Do you give prospective employers permission to contact past employers?

Image credit: Charles Brook Professional Services
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That’s typically the look I produce when I see the checkbox for “may we contact this employer?” If my phone is in my hand, it’s because I’ve had to use it for put down who I’ve worked for and when.

There is a difference between contacting a former employer and contacting a reference.

There’s a good chance that contacting the former employer will get you verification of their time with the company, but you probably won’t get much more than that.

References, on the other hand, are the golden ticket.

What kind of worker was she?

What types of projects did you work on?

Would you rehire her again?

How well did she interact in a team environment?

Was she reliable?

How did she handle stressful and/or uncomfortable situations?

What made you decide to hire her?

Is she ambitious? Does she have a desire to grow and succeed?

Did she give a notice?

In my short career, I doubt any job I’ve interviewed for ever hinged on my prospective employer contacting a prior employer for any reason. While there’s always the possibility of someone fabricating their work history, or misrepresenting their position or duties, with the right interview questions, some of that can be uncovered. Social media profiles can also uncover these fabrications – considering that said information is in the public domain, permission isn’t needed. In 2017, the expectation is that your employer will look you up on Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn to see what you’re all about.

Another popular reason to withhold that permission is discretion while you’re on the job hunt. Out of fear of losing their job prematurely, many applicants don’t want their current employer to have knowledge until notice is given. Depending on the scope of your position, such a search might be tough to conduct in secret. Additionally difficult if you’re someone who has an active social media presence, or maybe you’ve appeared in someone’s highly trafficked blog. Being the small, interconnected world that we live in, it doesn’t take much for that digital footprint to reveal what you’re up to.

On the other hand, granting that permission isn’t the end of the world. There are laws, state-by-state, that restrict what is disclosable, and the HR person taking that call or reading that email may exercise their own discretion as to what is released. Any responses to any legally authorized questions will be based on what’s reflected in their records, in addition to how that company’s policy may restrict disclosure.

In the year 2017, granting or denying permission probably won’t have much of a bearing on what prospective employers find out about you since social media has become a minefield, but if I have the option on an application, I won’t don’t grant that permission.

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About the author

Mike Rana

Mike Rana is one of those people who is hard to define, though he's not immune to being labeled for something. He likes to talk about many topics including technology, business, politics, education, psychology, and human behavior. In his spare time, Mike enjoys traveling, people watching, analyzing the world around him, writing about his life experiences, absorbing information from various social media channels, and trying to be the voice of reason in the political arena.