How To Answer “May We Contact This Employer?” (With Examples)

By Heidi Cope
Jan. 12, 2023

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Summary. To answer, “May we contact this employer?” you should say yes unless you don’t want your current employer to know you’re looking for a job or there’s some other legitimate reason why they can’t be contacted. This shows hiring managers that you have nothing to hide and allows them to learn more about you.

When applying for a job, there’s a good chance you’ll come across the question, “May we contact this employer?” You may not know how to answer, especially if you’re still working at a job and do not want your employer to know you are actively seeking other employment or there is some other complication.

In this article, we’ll cover what to remember when you answer this question, valid reasons for saying “no,” and provide sample answers to see what our tips look like in action.

Key Takeaways

  • Employers ask if they can contact your past employer because they want to make sure you’re presenting yourself accurately.

  • It’s acceptable to ask hiring managers not to contact your current employer.

  • Check with your past employer before giving permission to contact them as a reference.

How To Answer

Why do Employers Ask “May We Contact This Employer”

When hiring managers and recruiters ask if they can contact your previous employers, they want to see transparency in you as an employee.

Along with reviewing resumes and cover letters, hiring managers want to hire a job-seeker that feels confident in the quality of their employment history.

They want to confirm your qualifications and accomplishments – that’s part of it. The other part is checking how long you worked there, what your salary was like, and why you left (if you quit or were terminated).

How To Answer “May We Contact This Employer?”

While you ideally want to allow the hiring manager permission to contact former employers, follow these tips if you’d rather not:

  • It’s fine to say no to, “May we contact your current employer?” It’s common practice to say no for your current employer. Hiring managers know that people look for new job opportunities while they have a job, and they aren’t trying to get you in trouble by letting your boss know about it.

  • Contact your former employer’s HR department first. If you can find out what exactly your former employer’s policy is with regard to employment checks, you’ll feel a lot more comfortable saying yes (or more sure than ever about saying no). Additionally, HR might give a more neutral review than your direct supervisor.

  • Reach out to your former supervisor. Similar to the tip above, but especially important if you want to get around the official channels. Perhaps you were fired, but your former supervisor still likes you. In that case, it might be best to put down their contact info (after asking first). The same goes for a coworker who can speak highly of you.

  • Explain your termination elsewhere. Your resume might not be the best place, but you can bring a short explanation of why you were fired in your cover letter. Turn your weakness to an advantage by showing how proactive you are about resolving past issues.

  • Ask someone else at the company. If there was anyone else in the company that you reported to as an employee, ask if you can put them down. Make sure they know this is for employment verification and not a reference.

  • Take the employer off your resume. This is a little extreme, but if your situation with your former employer is so bad that you don’t want any chance of the new (potential) employer finding out, you could just leave that company off your resume altogether.

You’ll stand out for all the wrong reasons if you don’t allow the hiring manager to contact any of your previous employers, so try to say yes to as many as you can.

Without any chance to verify your qualifications from your resume and cover letter, too many “no’s” could spell the end of your interview process (maybe before you even get a call for an interview).

Examples of How to Say No to “May We Contact This Employer”

So, what if you have identified that you have an employer that you must say no to “may we contact this employer?” How could you best explain that in your application?

Usually, there are spaces in the application for any notes on your employment at a certain company. If you have to say no to “may we contact this employer,” make sure to add some sort of explanation to the notes section.

  1. You Currently Work at the Company Example Answer:

    I am currently seeking employment outside the company without their knowledge. If you would like to speak with them about my role there, I will be happy to forward the information if a job is offered to me.

  2. Your Employer Is Deceased Example Answer:

    You will be unable to contact my previous employer because they are now deceased; however, you may contact Mr./Ms. XYZ to discuss my position at the company.

  3. The Company No Longer Exists Example Answer:

    The company is unfortunately no longer in business so there will be no HR department to contact to discuss my employment there; however, you may contact Mr. XYZ, who was one of my managers, to discuss my work there.

  4. Your Manager No Longer Works There Example Answer:

    Unfortunately, my previous manager at the company no longer works there and contact information cannot be found; however, you may contact the current manager, Ms. XYZ, who knew me during my employment at the company.

  5. The Company Has a No Reference Policy Example Answer:

    Unfortunately, you will not be able to contact this employer, because they have a strict no reference policy for previous employees.

Things to Remember When You See the Question, “May We Contact This Employer?”

While answering “May we contact this employer?” here are some things you should keep in mind:

  • Say yes, unless there is a really good reason not to. A no might be counted as a first round disqualifier for some companies. If you do have to say no, make sure you explain why.

  • Check with your past employer before putting them down as your reference. This is a courtesy and a way to make sure your manager still works there and the company isn’t a no-reference company.

  • If you do say no, make sure there are current contacts that the hiring committee can contact. This could be another previous employer or a different individual at your current company.

  • Just because you say yes, it doesn’t necessarily mean they are going to contact the employer. Many companies do not contact references until they are seriously considering hiring you for the job, so at first glance, seeing many boxes checked “no” could actually do you more harm than good.

  • Defamation is illegal when employers are called to speak about employees, so legally, your old boss cannot trash talk you to a recruiter. They can tell the truth if you really were a terrible employee, but know you have the law on your side if they spout lies about you.

Valid Reasons for Not Contacting a Previous Employer

The main acceptable reasons for the hiring committee to not be able to contact a previous employer or a current one are:

  1. If you do not want your current employer to know you are looking to leave your current position. A hiring department will find it completely acceptable to say “no” to a current employer because your job could be at stake if they find out you are seeking employment elsewhere.

  2. If the company no longer exists. Well, if the company doesn’t exist anymore, then your potential employer is not going to expect to talk to someone from that company.

  3. If your employer is at a small international company with no English-speaking contacts. However, you should still say yes, because you are still giving permission — it just might not be possible to actually contact them.

  4. Your previous employer is deceased. You can check “no” for this situation, but state that your previous employer is no longer living and give the contact information for someone at the company who can speak on their behalf.

  5. If you company has a no-reference policy. Some companies also have no-reference policies, so marking no on those positions with companies that hold those policies would also be acceptable. Just be sure to clarify that in your application.

May We Contact Previous Employer FAQ

  1. Can I put a personal reference?
    No, you should avoid listing any personal references. Personal references such as family members, friends, or spouses might be perceived as biased, and could potentially get your application thrown out.

  2. At what stage do they contact a previous employer?
    They usually contact a previous employer right before the hiring process. This could also be after the interview.

  3. How do you know what a previous employer said about you?
    You won’t know what a previous employer said about you. If you really want to know what they said about you, you can ask. Since it is supposed to be confidential, they may not want to tell you what they said.

  4. Should I tell my references that they may be contacted?

    Yes, you should tell your references that they may be contacted. This is both courteous and helpful for making sure you still have the correct contact information.

    If you can, let them know who would be contacting them, and send them a copy of your resume so they can use it to jog their memory of your contributions to the company.

Final Thoughts

Figuring out how to best shape a recruiter or hiring department’s perception of you as an employee can be difficult, especially if you have had negative workplace experiences.

However, with planning, you can easily avoid feeling uncomfortable with hiring departments contacting previous employers about your performance as an employee.

Remember, it is best to appear transparent when applying for jobs, so be sure to spend some time digging for your old boss’s contact information before clicking the “no” box on an application.

A few extra minutes looking through contact books could win you the job.

References

  1. Forbes – How To Answer “May We Contact Your Current Employer?”

  2. The Balance – How to Follow Up With Your References

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Author

Heidi Cope

Heidi Cope is a former writer for the Zippia Career Advice blog. Her writing focused primarily on Zippia's suite of rankings and general career advice. After leaving Zippia, Heidi joined The Mighty as a writer and editor, among other positions. She received her BS from UNC Charlotte in German Studies.

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