Question: How do I keep potential employers from calling my old boss? I fear he will say something that will ruin my job chances.
Answer: Just because a potential employer asks for your former supervisor’s name and contact information on its application form doesn’t mean that you have to give it to them. In fact, most companies forbid their employees from taking such calls. They tell their employees to refer all questions about a former employee to the Human Resources department.
Why? Because a former boss could say something that could not only hurt your job chances, but put your former company at risk. That’s because you could sue your former employer for defamation of character because of what your old boss said about you. This article from NoLo.com provides details about what constitutes defamation.
What should you do?
When asked to provide your former supervisor’s name and contact information, handle it this way:
- Supervisor’s First Name: Company Policy
- Supervisor’s Last Name: Call HR
- Supervisor’s Phone Number: [HR DEPARTMENT’S PHONE NUMBER]
- Supervisor’s Email Address: [HR DEPARTMENT’S MAIN EMAIL ADDRESS]
Why this works: You are abiding by your former company’s rule (I guarantee that they don’t want people to call your former boss!) while providing the potential employer with the appropriate contact at your old company.
Fortunately most Human Resources departments are trained to only give neutral, basic information about your employment with the company, such as …
- Beginning and ending employment dates
- Beginning and ending job titles
- Beginning and ending salary or wages
- Occasionally they will also answer the question, “Is this former employer eligible for re-hire,” to which the HR representative may answer yes or no with no reason given for the answer.
Even if the HR department says that you aren’t eligible for re-hire, that answer in itself is not necessarily a deal breaker because companies often make those who paid to go away (such as through a layoff or “voluntary” separation) ineligible for re-hire.
It’s important to note that it is not illegal for past employers to say more about you than just “name, rank and serial number”. As this article on Monster explains, they can and sometimes do say more … and that “more” could be negative. But your chances of the company sticking to the neutral basics are better when you direct them to the Human Resources department rather than sending them to your old boss who wishes you harm.
- Confirm with your past employers’ Human Resources departments to see what they plans to say about you. Seek to get such statements in writing.
- Make amends with former bosses. Even if you tell people to call HR, they may try contacting your former supervisors anyway. You’ll sleep better at night knowing there aren’t old bosses out there trying to destroy you.
- If you learn that a former employer is bad mouthing you, call the HR department and tell them that you will seek legal action if they don’t stop. That will usually solve the problem.
- If you know a former boss will speak positively about you, by all means direct the potential employer to that person!
Be smart about how you direct potential employers to your former company … doing so can help you … Get a Job!