Job Talk: Don't let potential employer talk to current boss
Dear J.T. & Dale: I had a great job interview for a job I'd love to get. I then got an email from them asking for a reference from my current employer. While all my previous evaluations have been satisfactory, I recently received a spotty review. If I let this potential new employer contact my current employer, the response may include negative comments. Also, it could seriously jeopardize my relationship with my current employer. What can an existing employer tell a potential one? — Anne
DALE: "No, no, no." That, Anne, is your response to the request. It is wrong for an employer to put you in this bind, and you don't want to work for the jerks who'd do that to you.
J.T.: I understand why you'd feel that way, but this may well be a great opportunity that she doesn't want to blow off based on what might be just bureaucratic hiring procedures.
DALE: If the new company merely wants to verify employment, like creditors often do, then no problem. Or, if you're right and this is just HR bureaucracy, then those great new bosses should stand up for Anne and get the requirement waived.
J.T.: You may be overreacting. Let's back up and answer Anne's question about what they can say. Most employers will only give out dates of employment, your salary and (when it's a past employer) whether you are eligible for rehire. They limit themselves to these facts because offering opinions about you, ones that limit your future opportunities, might result in a lawsuit. That's not to say that your company might not be honest and say that you got a less-than-satisfactory grade on your last review, but honestly, I don't think they will. So here's how I'd proceed: Tell the new company they need to make you an offer in writing, contingent upon the reference check. That way, you can go in and be the one to explain it to your employer and ask them to be fair in the reference.
DALE: Whoa. That's like telling your husband that you want a divorce and then asking him to sing at your upcoming wedding. So you're going to get two answers from us, Anne. Here's what I'd do: Gently decline the request, explaining that you are a valuable employee who will be missed and that you don't want to jeopardize that relationship until you definitely have a new job. They'll respect you for that; and if they don't, you don't want to work there.
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Dear J.T. & Dale: A large wholesale company recently moved into my area and is having a job fair. What should I bring: copies of my resume? A list of references? Salary requirements? — Betty
J.T.: Always go prepared with resumes and references, but don't expect to use them. Most employer job fairs are impromptu interview sessions. You'll fill out an application and meet some people, and then, if all goes well, they'll be in touch. As for the more traditional multi-employer job fairs, those are a way for you to get to know employers better so that when they have openings, you can use what you learned at the job fair to tailor your application. You occasionally might be asked for your resume and references, but more likely, you'll be directed to their online application system.
DALE: The company might even try to make the job fair seem festive — balloons, maybe music, maybe even popcorn ... and a whole lot of other applicants. So even though they are out to hire a lot of employees, the odds still are against you. Maybe they want to hire 50 people, and 500 show up. How do you increase your odds? Spend time researching the company and some more time using social media to try to find some connections to current employees. You'd be amazed at how few people bother to do this. Being able to talk intelligently about the company's products, executives and successes will make you a standout, and while others leave with popcorn and a balloon, you'll leave with a job offer.
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