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I recently received a job offer contingent upon professional references being verified. The offer is good I am very interested in taking the job.

There is one issue, the HR person is insisting that I use references from my present employer. This may be a reasonable request since this my current position is my first position since graduating from college. I provided her with two academic references but she said that was not sufficient.

We now have a chicken and egg problem. I want to accept the position but don't feel comfortable putting in my notice until I have a concrete offer. The HR rep says that she can't make me a concrete offer until she has verified my references which requires me putting in my notice.

I am hesitant to leave my current position, before securing something else but I am not really sure how to proceed. So far I have mentioned that I feel uncomfortable with the arrangement but haven't really dug in my heels.

I don't have anything to hide but this seems like a situation where I could get screwed. What happens if my boss is angry at me for leaving and doesn't want to give me a good reference? What happens if my boss gives me a great reference but the job offer disappears for reasons not transparent to me?

Just to make sure there is a concrete question here that can be properly answered using the Stackexchange format, my question is: How should I handle a job offer that is conditional upon references from my present position?

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    The answer depends on your country and local customs, but You dont need to provide your boss as the only reference. Often a senior coworker is also sufficient. Is there anyone at your current job that has a bit more professional experience that you have worked with? Maybe you could provide him or her as an reference after talking to them? – Devdatta Tengshe Nov 9 '14 at 2:12
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I suggest you talk to your boss (or some senior employee who can give you a reference) and discuss with him that you're currently looking at an opportunity, but don't hand in your notice right away. The new opportunity might not work out so you don't want to let go of your current position.

Talking to your boss is the way to go. Depending on why you want to change jobs and your rapport with your boss, several things might happen.

  • You might receive a counteroffer that might make you decide to stay.
  • Your manager might support you and give you the reference you need, along with some good advice. Good managers know very well that staff turnover is a reality and that people aren't there to stay. If you have a good rapport with him, he may assist you in taking the right decisions - which is especially important if he has a lot of experience and you are just starting out. Remember that your manager is also an employee - he too might jump ship if the conditions are right.
  • Your manager might open your eyes to problems with the job change that you don't yet see, and you might decide against changing.
  • Your manager might go ballistic. Yes, I believe it's very rare, but it can happen. In this case your manager is probably not a good manager and you don't want to be working for him anyway.

So as you can see, you don't really have much to lose by talking to your boss. He might actually appreciate you being frank about the whole matter - as The Wandering Dev Manager says, you don't want to suddenly drop a bomb on him.

Now, what do you do if your manager is a complete jerk and doesn't want to give you a good reference? Turn to other colleagues of yours, especially more experienced ones. It's always a good idea to maintain a good rapport with fellow colleagues, and this is one of the situations where it pays off.

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This happens a lot, many requests for reference will insist on your current employer. You need to decide how commited you are to this new role, and how well your current job has been going (so what they will say). But there are two things to investigate:

  • What kind of reference your HR department gives by default. It's common these days to only provide employment dates/ job titles etc due to fear of being sued. In this case you don't need to worry.
  • Is there a superior who you could get to be a reference? We've all been there, so you may be able to get someone instead of your line manager (if you have a concern about the line manager doing it).

So the answer is evaluate the risk, and if the chances can work, roll the dice. Unless things are really bad where you are, you're unlikely to have anything to worry about. If they are, pre-warn the new job before they ask, or don't proceed and try and turn things around at current work first.

But if you do put your manager down, have a private chat with them BEFORE you put them on the form. Talk to them about why you want to make this move, so they understand and you should avoid suffering from their anger. Nothing is more likely to cause a bad feedback than a call out of the blue for a reference for someone a couple of desks away who you were planning to promote in 6 months.

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You need to look at your own situation and assess if there will be repercussions from the background check that are specific to your situation. For example, if your firm's culture is not territorial and not retaliatory, you have little to lose by cooperating.

In addition, reference checks are not usually done until the candidate has passed all interviews. Which means that the reference check will act more like a shot across the bow to your current employer that your employer is in imminent danger of losing you. I've worked in bullying work cultures where the bullying management tried very hard to be nice to an employee who gave notice in a last ditch effort to convince the employee not to leave.

Some firms such as the big name outfits on Wall Street are extremely territorial about their employees leaving. They view your leaving as an act of premeditated murder, and you don't commit premeditated murdered unless you're damn sure you're getting away with it. Yet, their employees do get recruited. Because the recruiters have learned to operate successfully in such an environment.

What you do next, whether you comply, depends on how much you trust the HR of your prospective employer not to mess it up and on what you know and understand of your company culture. The answer is really case by case and in this case, you are much closer to the facts and circumstances than we are.

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