Current Employer References May Be Difficult in Business and at Work

As I was chatting with a business colleague last week, they asked my advice on a hiring process their relative had recently experienced: after tendering the written employment offer, the prospective employer wanted to contact the applicant’s references at their current employer, because the applicant’s job with the current employer is/was the applicant’s first job out of college.

The applicant declined to do so, and the new employer proceeded anyway with the applicant’s hiring process. “Is asking for references from the current employer a common practice?” Colleague asked.

Ideally, it’s great to get references from the current employer, especially direct supervisors and internal customers. However, for the applicant:

  • Their current employer may not take kindly to the prospect of their employee’s unplanned and imminent departure from the organization, which may negatively impact the applicant’s current employment, at times resulting in (premature) termination. For that reason, applicants tend to not want their current employer contacted.
    • That’s why it’s especially important to obtain written consent from the applicant before proceeding with current / prior employer reference checks, which can be as simple as receiving an email from the applicant providing references and their contact information.
    • When references are not available at the current employer, performance review documents, commendation letters and awards from the applicant are a great alternative.
    • To avoid negligent hiring (particularly when working with vulnerable populations and positions exposed to organization funds and assets), it’s important for the new employer to complete the background check process.

The current employer will, more often than not, only provide dates of employment and the applicant’s last title, because:

  • Most employer representatives are not skilled in providing objective / true information about a former or current employee, usually slipping into subjective statements about the applicant, putting the organization at risk for defamation in the form of slander (or libel for written reference check responses).

As a hiring authority, a candidate’s preparation for the reference check phase of the hiring process is not only appreciated, it’s also another data point re: professionalism and savvy:

  • Proactively providing their performance reviews, validated college transcripts, LinkedIn recommendations from supervisors, internal / external customers (appropriate, not burning any bridges) etc. – you get the drift.

How do stakeholders involved in your organization’s hiring process make reference-checking less difficult all around, in business and at work?

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