May we Contact Your Current Employer?

Interview preparation

3 Ways to Politely Decline the may we contact your current employer question

If you are like most American workers, you probably do your job hunting under the radar.  It’s not water cooler talk, and it’s certainly not something you want to discuss with your boss or supervisor.  So, how do you respond when an interviewer asks may we contact your current employer?

On the one hand, you don’t want to seem shady or like you have something to hide. You also don’t want to seem difficult or use the word “no” at all. However, what happens if they contact your current employer and then go with someone else? Now, you’re either stuck in a terrible and awkward work environment, or worse, they decide to fire you before you have a chance to quit.

For those of you still on the fence, the answer is “no”.  Unless your boss is already aware you are leaving and you are on outstanding terms with them, don’t risk it. Companies with experienced hiring departments understand the negative ramifications of preemptively letting the cat out of the bad and do understand your hesitancy to do so.

Like most things, the answer matters less than the delivery.  There is a diplomatic way to circumnavigate the question, and a rude way.  Here are a few examples of the wrong way to do it:

“No. You don’t need to contact them. You should have everything you need.”

“No. I don’t feel it’s appropriate for you to contact them.”

“No. I feel that’s a violation of my privacy.”

Now that’s we addressed the wrong way to do it, let’s look at some effective ways of saying “no”, while sounding like you’re saying “yes”. It’s called re-direction and it looks like this:

  1. “You know, I haven’t yet spoken to my employer regarding my job search. I hope you understand I’d feel more comfortable if we held off a bit before doing so.  In the meantime, I’d be happy to provide you with references and letters of recommendation to help you get to know my work style and personality a little better.”


  1. “I completely understand your need to get feedback from those who have experience working with me. I have a great working relationship with my current employer, however as they don’t know I’m currently looking, perhaps you could speak with one of my previous employers instead?”


  1. “I’d be happy to have you contact my current employer a little further down the process. I have a wonderful relationship with my current employer and I’d hate for them to get the news of my leaving before I’ve had a chance to personally give them a letter of resignation.  Perhaps, after I’ve accepted an offer would be best.”


All of these methods employ a few common elements.

1 It’s not a “never”, it’s a “not now”. This is huge, because a “never” does look a little shady and untrustworthy.  Almost everyone understands the need for discretion, but not secrecy.  Secrecy indicates dishonesty.  Are you lying about your salary? Are you about to get fired anyway? Do you have performance issues?

  1. The word “no” is not present. Although you’ve told them they may not contact your employer, you’ve never actually used the word “no”. This is important from a psychological standpoint. Think of someone who has recently asked something of you.  If they told you “no” the last time you asked them for something, would that subconsciously affect your decision to grant them their request?
  2. It provides context to the “no”. Although we may think it’s common sense for a hiring department to understand exactly why we’d be hesitant to allow them to contact your current employer, not everyone understands this. Most do, but there are newer companies, or even just newer managers who lack the experience.  By giving context to the “no”, you are vastly improving communication and eliminating any questions as to why you would not want them to contact your employer.  With context, they don’t have to wonder why, they know exactly why because you’ve explained it to them.

So, may we contact your current employer does’t have to be a nervous moment in the conversation, and being prepared for it makes it much easier.

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