Should I Let Them Contact My Ex-Manager?
April 16, 2007 11:35 AM   Subscribe

I was fired from my last job--due primarily to a personality conflict with my former manager--and am applying for another one. They want to know if they can contact my former manager. I can only give a "Yes" or "No" answer, I believe. Additionally, the job I'm applying for is a federal one, if that makes a difference. What's best? Thanks in advance!
posted by whitebird to Work & Money (19 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
If I were you, I would answer "No." You may be asked why, and I would be prepared to discuss the personality conflict a bit if asked. But I would have to think that your chances of landing the job would be harmed much more by your ex-manager's input than by your explanation of why he/she isn't a good contact.
posted by cerebus19 at 11:57 AM on April 16, 2007

I understand what you are going through Whitebird, because I have a very similar problem. (as it stands, I'm marking it "YES" because my ex-employer said they would give me a positive recommendation, but how much that word is good for is anyones guess)

My opinion would be.. that if you mark it "NO"... then they are probably going to ask why, and you'll have to explain it anyways. I think the common industry advice is to explain the situation the best way you know how without being disrespectful to your ex-employer,.... and if possible, spin it in a way that looks positive for you. (IE== "I had some creative ideas to improve our workplace that were relatively cheap but management didnt want to implement them, so I moved on to find another employer."..... or something like that)
posted by jmnugent at 11:59 AM on April 16, 2007

Response by poster: My fear is I won't be seriously considered and won't get a chance to explain the situation.
posted by whitebird at 12:19 PM on April 16, 2007

Why not just say that your manager left and you don't have any way of getting in touch with him?
posted by onepapertiger at 12:29 PM on April 16, 2007

Just remember that asking you if they can contact someone is a courtesy - they can really do what they want in that regard. If there's a way to put supplemental information on the form I'd simply comment briefly on the personality conflict and offer some additional names. Then tell them to contact who they want.

You never can tell, but reasonable people understand that not everyone gets along and ask question to get the full picture. In checking someone's references years ago I once got someone on the phone who had almost nothing nice to say about my applicant. When I asked if they'd hire her again, stating that I felt it was clear what the answer was, they said no. Then I asked "Just to confirm - her application to me indicates you employed her for just under five years."

While I suppose people have different thresholds of aggravation, I question the accuracy of someone's statement that someone was useless and they kept them employed in their 8 person shop for five years anyway. You just need to hope that your potential new employer digs deep enough to get the whole story on you. Try to steer them to good sources for that information, but in the end you're just going to have to take it on faith they will do their due diligence.
posted by phearlez at 12:30 PM on April 16, 2007

It might be that your former manager isn't allowed (or is scared to) give details out anyway, due to fear of lawsuits. I'm pretty sure my current employer allows us to only confirm that someone worked here.
posted by callmejay at 12:34 PM on April 16, 2007

Response by poster: Phearlez, I wasn't employed by this company for very long, so I don't know if your logic would work here (although I do understand it).

What would you have done if someone indicated they didn't want you to contact an ex-manager?
posted by whitebird at 12:37 PM on April 16, 2007

First off, you need to know what this person will say about you. Have a friend call saying theyre from "XYZ corporation" and they want to talk to him about your job performance. Your old manager has no idea this is a front.

Secondly, its not unusual to write no on these formsl. Usually, its for people who are employed and dont want their employers to know they are on the job hunt. If youre qualified and an interesting applicant you dont have to fear.
posted by damn dirty ape at 12:45 PM on April 16, 2007 [1 favorite]

Why not just say that your manager left and you don't have any way of getting in touch with him?

Do not lie on a job application, especially one for the federal government. That's a good way to get yourself barred from future employment.

If you don't want them to call, check no. If you have the skills that they are looking for, they will give you a chance to explain why you checked "no". It's not uncommon for people not to tell their bosses that they are applying for jobs. I doubt that the hiring manager will think it's a big deal.
posted by donajo at 12:56 PM on April 16, 2007

Why not just say that your manager left and you don't have any way of getting in touch with him?

Probably because lying is morally and ethically wrong, and because if they for some reason didn't believe you and called, they'd find out he was lying and he'd be guaranteed not to get the job.

I do not recommend this course of action. You're in a tough situation and I don't think there's a definite right answer, it really depends on the hiring manager. They're all going to react differently to a "No", as well as a "Yes, but..."
posted by twiggy at 1:03 PM on April 16, 2007

Seconding callmejay, many companies will not give many (if any) details about a person's former employment. That being said, small industries and/or small communities tend to say a lot of things off the record anyway. I doubt that would be an issue for a federal position.

Unrelated, but a friend of mine had to put personal references on an application for a state department job, and a person in the business later told him "That's so they know which people not to contact when they're really looking for things."
posted by shinynewnick at 1:11 PM on April 16, 2007

as far as i know, legally, all an employer can say is your start date, end date, and whether or not they would rehire you. if they go beyond that they break the law. i've been given the option of signing a release allowing former employers to expound on how awesome i was. some potential new employers will have as part of the application, hidden in the legalese, a similar release allowing companies to say more when questioned about you. read the fine print... if you only worked there for a little while you could just leave them off the work history. unless the skills learned apply directly. i don't think it's morally ambiguous to leave them off. companies will say more off the record, if you think that's the case call yourself, or a friend to test them. if they do that, find out the laws for your area, walk in, hand them a copy of the law they broke and tell them you'll be checking again and will drop the law on there head so fast you won't have to look for jobs again. being able to whip out the actual revised code from a state is impressive and scares the shit out of people. check your state website, shouldn't take to long, just lots of reading.
posted by andywolf at 2:23 PM on April 16, 2007

oh, i've seen employers take someone out of the call pile because they checked the "no" spot next to a job. unless currently employed there.
posted by andywolf at 2:27 PM on April 16, 2007

If it's a federal job, one of the many documents in the stack of documents they give you as you go through the process would be a waiver that allows your employer and former employers to talk about details, rather than just the state and end date.

If there's a security clearance involved, you can bet the farm that they'll ask why you don't want them to talk to your previous boss. It might even be a strong negative mark when it comes time to have your access adjudicated.
posted by jeversol at 2:58 PM on April 16, 2007

andywolf, there is no law preventing past employers from talking to others about your employment. Some choose not to because they fear that you might sue them for defamation if they say bad things, but they are most certainly not breaking the law if they choose to talk about you.
posted by decathecting at 2:59 PM on April 16, 2007

As a Federal employee I know that when I applied for my job they contacted my current employer but only after my interview and they contacted my references after I had been hired.

So, I would put yes but when you are interviewed you can explain that you may not receive a good reference.
posted by govtdrone at 7:00 PM on April 16, 2007

Like decathecting said, it's not against the law to discuss details of former employers, but most firms will not do more than "name rank and serial number" because they don't want the details to come back and haunt them, any more than you want the details to rear up and haunt you.

If the former firm had such a thing, why don't you give the name and phone number of the Personnel or Human Resources director rather than of your boss? Then you can check "yes," which you really kinda need to do.

Plus, if the former boss is a jerk, this is going to be apparent in the conversation--HR people tend to be pretty savvy. Also, future employers who take statements at face value without corroborating them with you or getting your take on it, you probably don't want to work for anyway.

Assuming you get to the interview stage, you may want to practice a concise and cogent answer to "your former boss said you were difficult to work with." (Something like-- Did he really? I'm so sorry to hear he felt our differences were impediments. I learned alot about < --> during my time there.)
posted by nax at 7:02 PM on April 16, 2007

Response by poster: Thanks so much for all the great advice!

The job is security-related, so I decided to check "Yes." I figured they might be uncomfortable with a "No." I'll explain if I get to the interview stage, I suppose, as jeversol, govtdrone and nax mentioned.
posted by whitebird at 8:10 PM on April 16, 2007

What would you have done if someone indicated they didn't want you to contact an ex-manager?

I would ask for a reason, and if it was any other than "I am still employed there and I am not comfortable with them knowing I'm looking for other work" I'd probably invite them to tell me their side of the story and ask them to change their mind.

If they continued to refuse I would honor that request but I probably wouldn't hire them either. Just because someone was above another person in rank doesn't mean - to me - that they are therefor more reliable or reasonable, so I'd take he-said-she-said situations with a grain of salt and consider both sides as presented to me. However someone who refuses to let me get another side? If they can't take a leap of faith and trust me then I don't see how I can do it for them.

This may also be colored a bit by the fact that I work in an industry where people sometimes are called upon to sign non-compete agreements - I signed one myself. It's dishonest and puts my new employer at risk if I don't disclose this fact to them, though some people do that. Someone trying to keep me from contacting a former employer might be trying to keep such a thing under the radar.

It is worth mentioning that I am not regularly called upon to make hiring decisions (though I am asked for my input, typically) so you might want to take this with a grain of salt.
posted by phearlez at 11:06 AM on April 17, 2007

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