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Archive for Monday, January 7, 2008

Handling a delicate application question

January 7, 2008

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Q: When filling out a job application and you're currently employed, what is the proper response to the question: May we contact your present employer? - Paula

Dale: The inevitable answer is "no," a response hiring managers will be neither surprised nor offended to encounter. In fact, I suspect some readers are wondering, "When would you ever say 'yes'?"

J.T.: The most common occasion would of course be when a company is closing or downsizing.

Dale: Or when your boss knows you're leaving and perhaps wants to leave, too. Despite appearances, this is a dicey situation. Many managers think they want to help you leave, until confronted with the reality; at which point, they turn resentful. Plus, even if your manager is loyal to the departure plot, it doesn't make a good impression with prospective managers, you and your current boss being co-conspirators. Remember this: Most good bosses want to hire the sort of employees whose bosses would hate to see them go.

J.T.: If asked about contacting your current employer in an interview, a good answer is: "My employer does not know I am seeking a new job. I'd be grateful if you waited to call them for a reference only after a job offer has been made and I've accepted. In the meantime, I can give you peer references who will vouch for my employment." Then, line up at least one or two co-workers who would be happy to act as references and won't "spill the beans" about your leaving. If this can't be done, then just be honest and say you would rather they not contact your employer. Dale's right - potential employers understand such a response. They ask the question only to see if perhaps you left under bad circumstances or are being forced to go. By telling them they can contact your employer once a job offer has been made, you reassure them.

Jeanine "J.T." Tanner O'Donnell is a professional development specialist and founder of the consulting firm jtodonnell.com. Dale Dauten's latest book is "(Great) Employees Only: How Gifted Bosses Hire and De-Hire Their Way to Success."

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