What about the prospective employer who insists on talking to a current supervisor? What can the job seeker do if he doesn’t want a supervisor to know he’s looking for another job? (I’ve actually heard of employers who have fired an employee who they found out was looking for another job!)
First of all, there is an unwritten rule that no prospective employer should ever jeopardize someone’s current job. Most job applications, in fact, have a section that asks if the current employer may be contacted. If the job seeker doesn’t want that to happen, he should make it clear by a “no,” and that request should be honored without question.
As an alternative, most job seekers ordinarily will have at least one friend/coworker who can be trusted, as I’ve written before, and that’s generally all that’s needed. The other option for the job seeker is to provide plenty of other work-related references from previously held jobs or that specialized class of individuals who have (1) retired, (2) taken another job, or (3) moved to another functional area or location within the company. One other alternative for the job seeker is to ask the prospective employer to delay calling a current supervisor until a job offer has been made.
Some employers make job offers contingent on reference checking anyway. (I would certainly think twice about making job offers contingent on reference checking because, if an offer of employment has to be withdrawn, the job seeker will know exactly why. Clearly, it will have been something said by one of his references!)