Job Interview Tips

How to Answer “Can I Contact Your Current Employer?”

Written by Kate Lopaze

If anyone asks where you were today, you were at a dentist’s appointment. Right? The vague “appointment,” always in the middle of the day, is a classic tactic for interviewing for new jobs while you’re still at your current one. You just put up your “out of office” message and hope no one notices that you’re awfully dressed up for a Wednesday. However, your slick cover story could be blown if the interviewing company contacts your current one.

How does one avoid this potential explosion of awkwardness?

Look, everyone understands that the sneaky interview is kind of the dirty little secret of the working world. Everyone does it at some point, in hopes of trading up their current position, or pursuing a new opportunity. That doesn’t mean you want your intentions broadcast across your current companyespecially if you don’t get the new gig. Ideally, the interviewer will accept your list of non-current-boss references without question. But there’s a chance he or she might ask you the dreaded question: “Hey, do you mind if I contact your current employer?”

DO understand that they’re not trying to double-cross you.

No one is snitching…the person interviewing you merely wants to get a sense of what you’re like as a current employee. He or she knows it’s awkward, but it’s a valid question. After all, your current boss might know you’re interviewing for a variety of reasons (like your job is ending due to a layoff, your job is temporary, etc.)—so it certainly can’t hurt to ask.

DON’T panic, and assume that everyone will soon know about your secret interview.

It’s definitely okay to say that you’d like to keep your job search under wraps for now.

DO have some current colleagues in mind that you could include as a reference.

If you have a trusted coworker who has a clear sense of your abilities as an employee, but who can also be trusted with a secret (and who has been told ahead of time that you’re on the hunt), then offer them as an alternative reference. That way, you can say to the interviewer that you’re not comfortable if she talks to your current boss yet, but that you have another reference at your current company whom she could talk to in the meantime.

DON’T act cagey, like you have something to hide.

Be up-front that you’re not comfortable offering up your current boss as a reference at this time. Emphasize that your available references are well aware of your abilities as an employee, and let the interviewer know that they’re happy to talk to him or her in the meantime.

DO leave the door open for the future.

After you say that you’re not comfortable with the interviewer talking with your current manager, make sure they know that it’s not a final “no.” Let him or her know that when the timing is right, you’d be open to them contacting your current company.

If all goes well, you can sneak back into your office with a spring in your step, and secure in the knowledge that your secret is safe for now.

About the author

Kate Lopaze

Kate Lopaze is a writer, editor, and digital publishing professional based in New York City. A graduate of the University of Connecticut and Emerson College with degrees in English and publishing, she is passionate about books, baseball, and pop culture (though not necessarily in that order), and lives in Brooklyn with her dog.