On the Job

When Prospective Employers Ask to Contact Your Current Boss

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By Kenneth Bredemeier
Special to washingtonpost.com
Thursday, June 19, 2008; 3:42 PM

Potential employers understandably want to check out would-be hires the best way possible. And often that would be to call your current supervisors.

Of course that path is virtually a no-no for workers wanting to leave one job for another. It's hard to imagine a good reason to alert your current boss that you're looking to leave unless he's made it known that your slot is going to be eliminated and he's actually doing you a favor by giving you a heads-up on that news, a promise of a favorable recommendation and time to look for a new position.

So what do you do when a would-be employer asks if they can contact your current boss?

Why would this ever be an acceptable question to ask a potential hire? The answer nine times out of 10 would be no, and more importantly, why would an interviewer be surprised that the person hasn't told their current supervisor they're looking? I seem to have had this happen many times and it boggles my mind. Even if you have a great relationship with your current employer, it could make things awkward, if you don't get the position.

Indeed it could complicate your current work life if management knows you really don't want to be there any more.

Steve McElfresh, president of HR Futures in Palo Alto, Calif., says that job seekers, when asked whether a would-be employer may contact their current supervisor, "can politely say, 'No, you won't be able to talk to my supervisor at this time.'

"Most employers will be comfortable with that answer," he says.

At the same time, he says that no matter how many times a job applicant is asked that question, the would-be employee "should respond calmly, rationally, reasonably," without any sense of being irritated.

Aside from a situation where a worker's current job is being eliminated, and the current supervisor has volunteered a favorable recommendation, McElfresh says he has seen instances where employers have openly told workers they think that they have outgrown their current positions yet don't see immediate openings for them to advance at their current organizations.

In such instances, McElfresh says superiors may also volunteer their support, so in such cases it would even behoove applicants to suggest that would-be employers call their current bosses to check their bona fides.

Kenneth Bredemeier has six years of experience writing about the workplace. On the Job, a column addressing real worker questions about office relationships, corporate policies and workplace law, is written exclusively for washingtonpost.com.

To submit a question, e-mail onthejob@washingtonpost.com. We reserve the right to edit submitted questions for length and clarity and cannot guarantee that all questions will be answered.


© 2008 The Washington Post Company

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