The question “may we contact your current employer” is a common one during job searches. It can be asked by human resources departments, on an application form, or, more rarely, by hiring managers.
But here’s another question: How should you answer? Will, it hurt your chances of getting a job if you say no?
Why Companies Ask the Question
Before giving your answer, let’s provide a bit of background. The question can be asked for different reasons, depending upon where in the hiring process, you are asked it.
In most cases, it’s because human resources wants to be efficient and get in position to verify the information on your resume. This verification – checking companies, titles, and other information on a resume – is part of standard background checking and done for all new hires. They may want to ask you when you first apply so that they don’t have to go back and do it later.
But it isn’t done immediately. Generally, a background check will only be done for people the company plans to hire, not for every single person interviewed. So if you are concerned that your boss will be contacted immediately, that can set your mind at ease.
Reasons to Say No
Many interviewees prefer their existing employers not to know they are job-hunting. Employers may feel that you have one foot out the door if they know you’re interviewing, whether you get the job or not. (We’re not saying that every employer feels this way, but it does happen.)
It can potentially jeopardize your chances for promotion and even affect your relationship with your boss.
If this is the case with you, job-seekers can definitely say no to initial questions about whether their current employers can be contacted. If you’re worried a “no” answer might be a red flag, don’t be. Employers understand that reason.
But what if the reason is to check references and your prospective employer wants to know what your current boss would say about you? Generally, this happens later in the process, when they are thinking of making you an offer.
In that case, the answer needs to be yes. If you say no, it could be a red flag. Employers might wonder if you have something to hide, such as poor performance or not getting along with a boss.
In fact, if either of those scenarios are true, it’s a good idea to come up with a strategy to deal with it. One strategy is to offer the names of past employers instead of the current one. Another is to address how you turned performance (or other) issues with your current boss around, so they will no longer be issues in the future.
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