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TLDR

What is a plausible way to provide a reference from my current employer by way of a colleague (who is in management) without endangering my current potion, his position and doing so that makes me not look shady to my prospective employer.


Original Question

I just walked out of an interview (literally 30 minutes ago). And at the end of the interview they made the statement I have been dreading. "We will need a reference from your current employer."

Now, I am a good employee - I meet my deadlines, make minimal errors (I am human, we all make mistakes the trick is to learn from them) and I have improved continually since joining this team. Where my worry comes from is that this employer doesn't provide references outside of HR (managers have been chastised for doing such). Also, they have a track record of firing people when they catch wind the employee is looking at greener pastures.

John Smith has been an employee of Acme Industries since Jan 2018 until now. He has performed his role well, and has a great attendee record. He will make an excellent addition to your team and we wish him the best of luck.

(An example of the letters I have seen from HR)

I have a friend in the company who said he would be a "personal" reference to meet this requirement. (He is in management). I plan to use him, so I don't get blacklisted (an ultimately fired as has been shown to be my employer's current procedure).

My question is this: what is the most political way to explain references (at least professional ones) are not available from this organization without throwing my employer under the bus.


Addendum

While the below answers provide great insights into how to ask my employer for a reference and fantastic reasons as to why they may not give a good reference. That is not my primary concern and I feel that I may have been vague on that.

In the past 2 years that I have been with this organization - the several people (not going to give specific numbers) that I have seen begin their job search publicly there and ask for references here. Have found themselves without work (justified on paper) before finding a new place of employment. I cannot have that happen, I got bills to pay (as we all do) and a family to provide for (as most of us do). I do not want to take the risk of termination to ask for a reference if it will destroy my source of revenue should that opportunity not work out.

Now many of you suggested that if the prospective employer (PE) is pushing hard for a current reference I should walk away and ask myself do I really want to work here? Yes, yes I do - they are a global leader in their field, and "tick all the boxes" that intrigues my in my work.

There were also suggestions that I read the policy on references. Well, it so happens that I looked into it in our employee handbook - nothing. Then I reached out to a connection who just left the company and was in HR, and he said that there was nothing in writing just the verbal policy which has been essentially standard practice since the founding of the company in 1976 (No references given outside of HR). He also confirmed that most people who ask for a reference are terminated (justified on paper, like I said) before they find new work --- and the only ones who escape that vindication are those who find new work before the paper work is finished.

So all that said --- allow me to rephrase my question:

What is a plausible way to provide a reference from my current employer by way of a colleague (who is in management) without endangering my current potion, his position and doing so that makes me not look shady to my prospective employer.

  • this employer doesn't provide references outside of HR that is not uncommon. Do you have an indication from the potential future employer that they were expecting something different than that? Were they looking for a reference check in the sense of "so and so worked here with title X from date Y" Or were they actually looking for someone who can represent you in the sense of a professional recommendation addressing your skills or experience? – dwizum Sep 6 at 20:07
  • @dwizum My main concern is how can I best provide this reference, tell the new company why to use this person and not get fired for looking for new work. – Crosbonaught Sep 6 at 20:12
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Check your current employer's policies on references. Many companies have a pretty strict policy that restricts references to job title(s) and employment dates. Mostly that's for legal protection: this is all objective data and you can't get sued over it.

If that's the case, simply state to your prospective employer that they can't get a meaningful reference from your current employer since it would be against company policy. Offer instead a reference from some previous employer or industry contract.

In general, it's considered bad form to ask for a reference from the current employer for the obvious reasons you state. Most prospective employers will respect your privacy & confidentiality. If they still insist, you have to make a tough call. Personally I would probably walk away: it's really unreasonable and unfair to ask you to out yourself and if they are unreasonable about this, they probably are unreasonable about many other things as well. Would you really want to work there ?

  • I am marking this correct with a caveat, your last sentence, "Would you really want to work there?', while the answer is undeniably yes. The risk of losing my current job for the chance to work there is too great (3 people I know for a fact were fired for this, plus 2 or 3 more rumuored for that reason in the past 3 years alone). I walked away, withdrew my name and have stopped applying for work with them. This is for the simple reason of respect - if they don't respect the risk of what they are asking of me, then they don't respect my time or effort. And that is a slippery slope to begin on. – Crosbonaught Sep 23 at 16:19
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Do they need a reference from a current colleague, or do they need a reference from your employer? If from the employer, what kind of reference? You don’t indicate a region, in the US the majority of companies give little if anything beyond employment history (start and stop dates).

You need to clarify this with your prospective employeer and see what they want and what you can help them get (without endangering the job of your friend).

It is quite normal to hold off on the final reference until it’s a done deal (offer contingent upon final reference), at that point, you should feel comfortable with them contacting your current employer, because if they let you go immediately, you just start work at the new employer.

BTW this is why most US employers won’t give an actual reference, too big of a chance that the employee will end up without a job and nothing better to do than sue if they give a bad reference (plus if you would give a bad reference for a current employee you probably want the person to be someone else’s problem, and you don’t want the other company seeing you for their new employee’s mistakes).

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You throw them under the bus. And by "them" I mean the prospective employer. The only "reference" a new employer should ever require of the existing employer is status as a current employee which is completely independent of calling the current employer.

It is beyond bad form to request a current reference which is more than just proof of employment. For reasons of ensuring you can effectively negotiate a new salary, it is also bad form to demand a pay stub. For one thing, people can and do leave because they are under-paid. There is also the matter of total benefits -- my previous job included stock options, the new one doesn't, the new one paid more in cash.

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