May I contact your present employer for a reference?
The obvious reason behind this is to get an actual reference, to see how you are as an employee. However, there is a second hidden reasoning behind this question as well. The interviewer wants to find out about your relationship with your current employer. Are they happy with you? Have you been a good employee? Or have you caused problems? Will they actually recommend you for the job? Or do they think you lack the necessary skills? Or perhaps you are not a team player. Your current employer or manager is the best person to answer any questions about you. In fact, they may even be able to tell the real reason you are looking for a job change.
Hence, the answer to this question should always be yes, no matter what. If you say no, then it is immediately suspicious. Why can’t they or why don’t you want them to? Are you trying to hide something, like the fact that you are bad employee?
However, if there is an actual reason that they should not call, such as perhaps your employer or supervisor changed jobs and you don’t have their number or they moved abroad. Perhaps you left on negative terms, or you were fired for trying to implement your ideas. In any of these scenarios, politely explain the situation to the interviewer. The trick here is to ensure that you don’t come out of the situation looking bad.
Another situation where it is okay to say no is when you are looking for a job but your current employer doesn’t know that yet. Hence you can say no claiming that your boss doesn’t know about your job hunt yet and that you don’t want to ruffle any feathers for now. You can also say that they can contact your employer but only when they offer you the job and even then after you’ve had a chance to inform them first. After all, if you don’t get this job then there is no point in creating issues at your current one, you the one that is actually paying your bills.
Technically, it doesn’t matter if you say yes or no, as long as you can support your no. The trick here is to not come off as suspicious or seem like you are hiding something. As long as you manage that, then you’ve passed this question.
Yes, but I would prefer if you don’t do that at this stage and rather waited till the final stage when there is an offer on the table. To be honest, my current employer does not know that I am seeking a change. If possible, I would like to inform them personally when things starting getting finalized.