Skip Nav
Job Search
9 Costly Interview Mistakes That Can Lose You the Job Offer
12 Helpful Gifts For People Who Work From Home
Power Your Happy Q & A
How Fitness Queen Cassey Ho Took All the Risks and Followed Her Heart

Job Reference Etiquette

Ask Savvy: How to Handle References When My Job Search Is on the DL

Dear Savvy,

I read your recent post on references, and have a question for you about giving prospective employers job references. What is the etiquette if I'm currently employed and actively seeking a new job, but am trying to do it on the DL as not to make it obvious to my current employer that I'm unhappy at the job? Do I give the prospective employer the go-ahead to contact my current employer as a reference, blowing my cover? I don't want to burn any bridges where I am now by having another person contact my boss and ask them about me, especially if I don't get that job.

To see my answer just


A: Your problem is a common one for job seekers who are performing their search in secret. Ideally, you should be able to draw upon references from previous jobs with whom you've stayed in touch, or former employers that gave you positive reviews — they should have those formal documents on file.

If asking co-workers or supervisors from a previous job isn't an option for you, there are ways to tip-toe around the touchy prospect of getting references from people at your current job. Any co-workers that left your company in the last few years would serve as legitimate references, along with any of your current co-workers who you can trust to be discreet with your situation. You can help in that regard by giving prospective employers information that doesn't list your current co-workers' work phone number or email address. Depending on what industry you're in, outside vendors could be a source of referrals for you as well.

When compiling your list of people to ask to act as references, think about who could do the best job answering questions about your work style and ethic, give specific examples of your accomplishments, and describe special skills they know you have. The best reference bank is a list that contains people above you, colleagues and co-workers, people you supervise, and if applicable outside sources like vendors. You should be able to generate a thorough list of references without using your current boss, and your prospective employer will still get a well-rounded picture of your experience.

And no matter who the reference, remember to always ask a prospective reference before listing them. Good luck with your job search!


Join The Conversation
dikke-kus dikke-kus 7 years
Oh no no no. Don't ever use your supervisor as a reference. Don't let them find out you are job hunting. You'll get fired. Use a few personal references if you have too. Or a previous employer of some kind. References available upon request should suffice. I don't know if anyone really used my references. Maybe just a couple times.
bluebellknoll bluebellknoll 9 years
I'm in a sticky situation right now. I work in a small in there are only 2 employees - the owner and me. I've just learned that we're moving the office this summer and it will increase my commute from 10-15 minutes to 45min-1hr. Ack! So now I'm thinking about trying to find a new job...but who do I use as a reference if I try to do this on the DL?
j2e1n9 j2e1n9 9 years
I agree Marci! Under my references field, I always have "Available upon request" That is what I was always taught to do by career counselors. It just makes sense to me, you shouldnt be giving out people's names and numbers unless its really necessary! So I wouldnt care if they asked for them with my res. I still wouldnt give them, without a face to face meeting first.
ilanac13 ilanac13 9 years
i know from experience how challenging this can be. when i was looking for my current job, i didn't want to let my old job know that i was searching, so it was really hard for me to find someone to be a reference, since that was my first job in this particular industry and i had been there for years so i didn't have previous ppl to defer to. i ended up asking a coworker who i knew i could trust and someone else in the agency who could attest to my work ethic and character - so it all ended up ok.
Marci Marci 9 years
I've been job hunting and see more and more ads that request references along with your resume when first submitting for a job. What's the deal with that?? Why would I supply that kind of information to a company I don't know a thing about, that has not seen my resume until that moment, and may not contact me??
wackdoodle wackdoodle 9 years
This suggestion bugs me "Any co-workers that left your company in the last few years would serve as legitimate references..." this assumes that the job seeker kept in touch and was psychic enough to know that one day, one day I may need this person as a reference. It assumes that the job seeker stayed in active touch with a number of people who were not necessarily friends but know enough to recommend them for a new position. It assumes that the job seeker is going to cold call however many references prior to applying for new positions and remind them of who they are, how they know each and what's going on in their lives now. That expects too much from both parties. Personally, I don't stay in contact with every person who worked for the companies I worked for. Didn't run up to people who were quitting or being terminated and ask them to be my reference in the future. If someone did that to me I would find it presumptuous that they think that an association equals endorsement and that they want to be your reference and vouch for you. I have turned down many co-workers and former co-workers requests to be their reference because while I had seen them at work or spoken to them once or twice that I could or should put my good name on the line from them in the future. That assumption doesn't take into account that I had no immediate knowledge of how good or bad they were at their job. Moreover the former co-workers that I had used in the past have "moved on" or moved period. Are job seekers suppose to call these reference every month to insure their information is still accurate and up to date? Are job seekers suppose to do keep up relationships with people that they only knew casually at work just so that they have a "fallback"? Are they suppose to call these people that they may not have spoken with in years and awkwardly check in and make sure that they remember them and what exactly they did at their former employers. I used to use two of my bosses who were VPs as references. Things is we weren't friend persay but they volunteered to be references. Only hey they've both relocated and probably do not have the best ability to vouch to say who I am now. Additionally, I have been asked years later by companies calling for references to site examples of what a specific person had done at our former place of employment - HUH? I barely remember in detail what I did on a day to day basis and some companies are asking for "specific instances of how the job seeker performed their job". How do I know that this person didn't pad their accomplishments on their resume? That is just too much time spent tending a garden that you may or may not harvest. I think this suggestion only works IF the job seeker has maintained a good thriving relationship with the person after leaving a job.
PeachyKeen19 PeachyKeen19 9 years
Oh, this is really useful. Thanks Savvy!
cubadog cubadog 9 years
You should only use people that you want as a reference and you know will give a great recommendation. There is nothing written in stone that you have to use your current employer. I am not sure what kind of job you are looking for but most of the time depending on the level they are not going to call someone that is not listed as a reference. If you have a co-worker that knows of you are interviewing and has agreed that they are willing to give you a good recommendation go for it. Just make sure it someone that speaks well and can be fair.
lawchick lawchick 9 years
I have been in this situation. My prospective employer came right out and asked if he could call my current boss. I said no. The real reason I said no is that my boss and I weren't getting along. I told the prospective employer something lame like "he doesn't know I am looking for a new job." I didn't get the job, and I don't think that is why, but you never know.
freegracefrom freegracefrom 9 years
Even if it was an option, the managers/supervisors at my current company are forbidden from giving either a positive or a negative reference. They can only confirm when I started working here and when I left. They couldn't even confirm if I was fired or if I was laid off or what. I was pretty p-o'ed about this when they tried to lay me off a few years ago and their nonsensical policy forbade my supervisors from writing me a letter of recommendation even though they loved me. So stupid.
Jude-C Jude-C 9 years
Just don't list your current supervisor as a reference. It's not a big deal.
j2e1n9 j2e1n9 9 years
Either or. Its not that serious.
Interview Mistakes
Gifts For People Who Work From Home
Things to Consider Before Accepting a Job Offer
Woman Denied a Second Job Interview After Asking About Pay
From Our Partners
Latest Career & Finance
All the Latest From Ryan Reynolds