So, here’s the dilemma.

An individual I know is currently interviewing with an organization and is at the reference checking stage which is great news but there’s a catch….

The HR Manager of the hiring company wants to speak to the candidate’s current manager, citing that this is a “requirement of our strict hiring process”.

Even though the candidate in question was very clear that they are employed and are conducting a highly confidential job search, the HR Manager insisted on getting a reference from their current boss.

Such a request obviously puts the candidate in a highly awkward position for two reasons.

It’s kind of like being between a rock and a hard place

If the candidate asks that the reference from their current employer be waived, this could immediately disqualify them from the process.

Even if they aren’t eliminated, the fact that they were “unwilling” to meet the hiring company’s request might look like they are being “difficult” which could reduce their chances of getting the job.

If the candidate agrees to fulfil the hiring company’s reference request, they are putting their current employment situation in total jeopardy.

Even if their boss is okay with it, if the candidate doesn’t get the job (which is entirely possible!) that makes going back to work the next day well….just weird.

Some employers might reluctantly agree to give a reference but might not give a “glowing” one because they don’t want to lose their employee.

Other employers might flatly refuse to give a reference and might be irritated by the request.

It creates a dysfunctional relationship

It’s kind of like being in a marriage where you tell your spouse you want to leave for someone else, but you need them to help you attract a new partner but if you aren’t successful, you want to stay married.

Staying in a relationship after you told your spouse you don’t want to be with them would make being in that relationship very, well, awkward. The trust would be broken. Your spouse might eventually tell you to leave or, at the very least, make your life a living hell.

Okay, I know it’s not exactly the same situation, but you get the point.

Unforgiving HR policies can reveal the company culture

In my opinion, any company who has such a strict reference checking policy that puts the candidate at risk is completely out of touch with reality and not being reasonable.

If a company is not willing to be flexible for candidates who are employed, they probably lack consideration and empathy for their employees which doesn’t bode well if you were to actually get the job.

Why would you want to risk your current job for a company whose work culture might be seriously lacking?  That might be enough reason to walk away from the process before you waste time competing for a job with a company that might have an undesirable work culture.

What do you do if you must use your current boss as a reference?

There is no easy answer. You do have some choices, but they all come with some risk.

#1 – Comply with the request

You can agree to provide a reference from your current employer, but as I’ve already pointed out, that might not work out well. You could lose your job or damage the relationship.

#2 – Don’t comply with the request

You can tell the hiring company that you would love to comply with the request but you can’t because it puts your current job in serious jeopardy, etc., etc.,  but you might be eliminated from the process right away. At the very least, your refusal might reduce your chances of getting the job.

#3 – Negotiate other options

You could tell the hiring company that while you would love to comply with their request but can’t (see #2), you would like to discuss other options that might be a win-win solution.

If they don’t like your comment, you might get disqualified which is probably for the best and will make you available for a better opportunity.

If they are open to a dialogue, you could explore these options:

Option #1:  You could share a detailed performance review which should be enough information to address any concerns they might have about your candidacy.

Option #2:  You could provide a reference from a former supervisor/manager.

Option #3:  You could provide a reference from with trusted peers (vs a direct supervisor), clients (if applicable), and even former colleagues who left the organization you currently work for.

Option #4: You could agree to undergo psychometric and other HR tests.

If none of the aforementioned strategies work, there is one last thing you could do that might work, but it still comes with a bit of a risk.

Option #5:  You could agree that if they feel you are the best fit for the job, that they extend the offer which would be contingent on them getting a favourable reference from your current manager.

In other words, the offer comes first, and the reference check is done afterwards. I’ve had clients (employers) agree to this and it worked out great for everyone.

There’s still a catch….

The one big problem with this is that your manager gets ticked off that you’re leaving, or you don’t have a great working relationship with them. In either case, you’re likely not going to get a great reference.

Also, the hiring company could decide for whatever reason they didn’t feel the reference check was “good enough” (which is a totally subjective thing) and pull the offer which they could do legally.

Unless you have a great relationship with your current boss and are virtually 100% sure that they’ll provide a stellar reference, this isn’t necessarily a fool-proof option. Remember, if you don’t get the job, how are you going to feel going back to work the next day?

At the end of the day, you have to decide how much risk you are willing to assume for a job opportunity that won’t necessarily come to fruition.

As with most job search strategies, you have to decide how much risk are you willing to take. Is it worth risking your current job for one that you might never get?

This is why it’s in your best interest to invest in the services of a career professional to help you come up with a workable job search strategy that doesn’t hurt your current employment situation. Feel free to contact me here.


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Hi!  I’m Diana.

I leverage over 10 years recruitment and sales/marketing experience to create attention-grabbing résumés, cover letters, and Linkedin profiles that help job seekers stand out, get noticed, and get hired. You can learn more about my story here and about how I can help you here.

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