A reader writes:
I am in the midst of applying for a new job. I have interviewed three times with a prospective employer and have been told that I am one of the final candidates for the position.
The HR rep contacted me and asked if they can contact my current manager/supervisor for a reference. I explained that I would prefer they not contact my manager, since it may jeopardize my standing with my current employer. They keep insisting that they speak with my current manager, but I am afraid that if they do, my current employer may let me go in layoffs or attempt to force me out of the job somehow (i.e., re-assign, transfer, etc).
Am I obligated to provide the reference to the prospective employer? I feel that their insistence is unprofessional and inappropriate. What if they contact my employer and end up not offering me the job? Or what if I don't accept the job offer? What is the best way to handle this without losing either job?
You certainly aren't obligated to provide your current employer as a reference. However, if the company you're interviewing with is insisting on it, be aware that refusing may take you out of consideration as a result.
However, this is pretty unusual. Most companies understand why candidates don't want their current employer contacted, and it's odd that this one is insisting. Usually, the current employer is either skipped or is contacted only after they've decided to make an offer -- which they make contingent on a good reference from your current employer.
In the rare instance where a company absolutely insists on contacting your current boss before making an offer, these are your options:
1. Take the risk and allow it. Warn your boss ahead of time. Some people in this situation tell their boss they're applying for a part-time or volunteer position, although I think that's risky.
2. If you've had a previous boss at your current job who has now moved on, ask the company if they'd contact her instead.
3. Hold firm with this company. Tell them you are not able to jeopardize your current employment without a firm offer in hand from them, but that you'd be happy to supply many other references and to allow them to contact your current company once you have an offer (which can be contingent on that reference check, assuming you know the reference will be fine). You might even throw in a mention that it's highly unusual for a company to insist on contacting a candidate's current employer at this stage; maybe you're dealing with someone clueless. You can also throw in, "In this economy, it's not a risk I can take." If they don't understand that, consider that a pretty substantial red flag about this new company.
Personally, I'd do #3. What do others think?