Answering "May We Contact This Employer?" In An Interview

may we contact this employer

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 as well as 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 simply 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, don’t do it!

The Question “Why Did You Leave Your Last Job?”

Before you even answer if the hiring manager can contact your previous employer, it’s really important that you 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 prior to 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 isn’t going to 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 all together. 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’s some other ways that you can navigate this.

The best thing you can say is:

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, simply 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.

author: patrick algrim
About the author

Patrick Algrim is an experienced executive who has spent a number of years in Silicon Valley hiring and coaching some of the world’s most valuable technology teams. Patrick has been a source for Human Resources and career related insights for Forbes, Glassdoor, Entrepreneur,, SparkHire, and many more.


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