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Friday Forum – How to use Current Boss as a Reference?

Welcome to the Friday Forum!

Every Friday, we take a question submitted by one of our readers and have our professionals field it and provide advice.  We then encourage members of the Need a New Gig community to comment below and give their take!

Here is This Week’s Question:

Mike asks:

“I have been working for my current manager for the past 4 years.  I like what I am doing, but I was recently contacted by a recruiter about a job opportunity.  I have already interviewed once and things went well.  I am scheduled for a final interview next week and they asked me to bring a list of my references with me.  Since my current role was my first professional job out of college, my current manager is the only reference I have who can speak on my relevant experience.  The only problem is that I have not told him that I am looking for a new job.  I am at a crossroads because I don’t want to ask him to be a reference in case this opportunity doesn’t work out.  What should I do?”

The first thing to remember is that employers understand that most applicants are confidentially searching for a new position.  They are on the same page as they do not want to do anything that may raise a concern for anyone.  As long as you handle the situation appropriately, you can get them what they need in the correct manner.  Let’s take a look.

Make a Reference List

If you haven’t already done so, the first thing you need to do is create a list of references.  If you still need to do this, you can use our EZ Resume Kit which includes a quick template to help create a professional reference document.  We recommend having about 3-4 good references on your list.  They can include any of the following, but previous supervisors are always the priority.

  • Previous Bosses
  • Co-Workers
  • Professors
  • Group/Network contacts
  • Places you have volunteered
  • Clients

It is also important to put your best references at the top of your list.  This can be either a reference who can speak about your relevant experience or someone who thinks highly of you.  I recommend putting your current boss on your reference list even if you are confidentially looking.  You can be sure to cover this with the potential employer later in the process.

Job Application

Once you have crafted your list, a great place to start is right when you are filling out the job application.  In today’s digital age, many companies ask for references right up front during the application process.  You can list your current boss as a reference, but just be sure to click “no” when they ask ,”may we contact your current employer?”  If there is a comment section, I also recommend inserting a brief note to let them know that you are confidentially looking.

During Your Interview

I always tell candidates that it is a good idea to bring not only a few copies of your resume to an interview, but also a few copies of your references.  If things go well, an employer may ask for these and you can pass them along immediately to keep the process moving.  This is also a great time to cover your bases when it comes to confidentiality as you can talk about it with them directly.  Let them know that you have no problem with them speaking to your current boss, but since your boss is unaware that you are looking they will have to hold off.  Once you are further along in the process (typically after an offer has been made) you can have a conversation with your boss to break the news and give them the heads up that the call is coming.


Sometimes it takes a few days to receive feedback from an interview and an employer may ask you to send your references via email.  You can handle this the same way you would during an interview.  Here is a quick example:


I have attached a copy of my professional references as requested.  Since my current employer (you can also include your supervisor’s name) is not aware that I am looking for a new position, I would ask to please hold off from contacting them until we are further along in the process.  If an offer is made, I am happy to get you in touch with them.  Thanks again and I look forward to hearing back from you.

Best Regards,

John Smith”

Wait Until They Ask

In Mike’s case the employer has already asked him to bring the references with him, but it is always a good rule of thumb to wait until they ask for them.  In some cases you can avoid having to tip toe around your current boss if an offer has been made.  Wait for the employer to request the references and see where you are at in the process.


If an employer is asking for references, it is definitely a good sign!  It means that you are getting closer to landing the position.  Use these tips above if your Manager isn’t aware that you are looking for a new role.  If your current boss is on board with you transitioning, be sure to include them at the top of your reference list and use them to your advantage!

What are Your Thoughts? Comment Below!

Have you ever used your current boss as a reference?  How did it work out while you were confidentially interviewing?

Dan Metz is the Director of Executive Search and Employee Development at the Resilience Group, LLC, and Co-Founder and Contributing Author for Need a New Gig.  Follow his blog for more great tips like this!

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