Recruiters at job prospect want to contact current employers
August 29, 2007 11:11 AM   Subscribe

[JobFilter] I've been through two interviews, they've contacted my references, and now the "last step" in the application process is for them to contact my current employers -- who don't know I want to leave. How normal is this? What should I do?

They say that after they contact my employers, they'll offer me the job at X amount of money.

But because no contract has been signed they're of course completely free to NOT offer me the job should my current employers say something they don't like -- leaving me stuck in the same crappy job, now just with some more pissed-off bosses. And by making my current situation double-plus ungood the Potential Job Offerers basically guarantee that I have zero room to negotiate the salary they're offering.

This just strikes me as all sorts of sketchy. What would you do in my situation?
posted by hazelshade to Work & Money (29 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
It's very common, not sketchy, just the chance you take when moving from job to job.

If there's anyone who recently left the company you currently work for, who knows the quality of your work, see if you can get them to give you a reference instead.
posted by pomegranate at 11:12 AM on August 29, 2007

Negotiate the salary contingent upon a favorable reference from current employer. Have a contract that spells out everything you agree to but have one clause stating that this is contingent upon a satisfactory review from current boss. The risk is in the definition of "positive" or "satisfactory".
posted by JohnnyGunn at 11:16 AM on August 29, 2007

It might ease your mind if there was some way to learn your company's policy on these things. As an example, if I apply for a job elsewhere and the prospective employer contacts my current employer, it is my current employer's policy to a) refer all such inquiries to the HR department, and b) only confirm the fact of and the date(s) of employement. So HR would say "Yes, ersatzkat does (did) work for us, beginning on MM/DD/YY (and ending on MM/DD/YY)." That's it. If your company has some similar policy in place, it may minimize the damage you're fearing/anticipating.
posted by ersatzkat at 11:25 AM on August 29, 2007

Have you told them you don't want them to contact your current employer?

In your place, I would express my firm desire that they not do so, and offer them an unofficial reference from a friend who works (or better yet worked) there with me.

In my experience it seems totally normal to expect prospective employers not to contact your current employer without your express permission -- and really weird for them to insist on it, especially if you demur.
posted by ottereroticist at 11:29 AM on August 29, 2007

Another alternative you can offer is to show them a copy of your latest review.

JohnnyGunn: What's the point of doing that, when the OP's concern is poisoning the well with their current employer should the new one decide not to hire?

ersatzkat: Again, the OP's concern is being "outed" as looking, not that the current employer will say something bad.
posted by ottereroticist at 11:33 AM on August 29, 2007

In my experience it seems totally normal to expect prospective employers not to contact your current employer without your express permission -- and really weird for them to insist on it, especially if you demur.

posted by Big_B at 11:33 AM on August 29, 2007

When I went through this, I pointed out feeling exactly this way. They were cool with the secondary references I could dig up (I had worked there for almost six years, which makes it harder) and that made me think they were a good company.

I got the job, and I was right.
posted by jragon at 11:44 AM on August 29, 2007

Response by poster: Ottereroticist has it right -- I'm not worried that they'd say something bad, but they really won't be happy I'm leaving. Two other people have left this job since the beginning of the year (one before I got here; the other started at the same time I did and left three months in). Because I'd be the third -- and I'm good at this very boring but detail-oriented job -- it makes the situation all the worse.

I told the HR woman that I'd really prefer that they not contact my current employers because they don't know I'm looking, and it would be really awkward, but she's insisting on it. So I'm "taking some time to process" this contingency before calling her back about it, probably tomorrow.

What makes this weirder is that I interned at this place for a couple months this past winter. So it's not like I'm some unknown quantity.
posted by hazelshade at 11:49 AM on August 29, 2007

IMHO. If I were your prospective employer I wouldn't give a rats ass what your current employer says. I'd want to hear from your previous employer. For all I know you're a shiftless lazy bastard that your current employer would be glad to see the back end of.
posted by Gungho at 11:51 AM on August 29, 2007

and I've never heard of anyone calling the current employer. That seems so wrong I'd mention it to them that it seems to be against standard practices, but do it in a nice way.
posted by Gungho at 11:53 AM on August 29, 2007

Not sure where you're based, but in the UK, in my experience, you tend to get an formal offer letter, which is subject to references. The offer letter is your cue to hand in your resignation and tell your boss that your new employer will be contacting them for a reference.

Asking for a referee from your current job is standard - especially if you've been there for a while. But asking for it before you get a formal offer of employment does sound a bit unusual.

Can you ask your new company to send you a formal offer of employment that is subject to references?

Can you speak to someone in HR, or someone in a different department at the same level as your boss, who knows your work and would hence be a suitable reference? They'll be more likely to be objective and hence not in a pissed-off mood when they're asked for a reference.

But if you do end up giving your current boss as a referee (if it's a small company, for instance), then make sure you have the conversation with them first. You want them to find out that you're considering leaving from you, not from your new employers!

RE: the salary negotiations - do that now. If you want more money / better perks, discuss and agree that before handing over references.
posted by finding.perdita at 12:00 PM on August 29, 2007 [2 favorites]

I've also never heard of this happening, but maybe this is just the way things are in our post-9/11 world.
posted by rhizome at 12:01 PM on August 29, 2007

Ya, this is not at all normal to me. I've never had a prospective employer want to speak with a current employer. How large/small of a company is this?
posted by FlamingBore at 12:02 PM on August 29, 2007

Response by poster: It's not a huge organization -- I'd say around 60 people, and it's a nonprofit. (My current employer is a nonprofit too.)
posted by hazelshade at 12:03 PM on August 29, 2007

Talk to the hiring manager. Explain the situation, offer them whatever alternative you have, and ask for their help in resolving the situation.

The tone is calm, reasonable, "of course you understand my position," with an overlay of polite surprise that they would be even be asking for something so out-of-the-ordinary.

If you hit a brick wall ("this is our company policy and you can like it or lump it"), I would treat it as a red flag. If this is how they treat candidates -- with suspicion, rigidity, and lack of empathy -- you might be better off letting this opportunity pass you by.
posted by ottereroticist at 12:05 PM on August 29, 2007 [2 favorites]

finding.perdita has another good alternative: tell them they're welcome to speak to your current employers, once you have an offer letter in hand.

And don't let them try to set the salary unilaterally -- before they cut the offer letter, you need to negotiate for the compensation package you want.
posted by ottereroticist at 12:08 PM on August 29, 2007

And by making my current situation double-plus ungood the Potential Job Offerers basically guarantee that I have zero room to negotiate the salary they're offering.

I'm not sure why you think so -- couldn't you tell Potential Job that when Current Job got a call about your references, they offered you more money to stay?
posted by occhiblu at 12:22 PM on August 29, 2007

Response by poster: couldn't you tell Potential Job that when Current Job got a call about your references, they offered you more money to stay?

A nice thought, but I think it's more likely they'll just be pissed off at me for realizing like my predecessors that this job sucks and trying to peace out asap (like my predecessors). :/
posted by hazelshade at 12:29 PM on August 29, 2007

ersatzkat is right. All of the companies I have worked for in the past have had a policy of confirming the dates of employment only.

Any negative option from a person or persons at your current job could open things up for a lawsuit. At least that is what someone explained to me as the reason for these policies.
posted by remthewanderer at 12:44 PM on August 29, 2007

remthewanderer, did you read the question?
posted by ottereroticist at 2:35 PM on August 29, 2007

Response by poster: They don't want to confirm employment dates, unfortunately -- they told me they want to talk with my current employers because the work I'd be doing in New Job is semi-related to what I've been doing in Current Job.

Thanks everyone for your responses and advice.
posted by hazelshade at 3:08 PM on August 29, 2007

I do freelance writing and editing for several career/employment publications, including those aimed at HR professionals. There's a big push for HR people to get references from current employers. Some of the articles out there say that you shouldn't consider the candidate if they won't let you talk to their current manager. They insist that offers not be made subject to a reference. However, if you're dealing with a prospective employer who totally lacks in empathy for your situation, I think you need to think the situation through. I don't know many people who have employers who would be thrilled to hear that they've been seeking work elsewhere. In fact, if the job falls through, you could end up with a boss/employer who won't consider you for advancement, give you good assignments or even retain you. So I think you should politely explain that it's not possible for you to put them in touch with your boss or HR department. If you have a co-worker who will keep things quiet, especially one who has left your company, you might be able to put the prospective employer in touch with them.
posted by acoutu at 3:30 PM on August 29, 2007

hazelshade, do you have any reason to believe you'll get a bad reference? I guess I don't understand why you're so resistant to this - it's quite normal and usually somewhat of a formality.
posted by pomegranate at 3:37 PM on August 29, 2007

A nice thought, but I think it's more likely they'll just be pissed off at me for realizing like my predecessors that this job sucks and trying to peace out asap (like my predecessors). :/

Yeah, but they don't know that. So, yes, worst case, you find yourself in a situation where your old job is on their way to firing you, and you have to take the new job at whatever terms they could pay. But you could potentially negotiate them to the very highest terms they are willing to pay via the ruse occhiblu suggests.
posted by salvia at 3:55 PM on August 29, 2007

It's not about getting a bad reference! Would you please read the freakin question before you post?

Hazelshade, you are right to be concerned about being "outed." I have heard of other job seekers being verbally berated, passed over for promised raises, or even fired on the spot. It's why decent companies don't put prospective employees in this position.

Re: occhiblu's suggestion: While you may indeed get a counter-offer, I would not recommend fabricating one as a negotiating technique. Lying is bad karma, and these things have the strangest way of getting around town.
posted by ottereroticist at 4:05 PM on August 29, 2007

Best answer: OK, I see where people are getting confused. They're assuming that if Current Employer gives you a good reference, then New Employer will hire you. So, good reference = no problem, right?

But in fact there are lots of reasons that an offer might fall through. They might have a bad month and get cold feet, the hiring manager might get reorg'd, the CFO's niece might walk in the door looking for a job, etc.

So until you have an offer letter in your hand, you have no guarantee they're going to hire you -- leaving you vulnerable to being stuck betwixt and between, with a boss who hates you but no new job to jump to. A situation you are wise to avoid if possible.
posted by ottereroticist at 4:13 PM on August 29, 2007

Response by poster: Ottereroticist, you expressed perfectly what I was vaguely feeling in my gut. Thank you.

I'm going to contact HR lady tomorrow and say no dice. I wonder if they'll realize that they can't ask people shit like this (particularly in the nonprofit world -- Jesus).
posted by hazelshade at 4:16 PM on August 29, 2007

You've only been at your current job since late March - 5 months. And you're on the younger side with little substantial work experience, so maybe they just want to "check you out" a little more (like in terms of is there something wrong with you and that's why you're leaving so soon, or is it something wrong with your job, etc?). Particularly if none of your other references have been supervisors. Though if you interned there it does seem a little strange, but perhaps a formality that everyone goes through?

I'm near the end of a job search right now and am finding this is pretty common. Granted, I left my job because I moved so technically, it's not "current", but EVERYONE has wanted to be able to call what would otherwise be considered my current supervisor (including a non-profit). Folks were extremely insistent upon talking to former supervisors (at least 2-3!) I'm guessing for the following reasons:
- Not a friend (not always anyway) and therefore more likely to be objective
- Direct information about your work and habits, etc from a supervisory perspective
- Knowledgeable about your grasp of the concepts/skills needed for success in the new position (which you mentioned)

Your boss is going to know you were looking when you hand in your resignation. I've known a few people (including myself, twice) who (for whatever reason) told their supervisors they were looking and no one I know (particularly if they were a good employee) has ever been victimized as a result. If your boss is normally a cool, reasonable person, you should be fine. How did your boss treat the other people when he found out they were leaving?

Don't mess up this offer because you're worried that your boss won't be happy and the team has already lost other people. It's just business and besides, it might be a good wake-up call to your boss. Yes, it might backfire and your boss might hate you, but in all honesty, you've hated this job since your first post about it in March - hating it and being hated will suck temporarily, but you're planning to find another job regardless so I don't think it's quite as scary as you're expecting. If you get fired, well, not the end of the world either, since you are miserable and it doesn't pay enough (and you have a whole list of temp agencies you can call). I know that sounds sort of insane, but I think you're being too overcautious and so considerate that it might hurt you in the end. I know you've already made your decision but I just wanted to throw this out there. Good luck regardless :)
posted by ml98tu at 5:47 PM on August 29, 2007

Response by poster: Weird, I sometimes forget that people can look up your question-asking history. Yep, I've been at my current sucky job since March (early March, so I've been there for about half a year now).

I gave Prospective Job three references -- all supervisors -- from the place I worked at for two full years after college. (I left that job two years ago, for grad school, so it's not like it's ancient history.) I met one of my former supervisors for drinks last night and she said she'd been contacted by the people at Prospective Job, so they definitely talked to my former supervisors.

My current boss is very cool, but I think he'll have a conniption that I'm leaving just because I'll be the third person to leave this job this year -- a pretty fair indication that it's the job, not me, that's the problem. I also think everyone else I work with might be pissed that I'm considering leaving, because it'll make their lives considerably harder if I'm not around being competent at my boring job, so if I go for this other job and it ends up not working out the working environment will blow beyond words.

Long story short (too late!), I appreciate your advice to be less cautious but I'm unfortunately one of those people who feels like being fired would, in fact, be the end of the world. That's just how I roll :) Thanks for the thoughts though.
posted by hazelshade at 6:31 PM on August 29, 2007

« Older cool crafts on louisiana road trip?   |   Are bathroom hand dryers really unsanitary? Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.