Question: I had read your article “Reference checking tips for job hunters and employers“. It is very informative. Thanks. I have a related question and need your opinion. What do you feel about using my current boss as my job reference? How risky is such move? If a prospective employer asks me for that should I do it? 

My concern is that my current employer may be very angry to know that I am looking for another job behind his/her back. As a result, he/she may say something bad about me to the prospective employer. Even a prospective employer asks me for reference that is no promise that I will get that job. That means I will be stuck with current job and will have a bad relationship with my current boss because my current boss will know that I had looked for another job behind his back.

Job Hunter

Answer: “Do you ask your current boss to serve as a reference?” is a question I bet many job hunters have faced during the job hunt process. Every situation is different, so am going to discuss a number of approaches that you can take depending on the relationship you have with your boss or company and your performance within the company.

The Safe Job Reference Approach

Let’s face it, sometimes there is not a good match with our boss or job and it shows up in average to poor performance. Poor performance does not necessarily mean you are a slacker, it may mean there is a poor job fit with the company, your boss or position. In different circumstances, you may flourish!

It is best to avoid asking your current boss for a recommendation. Secure a recommendation from someone who has already left the company. Alternatively, use personal, professional or earlier company references.

The Ideal Job Reference Approach

You have a great relationship with your boss and the company thinks of you as an average to poor performer. This situation may work to your advantage – though you still need to approach it with caution.

If your boss wants to help you be successful in your career, there is a greater chance s/he will aid you in finding a new position. Why? You could be in a job that is not a good fit for you or the company. In fact, the company may be trying to figure out what to do with you. If you leave for a new job opportunity, it might be a win-win for both parties.

Often bosses know when their employees are dissatisfied and want to do something to help someone they like!

Here is a strong clue to know if your boss would be open to helping you. You and your boss have ongoing career discussions and discuss “what if” scenarios – what do you really want to do, what if you left etc.

If you do not have those conversations openly,  I would recommend using the safe approach.

The Unlikely Job Reference Approach

Your boss and company love you because you are one of their top performers! It is very rare that your current boss will aid you in moving to a new company unless he or she is an exceptional unselfish boss.

For example, your boss is your mentor and you have had discussions about the benefits of leaving your current company to grow professionally. There are probably only 5-10% of bosses who fit in this category.

How do you know if your boss would do this for you? Well, if you have to ask, then you have your answer. My recommendation – find a safe job reference with someone who has left the company.

What to say to Prospective Employers

When asked to give job references, it is not unusual for prospective employers to talk to past co-workers from your current job or earlier jobs. Rarely are prospective employers or recruiters able to talk to anyone within the organization you are working at – for good reason. Your current company wants to limit liability and have guidelines about what can or cannot be said. For example, most companies do not want current employees to give either good or bad recommendations.

What happens if you are pressed by the recruiter or prospective employer to give a current reference (someone who works within the company today)?

Very politely tell them that while you are seeking to advance your career, you are not willing to do it at the risk of your current position. You have a good working relationship with your boss and company and when the time is right you will tell them.

Offer alternative reference contacts using the safe job reference approach. If you have no one that can serve as a reference, it looks like you have some work to do to create the right experiences and relationships.