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I always find it stunning to hear that firms asked this question. I would be shocked if the hiring manager ever allowed a firm they interviewed with the do it, but they ask you if they can do it. Here is how to answer this question.

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Someone forwarded this question to me. I was shocked that I hadn't really covered this before. I did it indirectly in another video, but I'll just simply say that it's a surprise that I haven't covered this question before.
" May I contact your current employer for a reference?"
What our firms thinking? You know, very few people go through a job search, having walked over to their boss and said, "you know, I think I'm going to change jobs. Is that okay with you? Can I use you as a reference?"
References are done confidentially and job searches are done confidential. So that this question is asked is bizarre to me. But, if you're a senior person, you're not going to run into this. It's really with relatively Junior people that this happens and the correct answer is not, I want to repeat, not to say, "NO! YOU CAN'T DO THAT!" You can't freak out.
The way to respond is really very simple. You respond by saying, "you know, I'm doing a confidential search and there's no guarantee that you're going to make an offer to me and that the offer amount is going to be satisfactory and, then, I will have exposed myself to my employer with no guarantees. So, I can provide you with references of people who I used to work for the firm who will verify my work and substantiate what I say. If you have any doubts that they are people who've been in leadership roles, well, frankly check their LinkedIn profiles and you'll see that these are individuals who worked at this organization who are in senior roles. But, the reality is, for now, it's not appropriate that you check references there and, instead, use people like this."
If they find that's unsatisfactory, there's a message in that and the message is not a complimentary one about them. It will reveal something about their thinking about you that they're not really all that certain and they're using this individual to help them break a tie in their mind or hesitation in their mind and they're not really sold on you.
So, again, if they're not satisfied with the offer of another individual who's a former manager who has left this organization and can say good things about you or will speak to them about your credentials, I should say, then nothing is going to ever make them happy and they're there to break you
Don't let that happen. Have enough self confidence and self-assurance to say "No, I'm not going to allow that to happen"


Jeff Altman, The Big Game Hunter is a career and leadership coach who worked as a recruiter for more than 40 years. He is the host of “No BS Job Search Advice Radio,” the #1 podcast in iTunes for job search with more than 1300 episodes and his newest show, “No BS Coaching Advice.” He is a member of The Forbes Coaches Council.

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2 Responses
  1. DJ Hottest

    Hi Jeff,

    In case they’re gonna give me an offer after the reference checks are done.

    Should I ask my current boss to be my referee? I don’t feel comfortable doing that, it’s quite awkward.

    Is it ok to provide referees that none of them is my current boss?


  2. hotwheels228

    Hi Jeff,

    What if this question is on a paper application? I ended my first job yesterday it was a temporary position…but had a coworker whole time trying to create problems for me had 3 directors one of which gave me one of her personal professional connections to continue my path so think did my job otherwise why would she offer that? Think my coworker ruined chances of my getting called back next summer there though which sucks. Does this question even apply to me considering job ended?

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