How to Answer: “May We Contact Your Current Employer on Job Application?”

A question you may face on a job application is, “May we contact your current employer?” This may seem daunting, but the person who asked this question likely has a reason for asking.

Here are ways to respond to this question, according to experts.

Joni Holderman

Joni Holderman

Professional Resume Writer, Thrive Resumes

It’s fine to say “no” as long as you provide excellent references

Many times this question is a routine part of the application process, so it’s not a deal-breaker for the employer. Any reputable company will understand why you don’t want to jeopardize your current job.

Make sure that the references you provide when asked are strong.

That means you’ve contacted them ahead of time and they’ve agreed to provide a reference for you. They should be former bosses or executives, not personal friends. Ideally, you will have a colleague, former coworker, or client who can provide a reference for your performance with your current employer. But if not, that’s still okay.

After you accept a written job offer and give two weeks’ notice at your current job, many new employers will want to check that reference, just to verify the info on your resume is accurate. At that point, it’s not going to endanger your career.

Related: How and When Does an Employer Check Your References?

Petra Odak

Petra Odak

Chief Marketing Officer, Better Proposals

It is better to decline and give a list of previous employers to call

When you’re applying for jobs, you probably don’t want your current employer to know. In most cases, it means that you’re unsatisfied with something, be it the pay, the overall conditions, the colleagues or something else.

In my experience, employers don’t take it very lightly when they see that you’re looking around for a new job. It may not seem like it, but they see it as a sort of betrayal.

When they hear from someone that you’ve applied for a new job and the potential new employer wants to hear from you about their experience, they most likely won’t be happy. They are faced with the decision – either give you a promotion/raise/change something or put in a good word about you to the new employer and just let you get the new job.

Whichever way they choose, they’ve just found out that you’re unhappy enough with your job to look for another one. No matter how big or small the company is, someone is bound to take this personally.

In that regard, if you’re interviewing for a job and the person on the HR team asks if they can get in touch with your current employer to find out more about you, tell them to call someone else. It will cause nothing but trouble for you and you’ll end up not getting the job (as your employer won’t praise an employee who wants to jump ship) and you’ll be next on the list when the first round of firing comes up.

In short, give the person who wants your references a list of previous employers to call. It will be better for everyone involved and you’ll avoid a potential disaster.

Dorota Lysienia

Dorota Lysienia

Community Manager, LiveCareer

It’s a tricky question because, on the one hand, you care about getting a new job, but on the other, you don’t want to burn bridges at your current company. Most of us want to keep our job hunting confidential as long as we can.

While there is nothing wrong with saying “no,” you can take a more creative approach when answering this question.

Agree only if you’re considered as one of the top candidates for the position

It’s clear that you don’t want every company you apply for to contact your current employer. The chances that they all will are pretty low, but it’s always better to be on the safe side. That’s why it’s a good idea to allow the company to reach out to your current employer, but only if you’re considered as one of the top candidates for the position. You can say something like:

“You can certainly contact my current employer, but I would kindly ask you to do it only if I’m one of the top candidates for the position.”

Offer former employers instead

Also, there is nothing wrong with offering to contact your former employers instead. That way, you say “no” to one thing but provide an alternative solution that can raise your chances in the recruiter’s eyes. For example, you can frame it like that:

“As my current employer doesn’t know that I want to pursue a different career path, I’d prefer to communicate it to him personally. Maybe you would be willing to speak to one of my previous employers instead?”

Paul French

Paul French

Managing Director, Intrinsic Search

Your answer should be no

When a recruiter or hiring manager asks to speak to your current employer, your answer should be no. But, you should follow this with a brief explanation. You might say something like this:

“No. You may not contact my current employer because they do not know that I am job hunting. It would be best to contact them after you have extended an official offer of employment, and even then, I want to be the one to tell them that I have got an offer elsewhere.”

It is good practice not to reveal that you are looking for a job while employed elsewhere. This might result in a breach of contract if you have an employment contract.

Your employer is also likely to fire you if they find out you have your eyes set elsewhere. Even if they just want to verify that you work there, contacting your employer will raise a red flag and expose you too soon and cause you to risk losing your job.

All in all, any employer who would jeopardize your current livelihood just for them to find out a little information about you might not be the right fit after all.

Magda Zurawska

Magda Zurawska

HR Manager, Resume Lab

Simply put a polite but firm “no”

For me, this question is a non-starter.

While it’s only normal and obvious that people apply for new gigs and jobs all the time, until you have received a job offer, it’s in your best interest to keep the search to yourself.

It doesn’t take much foresight to see how potentially offensive it may come off if a company you’re interviewing with were to call your current employer. You’d most likely want to avoid this situation if job security and maintaining good relations matters to you.

On the other hand, all previous employers are fair game and you should be able to provide at least one reference from each of them. Since you no longer work there but have it listed on the resume, there should be at least one person who can vouch for your accomplishments.

All in all, it behooves you to inform your potential future employers that at this point in time, you’re not comfortable with them calling your present employer. Surely, they will understand as announcing to the world that you’re currently applying elsewhere is a “slap to the face” that no one likes nor appreciates.

Magda Klimkiewicz

Magda Klimkiewicz

HR Business Partner, Zety

When you come across the question, “May we contact this employer?” on a job application, you might be unsure how to best answer it. After all, you likely don’t want your current employer to know you’re job-hunting. If that’s the case, it’s OK to say “no,” as hiring managers know people look for new opportunities while they have a job, and they wouldn’t want you to get in trouble.

However, if you aren’t currently employed because your previous employer terminated your contract, saying “no” could do you more harm than good.

For one, it doesn’t mean the company will actually contact your past employer. They are merely asking for permission to do so. Second, a “no” might be counted as a disqualifier by some organizations.

Saying “yes” is your best bet

If you’re nervous about what your past employer will say, you can call them yourself and ask what would happen if another company inquired about you. Keep in mind that defamation is illegal, so your old manager can’t trash talk you to a recruiter or a hiring manager.

Eric Kim

Eric Kim

Program Director, LA Tutors 123

Don’t be afraid to say no

Sometimes a simple no will suffice. When applying to a job, remember that you are also trying to get a sense if the position and company is right for you. If a potential employer tries to pressure you into providing a reference from your current place of employment, that should be a red flag and something to keep in mind when deciding if you want to accept an offer.

Most employers understand that the fact you’re looking for a new position is probably not something you want to be advertising at your current job.

For obvious reasons, you wouldn’t want your current employer to think you’re unhappy and make assumptions about your mindset. After all, looking for new employment doesn’t necessarily equate to you being dissatisfied, but it can leave that impression on your manager.

There are, however, situations where it might make sense to say yes. If you’re being laid off for reasons that aren’t for cause (e.g. budget cuts, your position was seasonal/temporary), your current manager already knows that your position is coming to an end. In fact, if they want to keep you, knowing that you are actively searching for a new job may incentivize them to come back with a counteroffer. Of course, this means you need to let your current employer know to expect reference calls.

Assuming they valued you as an employee, they will hopefully put some thought into providing a positive reference in order to provide you with the best opportunity for success.

If you’ve said no to this question (as most of you should), it’s also a good idea to let your potential employer know that your initial no is not final, and you’re open to them reaching out once the timing is right (i.e. once you have an offer on the table). This way, they know that you’re not actively hiding your poor performance at your current job and that it’s simply a matter of being cautious and prudent.

Vanessa Phan

Vanessa Phan

Managing Consultant for HR, Operations, and Private School Testing Prep Divisions, Cardinal Education

May we contact your current employer?” is a very tricky question and one which applicants should be prepared to answer as it could make or break a job application.

However, most recruiters will be wary of asking this question because they understand that if you are still currently employed, then your application is most likely confidential and they wouldn’t want to get you in trouble for doing so.

Explain that your current employer doesn’t know about your application

Answering “no” could be acceptable as long as you explain that your current employer doesn’t know about your application.

Simply say, “I’m sorry, but my employer has no idea that I am applying for this job.” This could open Pandora’s box though. Questions like, “Why are you resigning from your current job?”, “What don’t you like about your company?”, etc. will stir the interest of the recruiter.

Related: What Can Potential Employers Ask Former Employers?

In this case, just be honest while still maintaining the integrity of your current employer. Remember that your response will reflect how you will treat their company later on.

Offer to call another person

You can also offer for them to call another person, like your previous employer, if they want to conduct a background check on you.. Just make sure to call ahead and inform your former boss that such a call could happen at a particular time.

However, the best response, of course, would be to give the green light and say that they can go ahead and call. Replying with “Yes, you may certainly do so.” would seem like you are not hiding anything and that you are confident about your status as an employee as well as your job performance.

For whatever reason, the most important thing is to be honest and straightforward with your answer to this question. This reflects on your work ethic and character as a team player.

Jessica Lim

Jessica Lim

HR Manager, MyPerfectResume

Prepare a list of references for the recruiter to contact

When asked if it’s ok to contact your current employer, it’s perfectly fine to say no, but don’t just leave it at that. Be honest about your situation and explain why you don’t want the recruiter to contact your current manager.

It’s most likely that your current employer doesn’t know that you are looking for a new job, and you don’t want to alert them unless you have a secure spot in a new company. Though this is something a recruiter can understand and accept, don’t leave them empty-handed, and be sure to prepare a list of references for the recruiter to contact. By doing so, you’ll appear open and honest with the recruiter, and you’ll also show that you came prepared with other options.

Dana Case

Dana Case

Director of Operations,

Fill in the contact gap by providing additional references

This is a question that sometimes appears on job applications and sometimes does not. It’s okay to say no if that is your personal preference. You may, however, decide to fill in that contact gap by providing additional references that the employer may reach out to and speak with.

If possible, try to include a former manager or boss that you worked with and have a good relationship together. The former employer may be able to share insight about your work ethic and behavior, providing the potential next employer with the necessary information they need about you as a possible new employee.

Brian Dechesare

Brian DeChesare

Founder, Breaking Into Wall Street

It’s perfectly acceptable and widespread for employees to keep their job search from their current employer.

Alerting your current employer to your job search may put your position in jeopardy, and if the potential job doesn’t work out, you could end up in a tense work situation or slowly be pushed out of your job.
Most hiring managers will understand why you don’t want to alert your employer to the job search.

If a hiring manager asks to contact your current employer, say, “I have a great working relationship with my current employer. Though they don’t know I’m looking elsewhere yet, I’d be happy to offer a previous employer’s contacts instead.”

Avoid any answers that may make it sound as if the relationship with your current employer is bad, and redirect with some other helpful contacts the hiring manager can reference.

There are some cases where your employer may already know you’re looking for work elsewhere, depending on your relationship and the reason you’re looking for work. If you’re openly looking for a new job and have your employer’s blessing, speak with them about being a potential reference and use them – that sort of open, strong relationship between employee/manager can make you look like an honest and communicative employee.

Frequently Asked Questions 

How can I protect my privacy during a job search?

Job searching can be a sensitive topic, especially if you’re currently employed. Here are some tips to protect your privacy:

Keep your job search confidential: Don’t tell anyone at your current job that you’re looking for a new job, and be careful who you talk to about your job search.

Use a personal email address: Instead of using your work email address, use a personal email address that isn’t associated with your current employer.

Be discreet on social media: Be careful about what you post on social media, especially if your current employer or colleagues can see your posts.

Ask potential employers to keep your job search confidential: When applying for jobs, you can ask potential employers to keep your application and job search confidential.

What happens when your references are contacted?

When your references are contacted, prospective employers usually inquire about your work history and accomplishments at previous jobs. 

They may inquire about your:
– Job duties
– Strengths and weaknesses
– Reliability
– Communication skills
– Work habits
– Ability to work in a team

If your potential employer is interested in specific skills or qualifications related to the job in question, they may ask your job reference specific questions about those skills or qualifications.

It’s crucial that you select references who can speak positively and knowledgeably about your work experience, skills, and accomplishments.

You should also inform your references that you’re applying for jobs so they can expect a call or email from a potential employer. This will give your references time to gather their thoughts and prepare for the interview.

What if my current employer finds out I’m looking for a job?

If your current employer finds out you’re job searching, it’s essential that you handle the situation professionally. Here are some tips:

Be honest. If your employer approaches you directly about your job search, be honest but respectful. Explain why you’re looking for other opportunities and assure your employer that you’re committed to your current job until you’re ready to move on.

Don’t talk badly about your employer. Even if you’re unhappy in your current job, don’t badmouth your employer or speak negatively about your work environment. This could damage your professional reputation.

Be willing to talk about your plans. If your employer knows you’re job hunting, they may want to discuss your plans and try negotiating with you to keep you on board. Be prepared to discuss your career goals and what you hope to accomplish in your next role.

What information should I give a potential employer when I give permission to contact my current employer?

When giving a prospective employer permission to contact your current employer, you should provide the following information:

– Name and company of your current employer
– Contact information for your supervisor or department HR
– Your job title and dates of employment
– A brief description of your duties and accomplishments in your current position

If you provide accurate and detailed information, the potential employer will better understand your skills and experience, and the reference check process will go more smoothly.

How can I get a positive job reference from my current employer?

Maintain a high work ethic: Always perform your duties to the best of your ability and show commitment to your job.

Maintain positive relationships: Build and maintain good relationships with your supervisors, colleagues, and subordinates.

Communicate your accomplishments: Communicate regularly about your projects, achievements, and contributions to the team and the company.

Ask for feedback: Get regular feedback from your supervisors and peers and use that feedback to improve your performance.

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