That’s great. I have a manager that I hope is like that. When I’m ready to move on, I think she’ll be sad but understanding. And it wouldn’t even cross her mind to give me a bad reference.

    2. Anonymous Educator*

      hbc, I get what you’re saying, but never going to escape the fact is a bit too absolute a phrasing. Many current managers won’t be the most objective reference for a leaving employee, but I have had a couple managers-at-the-time who’ve given me excellent references. In fact, one of my former managers (when he was my current manager) told me “Just get them [meaning potential future employers] to call me as a reference, and you’ve got the job” while I was searching.

    3. hbc*

      To clarify, I’m not saying that it’s next to impossible to give an overall good review. It’s just that people leaving causes stress for most managers (unless you just saved them a layoff or high turnover is normal or whatever), and it’s hard to not have those feelings at least partially influence your memories, especially in the short term.

      If you call me when I’ve just been digging through the project that ExWorker never completed, I’m going to be thinking about how he tended to leave things 99% done and maybe not be thinking so much about how brilliant and fast he was with everything but the last 1%. It’s human nature to give a stronger review 2 months after the person quits than 2 weeks or 2 days. How much that shifts depends on the self-awareness, jerkiness, and stress management of the manager.

      1. Anonymous Educator*

        And I’m saying most of the time you may be right, but your language sounded very absolute. The last three jobs I left, I gave between three months’ and nine months’ notice that I’d be leaving, so my managers had plenty of time to find and train my replacements. In some cases, I was able myself to train my own replacement and be involved in hiring my replacement. I left impeccably thorough documentation and no unfinished projects. I’m not saying that’s typical or normal… just that it can and does happen (even if infrequently).

        1. hbc*

          Okay, true, I left out the cases where the manager is expecting you to leave and has plenty of time to adjust and plan. So I guess I would say if you’re needing to wait to do the reference check because the employee hasn’t let the old job in on the search, chances are that even the most well-meaning manager isn’t going to be in the best frame of mind.

          It’s probably along the lines that a reference that would/should be 95% positive will be anywhere from 0% to 90% positive while the former manager is doing more work due to that employee’s actions. That 5% is just human nature, probably entirely subconscious.

      2. Graciosa*

        Yes, employee turnover causes stress – but that’s part of the job. I freely admit that there are managers who don’t get this, but there are also managers who do.

        It’s also my job to develop people for promotion, even if it means that yes, I do have to find a replacement.
        I once talked one of my best employees into a job that he wasn’t sure he could do for another manager. It was great for his career, but I lost him from my team.

        This stuff happens. I’m working to develop his successor.

        Not every manager is a jerk.

  22. AGirlCalledFriday*

    We don’t know the details of the candidate in question, but I just want to point out that due to the recession, a LOT of people have not been able to be too picky about places they work at. Especially anyone just starting out or career changing. While I know that there must be plenty of good managers, I have yet to experience one in this country (America) and it’s gotten a lot worse since the recession. Often places that provide opportunity are able to provide that because there’s also a lot of turnover. Honestly, unless the candidate did something illegal/dangerous, I would take most references – especially from an employer the candidate just resigned from!!!! – with a few hundred grains of salt.

    Looking back on my own history, I have had a LOT of terrible managers and employers. I had only two good ones in all of my years working, and I thrived at those places.

  23. NickelandDime*

    And occasionally managers will write in saying they wished employees would be honest about job searches, etc. Stories like this are why people keep it secret.

  24. Laurel Gray*

    A three month probationary period and a bad reference could still breed a pretty great employee. Unfortunately in the professional working world, when a worker tarnishes their image in any way, it never goes away. That old PIP will always be in your file, that period of tardy days while you were dealing with a personal life issue will always be in the mind of your former manager. It seems the only way to start over and have your overall reputation match your knew work ethic/performance is to go to a new company. I think this is something that any and all hiring managers should keep in mind when they do get that iffy reference and they owe it to themselves to talk to the candidate. Fergus may end up being a super star with his name above the title in your organization even though he was an infrequent reoccurring character at his old job.

    1. Jeanne*

      You are right. That one bad thing that happened 4 years ago is still going to be on your manager’s mind. You won’t get the promotions and raises unless you move on to a new company. And your manager could still bring that up in a reference. You can’t win.

  25. Ashley the Nonprofit Exec*

    I would also add that it’s not great to call a position “permanent”. If you are in an at-will employment state, that’s not really the case. You could fire him, you could restructure, layoffs could be necessary, etc. I know it’s just semantics, but people take this stuff at face value, ie, “this job will be here as long as I want it”. Even if you don’t see these types of change on the horizon, this stuff happens.

    How about “regular full-time position” (as opposed to temp) or “long-term position”, etc. ?

    1. UKAnon*

      I wondered if it was outside the US. 3 months, permanent role and a background check involving current (/most recent) employer are all UK standard so I thought maybe they were based elsewhere.

    2. UK Nerd*

      The mention of the three month probationary period makes me suspect the OP is in the UK. In which case, ‘permanent’ just means ‘not temporary’. It’s standard job terminology. Nobody accepts a permanent role thinking that means they’ll never be laid off or fired.

      1. Apollo Warbucks*

        I was just going to post the same thing. It’s a job with no fixed end date not necessarily one that will last forever.

    3. Ad Astra*

      Yeah, that struck me too. I wouldn’t think this would give an employee grounds to sue if they were terminated (but IANAL), but it does imply that the job can’t be taken away, and that’s not a great mentality to foster.

    4. Aunt Vixen*

      Augh, “just semantics” makes me crazy. Semantics is the study of what words mean. If you’re making a semantic distinction between two ways of phrasing a thing, what you’re doing is deciding which of them means what you’re trying to say.

      Of course all employment arrangements are subject to the vagaries of the market and other things – people can be fired or laid off, businesses can close, hey, employees can quit (what if I said I was looking for permanent work and then five years later my boss got all upset when I was ready to move on because “permanent”?). In the world of people getting jobs in the United States, everybody knows or should know that “permanent” doesn’t mean “the job is yours for as long as you want it” any more than “full time” means “24/7.” “Permanent” means “not temporary and not seasonal,” just like “full time” means “40 hours/week.”

      I mean, “full time” means something different when you’re a student (usually 12 or 15 hours a week for an undergraduate; 9 hours a week for a graduate student, in my experience), but nobody thinks a full time student is in class for the same amount of time as a full time employee is at work. Context.

      1. Anna*

        When you start to parse the exact dictionary meanings of words, you’re not going to ever get what you want. That’s only one of the many MANY reasons learning a language is so difficult. Nuance and dictionaries don’t always match up, people!

        Nobody in their right mind would see a position listed as “permanent” and then try to sue if they were fired or laid off because of the reasons you stated. It’s not contract work, it’s not seasonal work, it’s not temporary work. It is permanent work.

      2. 7473 dual J-K flip-flop with clear*

        Augh, “just semantics” makes me crazy. Semantics is the study of what words mean. If you’re making a semantic distinction between two ways of phrasing a thing, what you’re doing is deciding which of them means what you’re trying to say.

        I just want you to know that I love you a lot for saying this.

        1. Aunt Vixen*

          [digital high-five]

          I actually temporarily derailed a meeting with that exact comment once. Couple of techies were arguing about something I don’t even really remember and one of them tried to claim the other guy’s point didn’t matter because “just semantics” and it wasn’t even really my meeting but I couldn’t take it. I said I apologize for interrupting but since you hired me as a writer and editor I really need to stop you here and say that semantics is what you’re arguing about and you shouldn’t dismiss it because yes, it matters what the words mean. Gah!

          I’m pretty surprised I didn’t get yelled at for (politely, but still) blowing my stack like that; luckily there were no clients in the room. (I think if there had been, I’d have kept my mouth shut. Assuming I’d have been in the meeting at all.)

          1. hbc*

            Hah, I’m no editor, but I wouldn’t budge over a specification for something that said it would be 200MB (or something similar.) The senior engineer even knew the 200MB wouldn’t be available by the time we finally launched, and what we really needed was “at least 200MB,” but he kept saying it was the same thing. No, not to the quality department. They won’t care what you meant when they review it in a year and see 201MB, which does not equal 200MB.

            1. Aunt Vixen*

              Man, that drives me bats. Many years ago I was buying a mattress and asked if the delivery also included a bed frame–and the guy said I could either add a bed frame for $100 and get free delivery and haul-away or get the bed frame for free and pay $50 for the delivery and haul-away (or something like that), “so it’s really the same either way.” I finally had to say Listen, I know you’re in sales, but you can’t keep looking me in the eye and telling me fifty bucks is the same as a hundred bucks, because right now I am one of those people who doesn’t have the extra fifty bucks.

          2. 7473 dual J-K flip-flop with clear*

            *chuckle* Great story, thanks for sharing!

            And you say they were ‘techies’? If they were programmers, then they really have no excuse for their ignorance.

            (As time goes on, I’m find myself becoming more and more aware of the insidious nature of the word “just” when it is used as an adverb. When people start saying “it’s just ____” there is often bullshit afoot).

            1. Aunt Vixen*

              It wasn’t a tech spec that they were arguing about – I really don’t remember what it was, but it was something that once they agreed I was right that they couldn’t dismiss the difference as “just semantics” they switched to “just politics” and I certainly couldn’t argue with that.

  26. Jwal*

    OP were the other references glowing, or were they more like “Jwal worked at Firm between Date1 and Date2, and we did not fire her”?

    It sounds like you contacted multiple references, and this was the only one that wasn’t fine. If everyone else is saying the opposite of the current employer then it seems strange to put so much weight on what this one person said, especvially since (like other commenters have said) you’ve got a probabtionary period built into the job anyway…

    1. JMW*

      I thought that, too, until the first time I got a really bad reference. References, in my experience, rarely say anything bad, so when you get one that is bad, you really take notice!

  27. Bee Eye LL*

    In my last two jobs, I left amid layoffs and early (forced) retirements, so the LAST thing I wanted to do was make it known that I was trying to leave. That’s why I would have insisted on not contacting my current manager.

    On the other hand, I’d like to know more about the “bad” reference. Could be an angry former manager or some other bigger issue going on.

  28. Jess*

    I’m surprised by the number of comments taking issue with employers making offers contingent on a reference check from a candidate’s current employer. Sure, it may not be necessary to rely on a current employer’s reference for those candidates with a long history of experience in the field and a number of references from previous employers. But a newer/younger employee in their first job post-college may not have many other references to use, especially references that would be industry specific. (Or say, someone who’s last employer was toxic but current employer is decent.) Employers that are willing to be more flexible in their hiring practices -such as by extending contingent offers when a candidate seems great but doesn’t have the kind of work history that would give a hiring manager many options for getting references- are going to be able to consider candidates with unique job histories that otherwise may not have a shot. This should be a good thing! Employers miss out on great candidates by sticking too rigidly to their processes and overlooking those who may not so cleanly check off every box.

    That being said, I totally agree with Alison that you have a greater responsibility after making an offer to really check out the info and allow the candidate to respond to a negative reference. But after doing all that, if you’re positive this is the wrong person for the job, it’s not wrong to rescind the offer. That’s why it was contingent in the first place.

    1. Anonymous Educator*

      I’m surprised by the number of comments taking issue with employers making offers contingent on a reference check from a candidate’s current employer.

      I’m surprised that you’re surprised. Most people don’t like to announce to their current employers “Hey, I’m leaving for some other job” if there’s a chance the other job won’t happen… and that chance depends on the current employer’s good will!

  29. Retail Lifer*

    I’ve never called someone’s current employer for a reference, even after they gave notice. You can get all of the info you need from their previous employers and their personal references. If you need to verify current rate of pay or that they’re still currently employed, you can always ask them to show you a paycheck. I’ve had employers ask for that and it’s a whole lot better than them tipping off my current employer that I’m job hunting or asking them to say nice things about me after I told them I’m quitting.

    1. Jerry Vandesic*

      Exactly. It’s the same with landlords. You never call the potential tenant’s current landlord for a reference. If the landlord doesn’t want the tenant to leave they will say bad things. If they want them to leave they will say good things. As a result, you call the next-to-last landlord — they don’t have a vested interest in the tenant staying or leaving.

      1. LBK*

        Do landlords really care if tenants leave? Admittedly my perception is probably skewed by living somewhere where you’d probably have the place re-rented in a week anyway but it never occurred to me that that kind of thing would happen with housing reference.

        1. Anonymous Educator*

          Yes. If it’s a good tenant, you don’t want the tenant to leave, because you’ll have a vacancy you need to fill (that takes time and energy), and you may fill it with a bad tenant.

        2. S*

          A landlord of mine in college (I went to a very popular SF Bay Area university, where the rents are high and you will never lack for tenants) was actually pretty upset that we left after just a year– we were always early with the rent and we didn’t throw parties / get noise complaints. The fact that we were Good Tenants trumped the fact that we asked for more repairs than the average apartment in that building.

          He was a very good landlord to us (we got our full deposit back, he gave us some free furniture and lots of baklava), but our neighbors said terrible things about him–the neighbors that were late with the rent all the time and then skipped town and put subletters in place without notifying him…

        3. baseballfan*

          No. Tenants by nature are generally transient. I’ve owned rental properties for 20 years and it is simply par for the course. We know people could move at any time.

          I’ve gotten very few reference requests for past tenants but if I did, my response would be very factual, as in whether they paid rent on time and such as that. I would never be less than matter of fact with a new landlord.

        4. Natalie*

          I’d say it probably depends on the local rental market. The vacancy rate in my city is CRAZY low. When I gave notice just recently, my landlord had a showing lined up in a day and that person took the apartment on first visit. And at the time I was going to be here for 2 more months. I’ve never had an issue with a new landlord talking to an old landlord. But in a much looser rental market, or with a crazy or shitty landlord, I could see it being an issue.

    2. Ad Astra*

      And, really, current rate of pay isn’t your any of your new employer’s business, but many of them seem to think it is. Sigh.

      1. Retail Lifer*

        How are they going to know how badly they can lowball me if they don’t know what I’m making now? ;)

  30. NinaK*

    From what the OP writes, I am on ‘Team Candidate.”
    He knew they would contact his current employer for a reference. If he sucks at the current job and is getting PIPed all over the place he never would have agreed, right? He would have looked for another job that would hire him without that current reference. Talk to him, give him a chance, I agree with what others are saying.

    1. Laurel Gray*

      Same here. Also, OP’s company has 90 days to decide he isn’t working out and give him the boot.

    2. Raine*

      Yeah, weird how the worker was good enough to keep that position — until the boss is asked to give a reference.

    3. Ask a Manager* Post author

      Eh, candidates offer up references who turn out to be terrible all the time, in cases where they absolutely should have known that the person had a poor impression of their work (we’ve heard about them from the other side here — we’ve have letter-writers baffled about why people they fired are using them as a reference).

      1. Former Usher*

        Just to be clear, offering up a manager (or anyone else) as a reference is different from checking the “may we contact your employer” box, right? I strongly suspect that my manager at my previous job would not have good things to say about me, so I would not use him as a reference. However, I am under the impression that I should still check “yes” to the question on applications about contacting that employer.

    4. AnotherFed*

      You vastly overestimate some of the job candidates out there! I had one just last month who gave me two references: the manager for a job he worked at for less than a month, and a manager who noted he had issues with just about every key requirement of the job, and gave examples of why.

      Shockingly, he was not hired.

    5. Lindsay J*

      I don’t really agree with that.
      I’ve been contacted for a reference for an employee that was fired for stealing. Some people are just clueless or think that their references won’t really be contacted or a bunch of other things.

  31. Dawn88*

    I recently had the worst experience at a new job in a very toxic workplace, where everyone walked on eggs and was in fear of the Owner’s wrath. His 19 yr old daughter worked the Front Desk (when she showed up), and I could hear her trash talk people daily from my office. If the kid didn’t like you, or you didn’t kiss up to her, you lost your job with no explanation. Gotta love that California “At Will” employment law.

    I struggled to please someone impossible to please. I called it, “The sky is blue and it’s all your fault!”

    I have since accepted an offer from a bigger and better company, better title, much more professionalism. Accepting a job out of desperation, when your gut tells you it’s a toxic environment, is going to suck. I thought I would be able to handle it for the income. Lesson learned.

    Of course this 5 weeks of Hell will never appear on my resume. Nor will I ever consider this jerk as an employer reference! Just learn and move on.

    My point being former employers can (and do) suck! Don’t penalize someone trying to move forward. Give them their 90 days (that I didn’t get). Some employers hold grudges, love their power trip, or are bitter or vindictive. Please….get a second opinion when making decisions that involve someone’s livelihood.

  32. Vicki*

    I lost a job offer based on a “bad” reference from my previous manager. The manager apparently said I “needed direction”.

    Well, yes, in so far as assignments are direction. “Write this document” is direction. (“Drive to Chicago” is a direction.). I didn’t need micromanagement, but I did not assignments and priorities, and this manager was poor at providing them.

    I lost the job offer and took that manager off of my reference list.

    Please investigate!

    1. Vicki*

      (At my next job, sometime after I started working, I told this story. My co-workers were flabbergasted. When I have normal assignments and priorities, I do not need “direction” on _how_ to do them.)

  33. I'm Not Phyllis*

    It sounds to me (if I’m reading correctly) that it was a requirement that the employee use his current/now former place of work as a reference, but that it was the employee who chose to ask that they not contact them until after he had given his notice.

    I would definitely talk to him ASAP per Alison’s suggestions. You may find that he can put your mind at ease with another reference (even one from the same company) or it may have the opposite impact – whatever happens, at least you’ll get a better idea of who/what you’re dealing with. Without knowing what his previous employer said, it’s difficult to give advice beyond that. Are you questioning his honesty, ethics, multi-tasking ability, etc.? Depending on the answer to that, you may still want to let him go through the probation period and see what happens, or you may not.

    FWIW, I would bet my last $10 that my previous manager (the CEO, in fact) would give me a horrible reference and I would never, ever use her as one. We butted heads from day one. However, there were many other senior-level managers and colleagues there that I know would give me a great reference.

  34. Development professional*

    This scenario seems like a great argument for Alison’s usual advice to seek out references that are beyond the candidate’s list of references. If you’ve talked to people who know this candidate other than those he provided, then you’d have some good perspective on whether the candidate’s references were blowing smoke, the candidate’s current boss is just bitter, or somewhere in between. You’d still want to talk to him directly about the situation, of course, but a fuller picture going in would make this situation much less alarming.

  35. Nxg7+ Kd8 22. Qf6+!*

    I find myself wondering how many interviews and how much time OP put into trying to learn about the candidate. And now it seems they’d like to throw it all out based on a few minutes talking to a stranger?

    I think I’d tell the candidate about it, see if they had anything to say that might clear things up immediately. If not, then if the bad news is nothing that can be resolved objectively (ie, candidate lied about their degree), I think OP owes the candidate a 3 month probationary period on the job – and don’t forget to sit down with the candidate and write down the problem behavior that caused all of this alarm, for reference at the end of the three months.

    It galls me that a former boss can so easily screw over a former employee. Okay, sure, maybe the boss is telling the truth, but I too am one of the many many people who can tell stories of how their former boss tried to do them dirty.

  36. AnnieMouse*

    I never based an offer on one reference.
    What scares me more is, “The position is permanent and will be subject to a 3-month probationary period and reference check.”
    1. Most states are at-will and no position is every “permanent”. I use the words “full time employment.” “Probationary period” again suggests that once a person finishes this period of time that the position is permanent. Rather say, “introductory” period.

    1. neverjaunty*

      Why is that scary, though? “Probationary” signals very strongly that there is a period where the employment is tentative. “Permanent” just means it’s not seasonal or contract work. You don’t waive the at-will nature of the job with those terms.

  37. Robin Schooling*

    I’m going to point out something tangentially related for the OP. My advice is to refrain from using language like “the position is permanent” in your offer letter. NO job is permanent. And, when you wrap your head around that you’ll then want to explore the concept of a “probationary period.” Just a few things to consider….

    1. UK Nerd*

      ‘Permanent position’ and ‘probationary period’ are completely normal terms to find in a job description. I was wondering if this was a UK thing, but from previous comments it seems ‘permanent’ means the same thing in the US: a job that isn’t a temporary, seasonal or contract position.

  38. Nutcase*

    Of course there is the possibility that this potential employee was just really bad at his last job. You definitely owe it to this poor guy to dig deeper of course but you also owe it to your current employees who would be stuck working with him if this bad reference is a true representation. Sure, we have all had terrible managers who we can imagine sabotaging someone’s references but I see just as many horrible coworker stories on this blog and from personal experience! Ideally though as many upthread have mentioned references should come before any kind of offer so you don’t ever have to end up in this position making hiring choices not based on all of the information.

  39. HR Diva*

    As a side – I would suggest changing the wording in your offers going forward – “permanent” is not good language for an offer. “Full-time, regular” or something of that nature is better for legal reasons.

    1. UK Nerd*

      It’s completely standard terminology. I know what a permanent job is; I wouldn’t have any idea what was meant by a ‘regular’ job.

  40. Jane*

    I agree OP should go ahead and gather more information from the employee before deciding what to do and while I understand the offeree will feel awful if the offer is pulled, he knowingly took on that risk when he was informed the offer was contingent on a good reference from his current employer. While I think its generally unnecessary and hugely problematic to seek references from a current manager, there are certain circumstances in which it makes sense and those have been pointed out. But I would go out on a limb and say those circumstances are pretty rare, and so I do genuinely think its generally unnecessary and perhaps in OP’s industry it makes total sense and the candidates know the risks. If they aren’t comfortable with the risk they don’t have to agree and can back out of the hiring process once they find out. Sure, its unfortunate that someone would have to back out after finding that out, but it’s their right and I can totally understand having strong discomfort with the idea of a potential future employer contacting my current employer (and that did not happen during my last job hunt as its just not done in my industry).

  41. Sarah*

    I think we really can’t make assumptions either way- about whether he was a poor preformer at his last job or whether it was a toxic environment etc. As someone who oversaw the recruitment process at a private school for years, I’d say that the OP just has to get more information. It’s perfectly reasonable to call the previous employer again and ask follow up questions, to ask the applicant about what his relationship was with his previous employer/ work environment etc. It’s quite common to wait to check a candidate’s references with their current employer until the very end stage of the hiring process, but we never made an offer until we had done so. We would only make that reference check if we were ready to hire the person if the reference checked out, but we never offered a contract or anything before doing so. Also, whenever a candidate requested that we not contact their current employer till the end, we always asked for current colleagues we could speak to as references in the meantime.

    As far as the situation for the OP goes – they need to get more info by asking follow up questions to everyone involved, asking to speak with a current co-worker etc.

  42. Katarina E.*

    I’m reading this because I just went on an interview at an employment agency for a temp-to-hire position. First the recruiter tells me that one job she was considering me for was put on hold. Then she tells me the other position, unbeknownst to her, already had an offer made to a different candidate. This is the second time this has happened to me, and I’m really starting to wonder what is REALLY going on. But I digress.

    The interviewer then went on to ask me for references, and she specifically wanted me to give her the name of my current manager. I was so taken aback and actually really caught off guard. My gut reaction was, “Who in the world would ask this, and why in the world would I want to tell my current manager that I’m looking for another job?”

    I told her I would never use my current manager as a reference. She then said, “We’ll what if we’ve already made an offer.” I told her I still wouldn’t use my current manager as a reference. It’s more about trust. I did excellent work. I got OK reviews. But I wouldn’t trust him to give me a good reference. He might, he might not. I had an out though, our company was recently purchased by another company, and my manager was let go when the new company took over. I told the recruiter this, but told her I did have a couple of other supervisory references who were internal clients from the same job that I could give her. She got really excited and that seemed to suffice.

    I find it odd that anyone would expect to talk to your current manager/supervisor whatever under any circumstances when people are job hunting. Supervisors and managers have their own agendas when it comes to this sort of thing — they’re human. In professional job hunting situations, I’ve never before been pushed to give an employer a specific reference, I’ve ALWAYS supplied my own. I’ve always read that you, as the job seeker should choose your references wisely; NEVER choose someone that you are not sure would not give you a good reference. Honestly, this goes without saying — why would you shoot yourself in the foot.

    Another thing I don’t like is applications that want to know the names and phone numbers of the managers/supervisors at your other company. What is the purpose of this. Does the company at which you’re applying intend to contact that specific person to get information about you? Then what is the point of supplying your own references at the end of the application?

    That said, every company that I have worked for has a policy in place that managers should tell anyone seeking employment information to have that person contact HR. Then, HR only releases dates of employment and the date of separation and nothing more. About four years ago, I got fired from a job; it was indeed a bad parting, and I had several friends test this out by calling the local office I worked and pose as a recruiter seeing references. In each instance, the regional manager and the office manager (my supervisor) both referred my friends to corporate HR for the obligatory job verification information. I had them call there and all the got was dates of employment/separation. Salary information is only released with the former employee’s approval.

    Also, two other former employers have employment verification hotlines. To verify employment, they have to call a certain phone number and use an employer code which releases the aforementioned information. These are the phone numbers that I put on all employment applications. And then I use my own references.

    But this is very different from being asked specifically for your supervisor’s name and phone number, something I would NEVER do. Just because an offer is made, doesn’t mean that it can’t be yanked away because you got a bad reference. No one in their right mind would jeopardize their current job for a new one that they don’t have yet. As much as I may want to leave my current job, I’m certainly not trying to do so before I have another job lined up for sure.

  43. Katarina E.*

    I’m sorry, the above said I went to the employment agency for a temp-to-hire, and it’s actually a direct hire position.

  44. ScarletNumber*

    I would NEVER allow a potential new employer to call my current employer for a reference.

  45. Ella*

    I recently applied for a job and the process was quite lengthy, phone interview, group interviews, 1:1 interview, computer test and then a reference check.
    I have only been at my recent position for 4 months, and the manger has only been their for 2. I asked him what he said in the reference and he was quite happy to inform me he stated the following:
    The reference check went for 10min…there was a lot of positives….the question was near the end and I was asked if there was one thing you think she could improve on what would you say and with that I said you needed to organise yourself better but you have improved in the time I have been here and you are still new at the position and that will come in time….i was asked if I would hire you again and I said yes, you are a great team player, fantastic with customers and liked by your workmates. Also that I wouldn’t want to lose you. Very hard to give a reference check on someone you have worked with in less than 2 months.
    Do you think this is a negative reference or a positive? I’m just unsure how to feel about it.

  46. Anonnn*

    Yep definitely talk to them. I had a horrible time getting a job after leaving one that left me burnt out and in need of time off (I was not allowed to take ANY holidays, not even a single day off after working there over a year so this was the only way I could do it). I couldn’t work out why I’d interview, have the company be really interested and then call me back with a negative a few days later. One of my friends organised (without my knowledge) to pretend to be a potential employer of mine and ring my prior boss. Turns out she wasn’t actually saying anything that could get her into legal trouble for outright untrue deformation of character, but the reference was pretty blah and phrased to make out like she was only giving a reference because she had to and thought I was crap at my job. Things like “Oh I guess he was….okayyyy. Oh he was allllright I guess…Ah you want to know something they were particularly good at…ah can’t really thing of anything specific. I mean he’s okayyyy….I guess…..kinda.” Vendictive behaviour over me deciding to leave- clear and simple. I took her off my reference list and got offered 2 jobs in short order. It pays to ask the employee and their other references before making that final call.

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