Answering "May We Contact This Employer?" In An Interview [2020 Updated]
You put references on your resume, go in for your interview, and at the end of it, the interviewer asks, “May we contact this employer?” What should you do? We’re going to go over how to answer this and how to not get yourself in a trap that might be difficult to get out of. All of it is in this guide. Let’s get right into it!
The Importance Of An Accurate Resume
It’s not uncommon for there to be a few white lies on the resume. And that’s probably okay. But when you lie about your previous employment history, that’s when things can get a little hairy. If you are trying to appear as though you have more experience and put previous employers on your resume who you never worked for, don’t do it. The reality is that it will do more harm than good to lie about your employment history.
Pro tip: In a 2018 HireRight survey, 85% of employers surveyed uncovered a lie or misrepresentation on a candidate’s resume or job application. Meaning the use of professional references, letters of recommendation or referrals are vital to increasing your chances of employment.
The way to combat this is to have more side projects and passion projects that you can show to future employers. In fact, that will serve you a great deal better than lying about past employment.
When the interviewer asks you if they can contact your previous employers to get a recommendation and you lied about prior experience, it’s going to be difficult to navigate that conversation. In short, could you not do it?
The Question “Why Did You Leave Your Last Job?”
Before you even answer if the hiring manager can contact your previous employer, you must tie this in with the reason why you left your last job. Employers will ask you, “Why did you leave your previous position?” When they ask this, be sure it’s accurate. Yes, you can absolutely add some simplicity to the answer that will make it sound more professional. But you want to be sure that you answer in a way that when your prior employer is contacted, they also agree is the reason.
The worst thing you can do is lie about the reason you left. If a prior employer wasn’t happy with your performance and you said to your new employer that you didn’t like their leadership, it will be difficult for the hiring manager to side with you.
Be sure you strategically answer this question before answering if they can contact your previous employer.
If You Answer “Yes”
Answering “yes” is very clearly the right decision to make when the hiring manager asks if they can contact your old manager. Ideally, you left on positive terms. It’s important to note that even if you left your previous position in a mediocre way, your prior employer will not disparage you and cause harm to your career. This is somewhat illegal to do, and your previous employer wouldn’t do that.
But if they’re contacted and say something like, “He/she was difficult to work with,” then you’ll have a difficult time explaining that to your new employer, and you might not be considered for the position at all.
Answer “yes” at all costs, unless you left that position or were fired from that position in a dramatic way. If you were, what is recommended is to leave that prior experience off your resume altogether. That way, you don’t have to engage with that story from the beginning.
If You Answer “No”
Answering “no” to this question isn’t the best. It will make it appear as though you are hiding something from your new employer. And you don’t want to start your relationship off on an untrustworthy note. If you don’t want to say no, there are some other ways that you can navigate this.
The best thing you can say is:
- I’d be happy to provide letters of recommendation that I have, as the previous managers I worked with aren’t at the company any longer
- I’d prefer if you contacted these other companies on my resume as they had more experience working with me
You can redirect the focus towards areas where you are more equipped. Jobs where you know you’ll have a previous manager who had something great to say about you.
Remember, if you don’t feel like you want your new employer to contact your previous employer, **then leave that job off the resume all together**. That is your best course of action in terms of prevention.
What If You Were Terminated
If you were terminated from your previous position, don’t put that on the resume, either. This will be even more complicated to have to explain to your future employer. If you have a gap in your resume and your employer asks about that, say you took time off to regroup.
Letters Of Recommendation Are Important
This question is what makes letters of recommendation so important. At nearly every job you attend, regardless of if you think you’ll use it, get a letter of recommendation. If you provide that to future employers, they won’t have any reason to call your prior employer. And that can save you a lot of time, save them a lot of time and prevent any miscommunication from occurring.
How Do You Answer “May I contact this employer?”
The short and skinny of it, answer “Yes!” The likelihood of your prior employer speaking negatively about you, to try and cause you any harm, is going to be slim. You’re better off answering with “Yes” even if you feel like the relationship you had with your prior employer wasn’t so great. Remember, strategize how you answer why you left your previous job and be sure it coincides with what your prior employer might also agree with. It doesn’t need to be a long story, something short, non-descriptive, yet professional will do.
Job Seekers FAQ
Questions related to past employer references.
How can I make sure my current employer doesn't know about my new job?
If you list on your resume that you are currently employed, you will not be asked to contact your current employer. This doesn't happen. You should indicate to your hiring manager that you are still employed and starting your job search or seeking new employment.
What if it's a requirement on my application?
If your application asks you to list multiple previous employers or a former employer, you should list it. If you don't feel comfortable providing the new employer's ability to contact your current company or current job regarding your employment, indicate that. You will not be punished for this. Just list "present employer" on your job application.
What makes a poor reference?
A personal reference would not be a good one. It would help if you listed a former employee, supervisor, or the previous boss.
What if the application is asking for my full work history?
Try to provide as much of it as possible. As long as it is relevant to the job you're applying for. An irrelevant job is something that the HR department won't find any benefit in.
What if I want to list my current manager, current boss, or current supervisor as my reference, and what if they contact them?
It's best to indicate that this is not a previous company you worked with but is your current company or employer. That means that your prospective employer will most likely not call them, which could harm your current employment. This is a normal part of the process when hiring new employees.
Will not contacting a previous supervisor or employee be harmful to me receiving a job offer?
No, it won't. You still have letters of recommendation or other assets that can help with the interview process. It won't hurt the hiring process as much as you might think.
What interview stage do they contact a previous employee of mine?
Usually right before they offer you a job. This is right around the time you receive a job offer. At the point you have a job offer, you may want to resign from your role. And then be sure you leave on good terms so that when your new potential employer contacts them, they have good things to say about you.
Our favorite resources are included below.
Job interview resources
- Common Interview Questions by Marquette University
- Prepare for Behavioral Interview Questions by Marquette University
- Preparing for Job Interviews by the University of Kansas
- Mock Interview Handbook by CSUCI
- Interview Guidebook by Lebanon Valley College
Resume and cover letter resources
- Writing a Resume and Cover Letter by USC
- Resume Writing Tips by the University of Wisconsin-Madison
- Resume and Cover Letter Guide by Harvard University
Job search resources
Phone interviews have become a core part of the process when attempting to find a secured placement for an open position. Companies receive massive responses from potential candidates for any..
Concerning a job search, you might receive numerous offers from your recruiters. Before you choose one, you need to assess all the conditions, for which it is vital that you know everything associated with the offered position..
Answering this question during a job interview requires more than knowing why you are unique as an individual. Yes, the true scientific answer is made up of two main components: your..
An ice breaker question is a question that’s asked from one person to another person in order to act as a conversation starter. It brings a connection...
Open-ended questions like “What motivates you?” can elicit a deer-in-the-headlights reaction from job candidates if they are unprepared. It’s a broad question and can leave the interviewer..
A lot of interviewers ask this question - how did you hear about this position? This way they can judge you if you are a passive or an active job seeker..
Writing a thank you note after an interview says a lot about you as a potential employee. Most notably, it says that you care about the opportunities presented..
Writing the perfect letter of resignation is more of an art than it is a science. And we’re going to cover how to master that art form in this full guide..
Knowing how to end a business note or email is an important skill to develop. It helps portray a sense of confidence, respect and tone to your message..