How to Ask Your Current Employer For a Reference

You were excited to be invited for an interview, and were thrilled when they called back to get your references.  You are so close to getting this job that you can taste it!  The only problem is that they want a reference from your current employer.  This is an issue because your current employer doesn’t know that you are even looking for a job, let alone that you’ve been attending interviews.  Also, what happens if you ask your employer for a reference, but you still don’t get the job?  Will it make your job difficult in the future?  Here are some tips to help guide you through this tricky situation:

Consider whether the opportunity is worth the risk.  When you ask your manager for a reference, you leave no doubt that you’re planning to move on.  If the opportunity falls through, and you’re stuck at your old job, you’ll likely find that your manager is unwilling to give you important projects or interesting learning opportunities.  Your manager may even start to look for reasons to get rid of you.  If the position that you’re applying for is a great opportunity, then it may be worth risking the potential discomfort.  However, if you’re not even sure that you would accept the position, then you might want to pass on this one.

See if there are any other options.  Does the reference need to be someone who is currently working there?  Could it be a previous supervisor who has since moved on?  Or could you use a co-worker or a supplier as a reference.  Explain the difficulty of the situation and see if there is any flexibility.

Be direct and respectful.  If you do decide to ask your manager for a reference, the way that you do it is important.  Don’t play games and don’t be vague about what you need.  Tell your manager that you want to expand your skills and that you feel that this opportunity would help you get to the next level.  When you ask for the reference, let your manager know that you’ve enjoyed your current role, and that you appreciate all of the support that they have given you.  Just make sure that they don’t mistakenly think that you are giving your resignation.

Be open to your manager’s response.  It is difficult to predict how your manager will respond to your request for a reference.  Your manager may not want to lose you, and could offer you another opportunity to entice you to stay.  Listen and consider the offer; it could be a way to expand your skills without making a big move.

Don’t feel bad about it.  When we think about leaving our current employer, many of us feel guilty.  While it is understandable to feel guilty, it is unnecessary.  You need to do what is best for you and your career, and at some point that will mean moving on.  Your manager does not expect you to stay with the organization forever.  As long as you work hard, and are totally committed while you are working there, you have no reason to feel bad.

Since we develop personal relationships with our managers and our co-workers, changing jobs can be messy.  It becomes even more complicated when the prospective employer wants to talk to your current employer.  If you only pursue the most promising of these opportunities, and if you do so openly and professionally, you should be able to avoid most of this awkwardness.

(Written by Karen Bivand)

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