“What happens if a prospective employer I’m interviewing with contacts my present employer? Should I let them?”

Question: I have been with a company for 11 years. I am in the process of interviewing for a new position with another company that is located in another state. My question is, “When the new employer asks for references, do I include my past AND current employer?” I wouldn’t mind my current employer giving a reference, but if I am not selected for the new job position, then I am left in a very awkward situation. Naturally, I have not told my current employer that I am actively searching. This is difficult because I feel a great deal of loyalty to my current employer and would like to be honest and upfront.

Name Withheld
Savannah, Georgia

Answer: Your loyalty is commendable, and your concerns are understandable.

Many people face your exact predicament. The answer is simple: Tell the prospective employer that, if they need to get a reference from your present employer, they can request one ONLY AFTER THEY HAVE MADE AN UNCONDITIONAL, ACCEPTABLE JOB OFFER TO YOU, that is, not conditional on any other item, such as background check, drug screening, etc.

I think you should tell your interviewers that you value your present job, and your relations with your present employer, and you do not want anything to jeopardize your job or your job relations until you have an acceptable job offer “in hand.” I think you should also email that to them, just as a reminder.

Some employers will make your new job offer conditional on a positive reference from your present employer. While that does make you somewhat at risk of a poor job reference from your present employer, you will have to accept – or reject – that conditional offer. That is, if a prospective employer says, “Your job offer has one condition: a positive reference from your present employer,” you are free to say, “No thank you. I do not want to take the risk that I will both lose my present job and not get your job. That is a risk I do not want to take.”

This is entirely proper, business-like and respectful, and is an option open to you. Once you receive a job offer, and find it acceptable in all respects, then you might take the risk of your present employer being “positive” about you. But you don’t have to take that risk.

In all workplace matters, don’t be afraid to raise your concerns, and stand fast to protect your interests. At the same time, there are risks in everything we do, and so long as you understand the risk in a certain course of action, you are free to take that risk, or not take that risk, at your sole discretion. This is what smart workplace navigation and negotiation are all about.

By the way, for this specific, common concern (as we do for so many other concerns), we offer, for a modest fee, a Model Letter Requesting a Prospective Employer Not Contact a Present Employer. To obtain a copy, simply [click here].

Hope that helps. Our best to you in your upcoming transition.

Best, Al Sklover

P.S.: Got a Job Offer, and Background Check is about to happen? Use our Model Letter to Your Former HR, Managers and Colleagues to Discourage Negative References. “What to Say, and How to Say It.”™. To obtain your copy, just [click here.] Delivered by Email – Instantly! 

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© 2009 Alan L. Sklover, All Rights Reserved.

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