Ask LH: When Should I Use My Current Boss As A Reference

Dear Lifehacker, I’ve been having a back and forth with a prospective employer about moving over for a new role. Two interviews later and things have stalled at the reference checking stage because they want a reference from my direct manager at my current role.

This is before they have told me in concrete details about the salary/package. I can provide many reporting managers from previous jobs and colleagues from my current one. But I really don’t feel comfortable giving the details of my current manager before knowing the exact offer. Are they allowed to demand I give a reference from my current manager? Will it hurt me if I say no to that request?

Thanks, Cautious Job Hunter

This article was originally posted 16 June 2016.

Dear JH,

This is a really tricky situation, with a range of different paths to take, depending on the exact circumstances.

If your relationship with your current boss is good, then it might be worth actually talking to them about the potential of leaving. A good manager will understand that employees need to further their career, and can actively help the process.

There is also the chance that your current job will actively want to retain you, and offer other possibilities such as promotions or a different role.

Presumably though, you have not had this conversation with your current manager for a reason.

In which case, the conversation should really be with your potential new employer. In theory, you have provided plenty of references, but eventually they will have to check your direct manager.

The question, why has the process stalled without the particular reference? If you can’t have that conversation with the potential new employer, then it might not be the best opportunity after all.

From the new employer’s perspective, not telling your current manager that you are actively looking for other jobs could work against you. Most employers want plenty of heads up when employees are leaving, and have the chance to try and retain them, if desired.

By not informing your current employer, it looks bad to the new employer. Of course there can also be extenuating circumstances, which a good employer will understand.

In the end, it is fair to expect more details of the potential offer before your current manager is contacted as a reference. Of course, your potential new employer may not be OK with this, fair or not.

Talking to them about it is not going to make things worse than just not giving the reference, so it’s probably time to pick up the phone.

What would you do? Tell us in the comments.

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