Job Applications – Permission to Contact Employer

Dear Work Coach,

My question is about the box you check if you’d give them permission to contact your current employer. I interviewed about 3 weeks ago. Before the interview they handed me my job application and told me to correct anything on it. Well I submitted the application about 3 months ago and things sure have changed in the work place.

On the application I had my former supervisor and I selected “YES” that they could contact my current employer. Well since then my supervisor was ousted and the whole department was overhauled.

So, long story short…I changed my application to read that the supervisor was “Vacant” and changed if they could contact my current employer to “NO”. Is this viewed as something negative? Is selecting “NO” to employer contact bad?

Also…what should I put on future applications? I am applying for something else and am not sure who to put as my Supervisor since there is really nobody except the new VP who is acting as a “supervisor”.

Mr. X


Dear Mr. X,

Although at first glance this sounds like a pretty easy question, there are actually a few ways to look at it.

On the surface, telling them not to contact your current employer is not out of the norm, since some people don’t want their bosses to know they’re looking. Of course, if you become a finalist and they again ask you about contacting your current employer, it might raise a red flag unless you explain about the major changes – and that you are a bit nervous about your current employer knowing you’re looking yet. And you can leave it at that.

But…even though it’s normal for people to worry about letting their employer know they’re thinking of leaving, I have to admit that when I’m doing reference-checking and I see that response, it does kind of raise a red flag for me; and I work extra hard to check their other references – just in case. But it shouldn’t knock the candidate out of the running.

Still…in your case, if I saw that you put both “Vacant” and “NO”, I’d want to make extra sure you aren’t hiding something. Even though I could think of many logical explanations, it’s always best not to give them even the tiniest reason to be concerned or pass you by.

So if it’s at all possible, the optimal response is to fill in the contact name and say “YES”.

Now if you know for sure that the VP would give you a horrible reference (in case they contacted her or him anyway) and/or it would jeopardize your work situation, then what you did is really your best move. And, when interviewed, you can simply say you filled it out that way because the department is being reorganized and also because you prefer for them not to know you’re job hunting. If I heard that, I’d be pretty comfortable with the answer…but, as I said, I’d pay extra attention to your other references!

If the only reason you want to keep the VP off your application is because s/he doesn’t know you yet, you can still use the VP’s name. If the VP is eventually contacted, s/he will simply explain the circumstances and that s/he doesn’t really know you; and that will be that. No mark against you. But if for some reason s/he will give you a bad reference, then “Vacant” is your best bet after all. In either case, your other references will be all the more important.

As you can see, there are several possible ways you can go about this. But my strong advice would be, if it’s at all possible, at least give them a name. It just raises less questions. And if you CAN let them call your current employer, even better. (But only if it won’t lose you your job or make things uncomfortable for you.)

I know I gave you several options, but hope this was at least somewhat helpful. 🙂

From what you’ve told me, I don’t think you’ve hurt your chances. If the company is interested, they will contact you and you can explain the situation. But for future applications, try to at least give them a contact name.

Good luck!

Ronnie Ann


Follow up: Mr. X wrote me again and told me:

If my workplace wasn’t in such a rapid turnover and uncertainty, I wouldn’t mind anybody contacting my employer. I actually put the outgoing interim Director as the supervisor. Best of both worlds since she is still a “consultant” but not physically in the office anymore.

AH! This is a perfect solution for contact person. Didn’t know it was an option. I always say the best solutions come from the people involved. 🙂

Thanks for telling us about it, Mr. X. Good luck finding a great new job!

Ronnie Ann


About the author…

Ronnie Ann, founder of Work Coach Cafe, bases her real-world advice on her many years as an organizational consultant where she helped interview and hire people, added to a certificate from NYU in Career Planning & Development and her own adventures as a serial job seeker. She can also be found on her new blog, and on Google+.


  1. At what point does an interviewing company contact the applicant’s supervisor? I’d like to assume it happens only at the final stage of being hired, when you have been offered the job (or will be offered the job) based on your resume and interview -so there’s no need to worry about retribution if you’ll be taking the offer. But if one sends out many resumes and companies casually contact current supervisors as a general screening method, that could cause trouble on a long new-job hunt! Any idea which?

    Thanks for your diligent help!

  2. Hi Eric!

    In almost every case I’ve ever heard about, the employer waits until they are considering making an offer. No one wants to bother references needlessly – and references sure don’t want that.

    Initially, the screening process looks at resumes and cover letters. Then maybe a phone screening with the applicant. Then the interviews. And at the very end, the candidate who is the one they most want to hire will be the one whose references they check. On rare occasion, they might check their top two candidates, but that’s the exception.

    The only real risk is if you’re a finalist and they do contact your references, including your current supervisor, and if for some reason they decide you aren’t the one for them after all. But other than that, the rule is not to bother a supervisor unless the company is actually thinking about making an offer.

    Hope that helps!

    Ronnie Ann

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