Q: After 6 years in my current
position, I've decided it's time for a career move and a new
challenge. I have a good working relationship with my manager and
peers, and I've consistently had excellent performance appraisals.
However, I don't want to tip off my boss that I'm looking before I
have an offer in hand. Who, then, should I approach for references?
In the last few years, I've been
active in the Boy Scouts and my church and have developed close
working relationships with several other committed volunteers.
Therefore, my questions to you about references are:
Can I use these non-work people
Should I put their names at the
end of my resume?
Should I obtain letters of
recommendation from them?
What's the best way to ask people
if they will be a reference?
While these questions don't seem
complicated compared to many you receive, I'm sure I'm not the only
person who is uninformed about reference protocol.
A: You're right. Confusion about
references is common among job seekers. Here are some guidelines
for their effective use.
While many people assume work references
are the best (or only) ones to get, this isn't necessarily true.
Many large companies have policies to divulge only job title and
length of service. For job seekers who have left positions under
less than ideal circumstances, this is good news. But for people
like you with excellent work records and relationships, it poses a
Discreetly find out from your managers
or HR department whether your company has such a policy. If it
doesn't, use respected colleagues as references who will keep your
job hunt secret. If it does, you will have to rely on people
outside your company, who are free to discuss your work.
Your fellow volunteers in the Boy Scouts
and your church are excellent additions to your reference pool.
They have seen your work and commitment over several years and
should be delighted to discuss your activities with a potential
employer. An added advantage is using them as references at the
outset of your job search, an option you don't usually have with
your current manager.
Other sources of recommendations include
neighbors, your banker or attorney, an old friend, minister and even
former professors/teachers (if you've kept in contact). As you can
see, there are a variety of individuals who can serve in this role.
There's no need to list references on
your resume. They take valuable space and, unless they are
universally well known and respected, their names are meaningless to
Official letters of recommendation can
be useful in long distance moves, but usually aren't necessary. In
fact, writing a general letter is difficult for your reference and
not particularly effective for you, because it is unlikely to cover
the specific points a potential employer may want to discuss. Calls
and email responses are better.
Of course, you must ask before you give
names as references. Fortunately, most people will consider your
request a compliment. Usually the few who might be uncomfortable
will diplomatically refuse.
The tricky part of communicating with
references comes after they agree to recommend you. For them to be
of greatest benefit, you’ll need to alert them about the specific
areas they will probably be discussing with your potential employer.
If you believe you are one of the top candidates for the position,
contact your references to explain the experience, skills, and
personality traits your perspective manager is looking for. With
this information, they can tailor their comments to highlight your
most important attributes.
When you have accepted your new
position, be sure to thank them for their help by phone or in
writing. They’ll want to know their efforts on your part produced
the desired result.