If you’ve been through a job application process at all you’ve certainly listed your lineup of previous employers and positions. After each, it’s likely you were also asked, May we contact this employer?
Do you know what you should say?
We’ve created a guide to when it’s appropriate to say yes or no and the implications of your answer.
Why are they asking?
The main goal is verification. Employers want to know that you’re honest about the roles you’ve had and that you are really as good as you claim.
They may also want to ask questions to get an idea of how you act as an employee and your soft skills, such as your ability to meet deadlines, multitask, work well with others, and follow directions from management.
Note: asking for an employment verification letter is different.
What happens when you say yes?
For any past employer, you should always try to answer ‘yes’. By agreeing, you show that you have nothing to hide about your work history.
Also remember, even though this question appears on the initial application, the hiring team most likely won’t make any phone calls until late in the hiring process.
When you can say no
There are only a couple scenarios when it’s understandable to prevent potential employers from reaching out to your work contacts. When checking the ‘no’ box you should be prepared to explain your reasoning.
1. This is your current employer
Most people want to keep their job search out of view of their current employer for fear of termination or damaging the relationship.
Hiring managers understand this.
2. Your manager is no longer with the company
If your manager or direct supervisor is no longer with your previous company for whatever reason, you can mention this on your application.
However, you should try to find an alternative contact you also worked closely with who could verify your employment. Your manager’s boss or an HR rep works.
3. The company is no longer in business
It happens. You should still include this experience on your resume, but obviously, hiring teams won’t expect to speak with your former colleagues.
4. You don’t have such a great relationship with that employer
What should you do if you had a rocky relationship with your former boss or left the company on bad terms?
Don’t just leave the position off of your resume. This could raise questions about gaps in employment and be more harmful than helpful in the end.
List a different reference
If you and your manager had creative differences, provide the name and number of an alternative company employee, such as a higher-up supervisor, with whom you had a positive relationship. You could also list an HR staff member who would simply confirm your employment dates.
Double-check what they might say
When you’re worried what your reference will have to say about you, try asking: Do you feel that you could provide a positive reference for me?
Most employers will keep the conversation professional and you could have nothing to worry about. Some companies even have a policy of only sharing factual information to avoid any kind of defamation lawsuit. Call the HR team to find out if your previous company abides by a similar policy.