Like anything else, job hunting has its own culture and conventions.
When you know those conventions, it is easy to navigate them. However, the first time you encounter them, it can be confusing, especially if you aren’t sure whether or not there is a standard kind of response.
This can be the case with the question “May we contact your current employer?”
How do you answer “May we contact your current employer” on a job application?
If you do not want your current employer to know that you are job hunting or do not want your employer contacted for other reasons, you should answer “no.” If your employer knows that you are looking for a job and you know they will not speak negatively about you, you should answer “yes.”
What does “May we contact your current employer” mean?
If an employer is interested in hiring you, one of the things that usually do is contact your former employers to ask about your performance as an employee.
You usually list these contacts in the section of the application that says “References.” References could also be co-workers, professors or people you worked with as a volunteer.
When an application has this question, they are checking to see if they have permission to get in touch with your current employer and ask about your job performance or, at minimum, confirm the information that you have provided about that position, such as your job title and how long you have worked there.
Why would you want to answer ‘no’ to the question “May we contact your current employer”?
When you see this question, your first inclination might be to answer “yes.”
After all, you want to seem like a cooperative prospective employee, and you don’t want your potential new employer to think you are hiding something.
However, this might not be the best idea.
If your employer does not know that you’re looking for a new job and they find out when they are contacted by a place where you interviewed, this could put you in an uncomfortable position at work.
Your employer might let you go. Even if this doesn’t happen, they could make your remaining time at your job
Even if you have a good relationship with your employer, that could change if the way that they find out you are job-hunting is when they are contacted.
In fact, they might change their opinion of you and consider you dishonest if you let them find out in this way.
There is one other reason you might say “no” to this question. If you are struggling at your current job, even if it is your employer’s fault and not yours, you would be better off saying “no.”
The reason is that your employer might not give you a good reference and may criticize your job performance.
This will not necessarily be the outcome. Many employers make a point to avoid saying anything negative about a current or former employee to make sure that they avoid legal repercussions.
However, it is best not to count on this.
Even if your employer knows that you are job-hunting, if you think that they might say something negative about you, you should say no.
What wording should I use to say “no” to the question “May we contact your current employer”
Usually, if you encounter this on a job application, you will just have the choice to check either a “yes” or “no” box. Alternately, you might just have room to write the single word.
However, if you are asked this question in an interview or if there is space to write more, you might feel uncomfortable just saying “No.”
Here is how you could word a response that does not sound abrupt and that can help reassure your potential new employer that you are saying “no” for a good reason:
“My employer doesn’t know that I’m looking for a new job yet, and I wouldn’t feel comfortable if they found out in that way before I told them.”
You might add something like this:
“You can contact my other references, and I have a letter of recommendation as well.”
This is not going to count against you. Employers understand that this is a common position that job seekers are in.
If you want to reassure them that the issue is not with what your employer may say about you, you could say something like this:
“I’d be happy for you to contact them once I’ve turned in my resignation.”
What if your employer knows that you are job hunting but you are worried about what they might say about you?
There are ways to gently deflect this question:
“I’m not comfortable with that, but I’d be happy to put you in touch with some of my previous employers.”
Here’s another option if you are working alongside someone who will give you a good reference:
“I’d rather you didn’t contact my employer at this time, but you can speak to one of my colleagues.”
Whatever you do, don’t badmouth your current employer or talk about how unhappy you are there. Even if everything you say is true, this could reflect badly on you in a job interview.
With the sample responses above, you don’t even have to use the word “no.” In a conversation, it may sound better to communicate your objection without a straight “no.”
When would you say “yes”?
If your employer is aware that you are looking for a new position and you are certain of your good relationship with them, then of course you could say “yes.”
Of course, you should have had this conversation with your current employer already. Do not allow your employer to be contacted if you have not yet discussed your job search with them.
Before you have this conversation, you should be as certain as possible that your employer will react well to it. You don’t want to find yourself let go from the job before you are ready.
However, there are situations in which your employer may support your moving on, such as if you are changing careers or if you will need to move to a different company to progress.
Hey fellow Linguaholics! It’s me, Marcel. I am the proud owner of linguaholic.com. Languages have always been my passion and I have studied Linguistics, Computational Linguistics and Sinology at the University of Zurich. It is my utmost pleasure to share with all of you guys what I know about languages and linguistics in general.