Should You List Your Current Employer as a Job Reference?
One of my readers (I'll call her Mary) asked if it was fair for a potential employer to want to contact her current boss while she is secretly looking for a new job. She was understandably upset that they would call to speak with him, without telling her whether or not she's a finalist.
This is especially important if a boss will hold it against you when they find out – and you don't get the job. A slightly different angle on this question is, if you have the choice, should you risk having your current employer called at all if they don't even know you're looking?
What to do about current employer references
Mary raised some good questions. Even more relevant since she did NOT get the job, and still has to work for her current boss. Here's how I responded:
"I'm so sorry, Mary. If a company calls a current employer before the candidate is a finalist, I think that's horrible. It shows no respect for the reference's time. While I never did that when I did reference checking, I know that some places do. Some even call BEFORE the first interview.
While I get that the employer doesn't want to waste his or her time with someone who has bad references, you learn a lot from interviews that can help when you speak to references. And if the candidate is secretly looking, it shows little respect for their needs to alert the boss.
One way to think of this is that an employer who doesn't respect the candidate or the references, may not be the best company to work for. It could be an indication of how they treat their employees, too."
Editor's note: If you are assembling a list of references in advance of a job search, get your resume in order using our Resume Builder. Find a selection of professionally designed resume templates to choose from, and get writing tips and expert text suggestions for all resumes sections.
What if Mary was a finalist?
"In this particular case, it's not clear whether you were a finalist. If you were, then another question is raised: Is it possible your boss's reference is why they didn't hire you? If so, then you are now forewarned and should do your best to avoid that next time. You can use the reference sheet to briefly explain, without saying anything negative of course.
Is there any way to make the best of things while still looking?
"Personally, if it were me, I'd ask to speak to my boss and explain that you would love to be able to stay at the company if there were (insert whatever it is you're looking for) and that you will do your best while you are here. Sometimes this can open up opportunities you hadn't imagined.
Either way, keep doing your very best while still on this job, asking for clear goals and documenting your successes – meanwhile keep looking. And, as I mentioned before, next time you can simply tell the prospective employer that you can't give your current boss as a reference.
It's quite common to ask for a current employer NOT to be contacted, especially if you have other good references. Maybe you can even add a co-worker you trust who knows that you're looking. Again, you can add a note(s) to your references page."
Anything else Mary can or should do?
"You might also still want to send a thank you to the company that rejected you. This explains how and why:
I know people who were rejected and wind up getting hired by the same company later on. Just emphasize your strengths and strong determination to do the best job possible for them should another position arise. A wrong fit now could turns into a good fit later on!"
A few final thoughts beyond those current job references
The are many times when the hiring process, which an employer designs (or so they hope) with the intent of getting the best new employee possible, weeds out really good job candidates. So please don't see a rejection as an indication of your own value – or necessarily the last word. All you can do is give your best efforts to whatever you can control. And that includes not only how you interview, but all your communications with the potential employer, even the way you go about presenting your references!