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My current job is with Company A. Before that, I was with Company B, an on-site contractor for Company A. So after I'd worked there for a while as a B-employee, Company A hired me directly.

Now I'm filling out an online job application, and for each previous job it asks for a contact, phone number, and:

May we contact this employer?

I am planning to answer "no" for my current employer, as I don't want them to know I'm interviewing elsewhere. (I'm not even actively looking, this opportunity was just too good to pass up!)

My problem is that my manager for Company B sits in the same office as my current manager. He also has limited privacy, so I'm concerned about someone overhearing while they refill their coffee and word getting out.

Under the circumstances, I would rather they did not contact him, but I've heard saying "no" to contacting previous employers is a red flag. The job application form does not provide a space where I could explain.

What's the best option here? Should I provide an HR contact instead? (They are in a separate office, but don't know anything about what I did, beyond my job title.) Or just give a heads-up to my former manager and ask him to be discreet if they call?

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I would definitely go for the option of contacting your former manager at employer B and tell him about this, that you are planning to look for another job but ask him not to disclose this to employer A. It's a professional request, and to me it is logical that he would be discrete about it.

I think this is the most professional way moving forward. I wouldn't want my employer to know I was looking for another job before I ever found one. Although in my current company, this is different and I've heard a lot of people openly discussing with the manager that they are in fact looking for another job. It still feels a little weird to me, but on the other hand it is nicer than keeping secrets.

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I'd say the best way to go about this is to communicate via email with the prospective employer, and step out of the office to take any phone calls. Schedule them in advance. This way, the manager of company B has no idea.

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