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Is it acceptable to seek out a reference from someone in the past?
January 10, 2013 10:30 AM   Subscribe

I am applying for an internship and I want to ask someone to give me a reference. However, I haven't been in contact with them for two years. We parted on good terms. Is it acceptable for me to ask them for a reference still?

If it helps, it is an internship with a political party. He is a politician that I volunteered extensively with during campaign time. He offered me a job two years ago but I was travelling so I was unable to take it. He would be a perfect reference, but I don't know if it's all right for me to ask after two years of no contact.

If not, how do I find references? I'm self-employed so I don't have any work references. I go to school but I'm not close to any of my professors.
posted by cyml to Work & Money (14 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
...but I don't know if it's all right for me to ask after two years of no contact.

If you helped this dude out to the extent that he offered you a job, then, yes, of course contact him. You might have to jog his memory a bit, but I can't imagine what reason he could have to not give you a hand.
posted by griphus at 10:32 AM on January 10, 2013

Heck yeah. 2 years is nothing. A few years ago I called up the parent of someone I went to high school with, hadn't talked with him in two and a half decades, and he was happy to spend an hour and a half on the phone chatting and helping out.
posted by straw at 10:33 AM on January 10, 2013 [1 favorite]

If it helps to hear: I was once approached by a roommate who hadn't talked to me in 3 years because he'd used me as a reference when he was applying for an apartment in a co-op, and wanted to make sure that was cool. It was indeed cool, and I didn't think it was weird at all.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 10:33 AM on January 10, 2013 [2 favorites]

Also, he's a politician. Their entire careers are based around transactions like this one: "Hey, remember that time I helped you out? Well..."
posted by griphus at 10:34 AM on January 10, 2013 [5 favorites]

This is fine. Remember, however, that you should remain similarly willing to give references, advice, and networking help when people reach out to you in the future.
posted by Area Man at 10:37 AM on January 10, 2013

I think it's fine. I've had people ask me for references years after the fact. One thing you might want to do to make his life easier is include a little bulleted list of the things you did/learned/managed while volunteering with him. It's nice to believe that he'll remember exactly why you were so awesome, but it never hurts to give a little assistance. That will also help ensure you get a more detailed reference than just a vague "cyml is awesome."
posted by missjenny at 10:40 AM on January 10, 2013 [1 favorite]

Yes, absolutely. If you parted on good terms and he is likely to remember you or at least to be able to be politely reminded who you are, then you are totally fine on that front. There's not really a statute of limitations on references, although all else being equal more recent references are better. Two years is not a long time at all though, most people don't go through jobs that fast and so are likely to have a reference or two that is a few years old.
posted by Scientist at 10:41 AM on January 10, 2013

Yes, totally. I have written letters for people who interned for me 5 years prior, and when I went to grad school, I got a letter from one of my undergrad profs from 8 years earlier.
posted by spindrifter at 10:43 AM on January 10, 2013

People like to help, as a general rule. You have nothing to lose here.
posted by thejoshu at 10:46 AM on January 10, 2013

If you don't ask you don't get. Send a friendly note asking and see what happens.
posted by koahiatamadl at 11:35 AM on January 10, 2013

Definitely! I just asked my boss from a summer job 3 years ago if I could use her as a reference, she had no problem with that. It also gave me the benefit of getting back in touch and letting her know that I was graduating soon, which prompted her to recommend a couple places to talk to for contract work in the spring. If he liked you enough to offer you a job in the first place, I would definitely say go for it!
posted by snowysoul at 11:36 AM on January 10, 2013

Two years? Heh! That's nothing. Sure, just be really descriptive with your request email:

"Hi, I'm Troy McClure, you may remember me from such political campaigns as, Race for the Senate Seat and That Time The Campaign Bus Got Stuck in a Ditch! I'm applying for an internship and was hoping I could use you as a reference.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 1:28 PM on January 10, 2013

Absolutely okay. I supervised student workers for several years, and I made it clear that I'd be happy to give them references. It's not easy to get that first job out of school and I'm glad to help if I can. So now I get reference calls out of the blue for folks I had as student workers in 2006! I'd prefer to have a heads-up from a former employee that someone may be calling me for a reference. It doesn't matter if I haven't spoken to them in ages; it's just a polite thing to do.

Plus, it helps me put a face/voice to the name so that when the reference calls I'm not thinking, "Jonah who? Jonah who worked for me at the U? Oh him! Yes! I remember now..."
posted by Elly Vortex at 2:02 PM on January 10, 2013

Yes, okay. I have been on both sides of this coin.
I was fine with being asked (and that one was after five years, from a former co-worker), and I had a good response when I asked.
posted by Mezentian at 8:53 PM on January 10, 2013

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