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What if I say no, don't contact my supervisor?
April 14, 2011 11:31 AM   Subscribe

When applying for federal jobs, how problematic is it not to allow a potential employer to contact a previous supervisor?

So, up until last January I was in ministry, and I've been a stay-at-home Dad/adjunct college instructor since then. I'm now starting the process of applying for jobs at the USAjobs.gov website, and there are some that I think would fit my skills very well. However: my last ministry posting ended very messily. There was ongoing conflict between me and the lay leadership regarding the scope and parameters of my responsibilities, and--I found out afterward--some false and damaging accusations had been leveled against me by a mentally ill church member. I'm not sure that those accusations were completely believed (no action was taken by any party) but I have no doubt that they still colored the way I was perceived. I really don't have the faintest idea what my supervisor would say about me if contacted, but the options basically range from neutral to devastating. I have excellent references from previous positions, yet I'm concerned that this one bad experience will derail my job prospects.

When filling out information on the website, for each previous job they ask "May we contact your supervisor?" The options are "Yes," "No," and "Contact me first."

I'm tempted to say "No," on this one, but I'm concerned about how that would look. "Yes" is risky. It could be okay, and it could awful. It won't be great. I guess "contact me first," makes the most sense, and then I can put whatever response they will get in context, and mention that previous experiences were much more positive. But I'm really only familiar with the ins and outs of ministry jobs, and I don't know how a potential federal employer would view a "no" or "contact me first" response. Any insights to help me figure out the best choice?
posted by anonymous to Work & Money (8 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
 
There was ongoing conflict between me and the lay leadership regarding the scope and parameters of my responsibilities, and--I found out afterward--some false and damaging accusations had been leveled against me by a mentally ill church member. I'm not sure that those accusations were completely believed (no action was taken by any party) but I have no doubt that they still colored the way I was perceived. I really don't have the faintest idea what my supervisor would say about me if contacted, but the options basically range from neutral to devastating.

It's almost guaranteed that they will do nothing but confirm dates of employment unless they want to get sued into oblivion.
posted by empath at 11:35 AM on April 14, 2011 [2 favorites]


Most likely they won't even bother to look at it... if you make it by the certification and are even looked at for the position, then they'd ask for a resume and probably do an interview... In my experience, i've never had an agency go back to a previous employer for the initial job, only time they did it was for the clearance process.
- Tim
posted by fozzie33 at 11:39 AM on April 14, 2011


In my experience, they did not do an extensive background check (and I don't have any clearance. just SOP) until after an interview and after filling out more paperwork.
After given the job offer, an outside company then verified my past employment by means of either SSN or calling and verifying dates of employment. Then they call the references that you list and speak to them on more of a personal "work performance" level.

Anytime I am applying for a job and it asks "May we contact your supervisor", I frequently put "no" for my current supervisor (obviously it's probably not a good idea to have a potential employer contact your present employer). So I'm sure they see the "No" and "Contact Me First" boxes checked frequently. I'm sure they don't even pay attention to it. But, if I were you, I would mark "Contact me first" just in case.
posted by KogeLiz at 11:45 AM on April 14, 2011


Also, I've had to put "contact me first" a few times because the supervisor didn't work there anymore.
posted by KogeLiz at 11:47 AM on April 14, 2011


I think that it does look a little questionable to say "no." But you have to weigh what looks worse -- saying, "no, don't contact them," or the employer finding out the unsubstantiated allegations that were brought against you. I would almost certainly choose the risk of saying "no, don't contact them," and let the chips fall where they may.

The problem is that it sounds like you didn't totally resolve the messy situation, nor did you entirely and definitively clear your name. That leaves you with two less-than-perfect options when applying for jobs, looking like you're hiding something versus the possibility of the scurrilous accusations being revealed to your prospective employer.

It's almost guaranteed that they will do nothing but confirm dates of employment unless they want to get sued into oblivion.

The hoary old chestnut that employers will get sued in oblivion if they give a less than neutral reference, is repeated in many of these kinds of questions, but can anyone give a cite or a direct personal experience of someone getting sued into oblivion, or even sued at all, for giving a bad reference?

I have NEVER heard of someone who faced significant repercussions, legal or otherwise, from giving a negative reference. This simply isn't the sort of thing that results in significant legal liability in the vast majority of cases. Most lawyers wouldn't touch a case like that.
posted by jayder at 12:50 PM on April 14, 2011


One way to find out what they would say would be to have someone you trust call them and pretend to ask for a reference.
posted by winna at 1:37 PM on April 14, 2011 [5 favorites]


it is our company policy (as i understand it is many others) to say nothing negative about an employee during a reference check. as empath states, being sued for defaming an ex employee is a definite possibility. like the old adage says, if i have nothing good to say about the employee, all i do is confirm that they worked for me.
posted by ps_im_awesome at 1:54 PM on April 14, 2011


But will the lay leaders of your former church have the same sort of "corporate" hyper-lawsuit-averse attitudes which would make them say nothing outside of the dates of employment?

I mean, as jayder points out, this is a common fear that has been codified into guidelines at companies but which actually appear to be founded on very little (possibly no) evidence in terms of actual lawsuits or damage.
posted by clerestory at 7:34 AM on April 15, 2011


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