As you’re applying to or interviewing for jobs, you’re likely to come across the question “may we contact this employer”.
You may see it on a job application as you’re providing your work history, or a recruiter may ask you as they’re reviewing your resume.
In either case, you need to be prepared for how to answer the question.
To that end, we reached out to a variety of career experts for how they would recommend responding to the questions.
Their answers are detailed below.
- 1 How to Answer When Company Asks “May We Contact This Employer”
- 2 What Are Valid Reasons For Asking an Employer Not to Contact a Previous Employer?
- 3 Can a Potential Employer Contact a Previous Employer Without Permission?
- 4 How to Answer When a Potential Employer Asks if They Can Contact Your Current Employer?
- 5 Conclusion
How to Answer When Company Asks “May We Contact This Employer”
Our career experts had a couple of different perspectives on how to answer when a company asks “may we contact this employer”.
André Disselkamp, Co-Founder of Insurancy, suggested the following:
“First and foremost, honesty is crucial. Allowing touch with your old employer is frequently useful if you have a good relationship with them. It may reaffirm the excellent attributes you’ve highlighted in your application and interview.
However, if your prior work ended on less than favorable terms or if there are sensitive circumstances, you can respectfully reject and explain why.
Remember that you have the right to decide who has access to your professional past. This decision is ultimately up to you.”
Mark Roy, Founder and Principal, Breakthrough Consulting Group, was of the opinion that potential employees should almost always grant permissions to companies to reach out to employers:
“A candidate should almost always grant permission to a prospective employer to contact previous employers. A notable exception is a candidate’s current employer if their current employer isn’t aware that the candidate is seeking other employment opportunities. In such cases, the candidate doesn’t know how their current employer would react, and they could find themselves terminated before landing a new job.”
To add in my own personal take, in general, I would recommend enabling companies to contact your previous employers towards the end of the interview process, when they are seriously considering making an offer.
As far as your current employer goes, I would request that they not contact your current employer. A potential new company reaching out to your current employer could tip them off that you’re looking, which would be a bad outcome if you ultimately don’t get the job offer.
If you have an old employer that you ended on bad terms with and really don’t want the new employer to contact, then I would be transparent with them about what happened and ask that they not contact. Know that requesting that they don’t contact a previous employer is likely to be viewed as a potential red flag, so use that sparingly.
What Are Valid Reasons For Asking an Employer Not to Contact a Previous Employer?
There are a variety of valid reasons for asking an employer not to contact a previous employer. Some common ones include:
If you worked in a sensitive or confidential position, such as handling classified information or working with trade secrets, you may prefer not to disclose your previous employer to maintain confidentiality.
2. Current Employment
If you are currently employed and haven’t informed your employer about your job search, you may request not to contact your previous employer to avoid jeopardizing your current position.
3. Unfavorable Relationship
If you had a strained or negative relationship with your previous employer or supervisor, it’s understandable to prefer not to have them contacted as a reference.
4. Personal Reasons
In some cases, personal circumstances may influence your decision. For example, if you experienced harassment, discrimination, or unfair treatment in your previous job, you might not want potential employers to contact that employer for fear of retaliation or further negative experiences.
5. Legal Agreements
If you signed a non-disclosure agreement (NDA) or a confidentiality clause with your previous employer, you may be legally bound not to disclose certain information or to prevent them from being contacted.
It’s essential to note that while you can request an employer not to contact a previous employer, it’s ultimately up to the potential employer to decide whether they will respect your request or consider it as part of their evaluation process. It’s always recommended to be honest and transparent about your reasons when discussing this matter with potential employers.
The above content was provided by Smita D Jain, Personal Empowerment Life Coach, Executive Coach, TEDx Speaker.
Can a Potential Employer Contact a Previous Employer Without Permission?
Legally, yes, they can. A hiring manager can contact a past employer to verify your work experience, whether or not they have permission from you. The questions they can ask are limited by state law, however.
In some states, past employers are allowed to share details on the employee’s performance, while in others they can only confirm whether the employee worked there, the dates of their employment, their basic job title and responsibilities, and if they are eligible to be rehired.
The above content was provided by Archie Payne, President, CalTek Staffing.
How to Answer When a Potential Employer Asks if They Can Contact Your Current Employer?
On the question of “may we contact your current employer”, if there’s a concern about either timing (the question gives no indication of WHEN a call might be made, which could be very problematic for someone in a role and not wanting to risk it by a company calling at a bad time) or circumstance (you are leaving with a very complicated story to tell), I would say no in a nuanced way.
In whatever question in the application that’s most appropriate, state the following “I will be happy to provide references for the work I’ve done at all of my previous employers at the appropriate time.”
If the “may we contact your current employer” is a yes or no option on the application and you can’t add that sentence, put that sentence at the end of the section in which you list your duties in the role.
The above content was provided by Pete Havel, Author, The Arsonist in the Office.
At the end of the day, having a good reputation and favorable relationships with your old employers is a big help.
So, do what you can to be professional and maintain good relationships and you will be able to answer the questions of whether or not someone can contact an old employer with confidence.