Further Questions: Is it standard practice to ask for the current supervisor as a reference?

Here’s another question inspired by a reader. I asked people who hire librarians:

Is it standard practice for your institution to ask to contact the candidate’s current supervisor as a reference? At what point do you do this?  How do you handle it if the candidate has not told her current supervisor she is job hunting, or does not want to give you this information for some other reason?  Are they still considered for the position?

Marleah AugustineWe have a place on our applications for work history (including current) and supervisor name and contact information. That section includes a checkbox so that candidates can mark whether they want us to contact their supervisor (not just current) for a reference. We do still consider candidates for the position. They supply plenty of other information for potential references, so we have more than enough between the application and interview to make a decision.

– Marleah Augustine, Adult Department Librarian at Hays Public Library


We do not have a set protocol about speaking with the current supervisor; we ask candidates for three references, and leave it to them to decide what is in their own best interests.   We assume the typical applicant’s search is confidential, so we do not expect to see the current supervisor listed, and do not reject candidates where this is the case.  At the end of the face-to-face interview we confirm that we are free to contact the references listed and whether or not the search is confidential.

If there are particular circumstances – perhaps none of the applicant’s references are from library or related fields and we have questions about skills or content knowledge – then we might ask the candidate if it would be possible to speak with the current supervisor, or if not, if there is someone else we could contact who would be able to speak to those questions.  If, in addition to the current supervisor not being listed, there were no past supervisors listed and the references appeared to all be from colleagues, or from education or other non-work settings, we would need to understand that better.  We consider what the reference list tells us as a whole in addition to what we learn from individuals’ responses.

We also recognize that there may be sensitive interpersonal or organizational issues at the candidate’s current workplace that she is navigating.  In such a case, how the candidate represents the situation to us and handles herself in regard to it can give us quite a bit of good information about a candidate’s maturity, insight, tact, and professionalism under challenging circumstances.

– Ann Glannon, Associate Director, Wheelock College Library, Boston, MA


We do not routinely contact the current supervisor.  I totally understand that sometimes people don’t want their boss to know they are job hunting. I’ve been in that situation myself.  We notify the candidate before we contact references so that they know it will be happening and can inform the references.  Before making an offer, though, I will usually insist on contacting the current supervisor (if they weren’t listed as a reference), and give the candidate a chance to explain the circumstances if needed.  They may still be considered, depending on the situation.

– Anonymous

Thank you as always to our contributors for their time and insight.  If you’re someone who hires librarians and are interested in participating in this feature, please email me at hiringlibrariansATgmail.com.

Thank YOU for reading!  

Further Questions is taking at least two weeks off! We should return on January 10.


Filed under Academic, Further Questions, Public

2 responses to “Further Questions: Is it standard practice to ask for the current supervisor as a reference?

  1. Pingback: Further Questions Questions | Hiring Librarians

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