Should I Use My Current Boss as a Reference?

John Krautzel
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Searching for a job when you are already employed is somewhat of a challenge, especially when it comes to job references. If your current boss doesn't know you're applying elsewhere, it can be very awkward to have a potential employer call for a reference. If you need to give a hiring manager professional references, think carefully before adding your current boss to the list.

Before you start applying for jobs, it's important to understand the relationship you have with your current boss. If you have frequent disagreements, think carefully before using your boss as one of your job references. If a potential employer calls for a reference, your boss might focus on your negative interactions with each other instead of your positive attributes, causing future employers to think twice about giving you a chance.

Just because you have a decent relationship, you shouldn't automatically expect your current boss to give you positive job references. Unfortunately, some bosses are very upset when they find out good employees are looking elsewhere for work. Your boss might see your job search as a sign of disloyalty instead of an attempt to make more money or learn new skills. To retaliate against you for your perceived disloyalty, your current boss might even give negative job references to potential employers.

If you add your current boss to your list of job references, be prepared for negative consequences. Upon finding out you are looking for another job, your boss might terminate you or simply set out to make your life miserable. If you don't get the new job, there's a chance you could end up unemployed or stuck working in a toxic environment. This is why it's important to think carefully before listing your current boss as one of your job references.

The best way to avoid problems with your current boss is to be honest about your job search. If you tell your boss you are looking elsewhere, make sure you put a positive spin on things. Explain that you want to take on additional responsibilities or have the opportunity to participate in a professional development program. Instead of focusing on any problems you have at your current job, frame your job search as a way for you to advance your career or reach your professional goals.

Once your boss knows you are looking for another job, bring up the topic of job references so you aren't surprised at any point during your job search. Ask your boss if you can expect a positive reference. If the answer is no, ask your boss to confirm your dates of employment and refrain from sharing negative information with potential employers. A neutral reference isn't great, but it's better than a negative one.

It's customary to let your professional references know you are looking for work, but the rules are a little different when it comes to your current boss. If your boss might give a negative reference out of spite, put colleagues or past supervisors on your list of job references.

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  • Nancy Anderson
    Nancy Anderson

    @Patricia it could be true that the boss would get defensive - especially if the reference call comes out of left field. If you are looking for a job while still employed, I would probably agree not to use your current boss. But if, as you say the company is downsizing, then by all means have a sit down with your boss and ask if he/she would be a reference for you. Most managers would say of course. They realize exactly what position they have put you in due to the downsizing. More than likely they are just so relieved that the downsizing didn't include them that they would happily agree to be a reference! So it kind of depends upon your current situation whether to use your boss as a reference or not. Best of luck.

  • Patricia Bianco
    Patricia Bianco

    Bosses get defensive, so it's not advisable unless the company is downsizing. IF your prospective employers contact your current HR department to verify employment, I'd check to see how much they disclose. I do it as a matter of course to validate employment for a prospective tenant, so there are lots of reasons for the call.

  • Alberto C.
    Alberto C.

    I wouldn't do it.

  • Nancy Anderson
    Nancy Anderson

    @Ave T, using your boss as a reference is a good thing as long as 1. you ask ahead of time and 2. you are on good terms and in good standing with him/her. I believe I would ask my boss for a reference should I need one. I take it that you said that because you are searching on the down low. Truly understand that, in that case, no you shouldn't ask for a reference from your boss. But you have to realize that if you are being considered for another position, outside of your current company, the new company is going to call to verify your employment. The cat will certainly be out of the bag then. This is kind of a catch-22 situation. If you don't tell your boss ahead of time that you are looking, it could be really bad for you. On the other hand, if you do tell him, it could still be bad because he figures you are leaving anyhow. You just have to weigh out your options and decide which is best for you.

  • Ave T.
    Ave T.

    are you kidding me... no...

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