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I've got a formal job offer, conditional on the background checks. Because of my sector, the background checks are being detailed and intrusive. The prospective new employer wants to contact my current employer as part of these background checks. Furthermore, the recruiter even wants me to give my resignation and notice as soon as possible to my current employer so that he can inform the hiring manager about my start date.

I am not comfortable with this situation and can see very clearly how this can backfire. Since these background checks are being so rigorous and taking a long time, it is crystal clear that the probability of failing the background checks is not zero. In that scenario, I risk losing both the prospective and the current job, burning bridges with my current company.

How should I proceed?

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    Has the new employer explained why they want to contact your current employer? Do they want to talk to your manager(s)/coworkers or just get an employment verification? If it's just the latter, this is usually no big deal and it doesn't necessarily tip off the current employer that you're considering a new job. Employment verifications happen for a variety of reasons, like getting a loan or renting an apartment. Many HR departments will confirm whether you are/were employed there as of certain dates with a specific job title to almost anyone who calls. Apr 28 at 6:37
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    What country is this?
    – Stef
    Apr 28 at 8:44
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    Is the 'recruiter' external or a company employee? Not that it matters. The job offer is conditional on background checks. Just tell them the resignation letter is conditional on an unconditional job offer.
    – mcalex
    Apr 28 at 8:45
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    This is nonsense, “Furthermore, the recruiter even wants me to give my resignation and notice as soon as possible to my current employer so that he can inform the hiring manager about my start date.” If you ask me, this is not a legit job offer. This recruiter is not acting in your best interest; they are acting in their own best interests. “I've got a formal job offer, conditional on the background checks.” Really? It sounds like a sketchy recruiter is playing you to put you in a position where you are co-dependent on them. This all sounds very, very shady. Apr 28 at 15:21
  • 17
    You can always tell the recruiter something like "my earliest possible start date is three weeks after you give me an unconditional job offer". Or whatever your notice period happens to be. Apr 28 at 19:03

9 Answers 9

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I would not resign until I have a signed offer in hand. Tell the recruiter to inform your new employer of your intended start date, and forbid them to call your current employer.

There is no background check that would require directly contacting your current employer. If they need proof of employment, the can use a paystub, or tax return, which you can authorize as you will.

Any recruiter or employer that is unwilling to work with you on this is not worth working with at all. This is not only a tremendous red flag, it is also a sign of either gross incompetence, or malice vis-à-vis intent to control more of your life than any employer should even think to (the decision to resign from a company is not something they should have a say in. That decision comes from you making the decision, they can only influence that by offering you a position that is desirable enough.).

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    This. A recruiter represents you. You do not take orders from a recruiter. The recruiter gets compensation after you secure the new job so understandably, they prefer that you hop over. 100% agree with GOATNine!
    – 杜興怡
    Apr 27 at 21:15
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    @杜興怡 A common misconception, allied to why recruiters are regarded as pimps. Actually they are panders, i.e. they bring recruits to their client, who is the employer, as can be seen by who pays the recruiter.
    – user207421
    Apr 28 at 10:13
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    I wouldn't say no background check- the secret service and top secret defense contractor would that and more. Apr 28 at 11:50
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    Any US company's HR department will verify that you work there and when you started. That's a common thing for them to do and raises zero flags. Contacting your current manager is a totally different ball of wax and is a huge red flag. Even if they do, though, most companies now technically restrict managers from reporting anything beyond "yes SparklingWater works for our company".
    – FreeMan
    Apr 28 at 11:51
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    If this is literally a government role which needs intelligence clearance, contacting your current employer is appropriate.
    – user7868
    Apr 29 at 0:21
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IMHO, you should forbid them to contact your current employer. It may be worth to walk away from this opportunity.

In my experience, a valuable employee quitting outright stirs some bad feelings and can compel lies.

As I see it, if you allow this contact, it is lose lose for you, regardless of the background check results.

Burnt bridges in your current employment will allow the new place to low-ball you.

Good luck and stand your ground.

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    "Burnt bridges in your current employment will allow the new place to low-ball you." I'm thinking that this is actually the intention.
    – dotancohen
    Apr 28 at 8:47
  • This really depends on the nature of the contact. It’s very much normal in some parts of the world for a prospective employer to contact your current employer to confirm that the work history you listed on your application is accurate (and the contact in that case will usually be no more than asking HR to confirm that you work there, when you started, and what your job title is). Apr 28 at 19:28
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The background checks are not a barrier to the other company making you an offer.

Other answers have correctly advised that you do not allow your recruiter to contact your current company until you have accepted an offer.

The part that has not yet been made clear is that normally offers are made "subject to satisfactory references". This means that you agree the terms of the offer assuming that the references and background checks will be satisfactory. Then, once you have accepted the offer and not before, the checks actually happen. If they are satisfactory, then you take up the new employment without any problems.

If the checks are unsatisfactory (which is rare but not unheard of) then the offer is rescinded. This can leave you in an awkward place, but generally you would know if you had anything that might be of concern (a criminal conviction, etc.). If there is a mistake on your file then there are ways of challenging and rectifying it.

some companies go further than this. They will let you start the position (though often with restrictions such as not being able to access certain data, attend certain meetings etc.) and the background checks and clearance are a requirement to pass probation. This latter approach is more common in government and closely linked companies, I think.

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  • But passing the background checks is a barrier to actually getting the position. The offer has no value by itself.
    – user207421
    Apr 28 at 10:14
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    Not entirely true --- if you pass the background check, the offer is binding. The hiring company cannot e.g. renegotiate the salary --- they either hire you on the agreed terms or not at all.
    – JDL
    Apr 28 at 10:17
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    I once worked a government contract that required me getting a security clearance. The contracting company offered me the job, sent me to get my prints taken, started me at the job, and gave me access to the codebase I've be working on before the FBI finished their investigation and before I got clearance. This was true of everyone I worked with. If I hadn't been able to get the clearance, I would have been let go. I worked there for months before I did get clearance. The OPs recruiter is either lying about the job or they are completely unreasonable. Both are very big red flags. Apr 28 at 15:19
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    @computercarguy There are other positions that absolutely CANNOT allow you access without a specific security clearance level. One company was willing to sponsor a clearance check, but they could not hire until that process was complete. Apr 28 at 15:30
  • @computercarguy --- very true, some positions will let you start and the clearance / background checks are a requirement for you to pass probation. Will edit the answer to include that.
    – JDL
    Apr 28 at 17:09
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When changing a job, for your own safety you are way better off when you don't quit (and not even let your current employer know that you might be quitting soon) before you got a new working contract.

Any new employer should respect this, that's a matter of trust and fairness. If they don't, I am pretty sure I would not be willing to work for them.

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    @mdfst13: thanks a lot, fixed it now.
    – Doc Brown
    Apr 28 at 18:39
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A person who makes background checks here.

You can request the new company to not contact your current employer, and just be open about this situation. Reaffirm that you are willing to provide every help and you are willing to have a background check, however, you need discretion regarding your current employer.

In the companies I have worked with background checks in, it is many times standard that we can not contact anyone from the current job of the person, or even, related companies of such.

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You're in a strong position. You can use it.

The recruiter wants your commitment ASAP. Your response should be that if they complete the background check (without contacting your employer), you'll hand in your notice. Not before.

This puts pressure on the recruiter to make things happen. If they can't, you still have a job, and if they can, you can move employers with confidence.

If, at any point, you're not happy with the recruiter, you can withdraw your application.

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I've got a formal job offer, conditional on the background checks.

That is good, but that doesn't mean that you have something that is 100% guaranteed. The offer can still be rescinded, and the start date is unknown.

Because of my sector, the background checks are being detailed and intrusive.

That makes it very hard to know how long this will take. I have seen detailed background checks take days, weeks, months, or even longer.

The prospective new employer wants to contact my current employer as part of these background checks.

You current employer is probably the worst reference to call. Even if they will answer the background investigators questions, and most won't, they will tweak their responses to help their situation. If you are a great employee they are unlikely to give you a glowing reference. If you are a poor performer, they may hype your performance to get you out of their hair.

Furthermore, the recruiter even wants me to give my resignation and notice as soon as possible to my current employer so that he can inform the hiring manager about my start date.

Never give notice until after everybody has signed the non-conditional paperwork. As long as there are conditions, the company can still decide to walk away. But you can also walk away from the offer if it is taking too long for those conditions to be removed.

Don't resign if they need to to a background cheek. Also don't resign if they are waiting for their customer to approve, or for them to win a contract. Watch out for the "waiting for the budget to be approved", that can take months.

I am not comfortable with this situation and can see very clearly how this can backfire. Since these background checks are being so rigorous and taking a long time, it is crystal clear that the probability of failing the background checks is not zero.

Background checks aren't an absolute standard. Two companies can read the same report and one could decide the one issue is a red flag, and the other might not be concerned.

I recently had a relative that was told the drug test and background check would take less than two weeks. A month after the drug test was done, the background check company admitted they admitted they had no record of the drug test, and therefore hadn't even started. The entire process with holidays and other delays meant they started almost 6 weeks late. good thing they didn't resign until everything was addressed.

In that scenario, I risk losing both the prospective and the current job, burning bridges with my current company.

How should I proceed?

Don't resign. Discuss what you are comfortable with regarding the background check process. Discuss your required notice period. Then set a course of action that will happen after the last condition is removed.

Many companies in the US outsource the proof of employment to a 3rd party. They provide a process for confirming dates of employment, and very little else. This is done for both current and former employees. They also provide pay level if the check is being done for a loan.

Unless your current company is small they will have a hard time contacting your current supervisor unless you provided name or contact information.

If the new company isn't conformable with your requirements keep looking. In fact even if they are comfortable with your requirements keep looking. You should continue to search, apply, and interview right up until the start date.

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It is a tough situation. You are the best person to answer this question as you know exactly how to weigh the risk vs reward factor for yourself.

  1. If you know that there is a good chance that you may fail the background test, then don't take the job offer.
  2. But, if you know that you have worked in that sector before, and passed the background check with your current company, and nothing has changed in your background, then it is very likely that you will pass the background check with the new company. In this case, you should probably take the new job offer and follow their requirements.

PS: I assume that if you work in the defense sector or other sectors that deal with highly classified projects and documents, then you know exactly the main requirements to pass the background check.

Also, normally, you only need to inform the new company about your start date, and you should not be forced to hand in your resignation to your current company by the new company by certain date.

BTW, can you try to ask the recruiter to drop the requirement that you resign from your current company first, and then the new company would contact your current company ? Sometimes, the new company may be more understanding, and make an exception if you are an excellent candidate, and they can work with you on this issue.

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    In many countries, mine included (UK), employers, when asked to provide a 'reference' for a current or former employee, will confine themselves to giving only the start and finish dates, and nothing more. If an employee is leaving, or planning to leave, on good terms, their line manager may offer to speak (on the phone, off-record) to recruiters or potential new employers for an 'informal chat'. They may well decline to provide information such as number of sick absences, whether the person has a bad discipline record, etc. Apr 28 at 7:47
  • I have been through a defense sector background check. The question makes me think that this is not such an employer - I got way more information up front. "New employer wants to check previous employer"? In my case, it was very much the government making those calls, under official authority, and the new employer made clear that they would only get a pass/fail result. Still conditional, but the condition was outside their control.
    – MSalters
    Apr 28 at 14:11
  • @MSalters That's true if you're applying to a cleared contractor job, but if you're applying to a government job then it could be your prospective employer doing those checks themselves.
    – cpast
    Apr 30 at 12:50
0

A somewhat different point of view:

Your prospective employer wants to contact your current employer

This might be ok. Do you know why they want to do this? Perhaps they just want to confirm you work there. Maybe they want to confirm you weren't recently fired. I cannot see any other reason for them wanting to contact your employer. Asking about performance would make no sense: Your employer has no reason to give this out. And even if they do, they have no reason to be truthful. If they don't like you much and wouldn't mind you leaving, they will give a stellar reference. If they want to keep you, they might be compelled to give a bad reference - although this might count as defamation so if they aren't reckless, they will probably just refuse.

And, depending on the size of the company, the person they manage to reach at your company will probably be a receptionist who doesn't even know you. They will be trained about corporate espionage and will most likely refuse to give out any information, for example who your manager is.

Your headhunter wants you to resign before you have signed with the new employer

Now this is an absolute red flag. Good advice, like in the other answers, might be to walk away from this opportunity. However, you might also turn this to your advantage, because if you gave your resignation, your current employer might actually try to keep you. If you don't mind playing games with a headhunter who is clearly playing unfairly with you, you can say you will resign, but then tell them that your manager was unhappy about this and is preparing a counteroffer of $$$. The recruiter will try to negotiate an even higher offer from the new company, in which case you win. Or they might fail, in which case you probably also win by having dodged a bullet.

Let me know what you think.

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    Contacting the current employer gives them a lot of bargaining power if OP is subsequently fired from their job before having a signed contract with the new party.
    – Erik
    Apr 30 at 11:14
  • Why would they be fired though?
    – Pete
    Apr 30 at 11:37
  • Some employers are petty like that, sadly.
    – Erik
    Apr 30 at 19:30

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