How to Give References when Potentially Changing Jobs
May 5, 2015 8:52 AM   Subscribe

I am currently employed. I like my job, I like my co-workers, and I'm not unhappy here at all. Recently someone I know sent a job opportunity my way, and it looked really, really cool - something I'd be really excited to do. So I threw them an application, just to see, and ended up going on two rounds of interviews that went really well. There's a decent chance I'll get this job but, you know, they're talking to other people as well. Today they asked for references. I'm not sure how to handle that.

Ideally, nobody where I work now would know that I was interviewing for another job unless I actually got it and had to leave. Practically speaking, that seems impossible. This is my first 'real' job - before that I spent 7 years in grad school, so I have no real potential references other than where I work now. It's a very small company.

Do I just ask people and hope they take it ok? Should I avoid asking my supervisor? If you've been a manager, how would you take this kind of request? Will the believe me when I say I'm not generally looking to leave?

I feel like this situation must come up all the time, but I'm strangely at a loss as to how to deal with it. Any help will be greatly appreciated. Thanks!
posted by Ragged Richard to Work & Money (12 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
The typical thing is to give them the name of someone outside your job -- a professor, or someone you did an internship or something with, along with your supervisor's name. You tell them that your supervisor is not aware you are considering other opportunities, so please only contact them to confirm their decision. Some people will be respectful of this, and some will not. You have to kind of suss out your boss -- is it better to let them know, even if they might never be contacted (you can say something like "I went for an interview as a favor to someone, I'm not looking to leave any time soon") or not tell them and risk them being blindsided by the request? I'd say the majority of bosses are actually cooler with this than you might think -- no one expects you to keep your job forever these days -- but be aware that it may impact, if only subconsciously, their decisions about promotions/raises/added responsibilities, etc.
posted by Rock Steady at 9:06 AM on May 5, 2015 [2 favorites]

I would NOT ask your supervisor to be your reference and not any current co-worker unless you have complete trust in them. If you have a colleague you trust then that is appropriate. Your supervisor will likely assume you are interested in leaving given you went on multiple interviews even if you say that isn't the case. Regarding references, I typically add a former co-worker from a past job and let them know to expect the call. I also fully prep them on the job and things they might be looking for. I understand this is your first real job so that's tricky. I will also often add a friend that is perhaps in the professional field that I am applying to be in. They can speak to your ability and character. Then, I add a lifelong friend. Most companies only call one or two references maximum, but if they are extremely thorough and going through an agency they might call them all. Even when working in politics, the campaign only called two of my references. Best of luck!
posted by LLF246 at 9:12 AM on May 5, 2015 [1 favorite]

Supervisor here: my staff must trust me, because they ask for references all the goddamn time.
posted by Mogur at 9:30 AM on May 5, 2015 [3 favorites]

Potential Employer HR Dept. will understand that you don't want references at Current Employer contacted casually. They are likely to want a reference before making an offer. Most companies get lots of requests for employment verification, which can be from a potential employer, or from a creditor, so not a big deal. So, write it up as

Joe Blow
Director, Quality Assurance
MegaCorp, Inc.
Mr. Blow was my supervisor when I was at MegaCorp, Inc.

Wilma Flintstone
CEO, Flintstone Analytics
Ms. Flintstone was my supervisor at XYZCorp., prior to starting her own company.

My current employer is United GeoSystems. Please contact me if you need a reference from them.
posted by theora55 at 9:51 AM on May 5, 2015 [1 favorite]

If you do any external work - customers, partnerships - you could ask someone you've "worked with" in that capacity who you have formed a personal relationship with (of course asking them to keep it confidential). You could ask your grad school colleagues or an advisor, or someone from your past internships.

If you must ask someone at your company, I'd ask someone who is a peer, not above you, and someone who you regularly grab beers with. Someone you really trust to be discrete, and ask them to keep it quiet. People understand.
posted by amaire at 9:51 AM on May 5, 2015

Best answer: Contact a professor you had a good connection with and/or had more than once, a former co-worker (someone you worked with at this current job who has already left), and a former classmate via LinkedIn or even Facebook. If you don't have any former co-workers (I had this problem at my legal job, and it sucked), then use two professors. What I usually say is something like , "Greetings, So and So. We did X together from A to B, and I always enjoyed working with you/your classes/team projects in class/whatever. I'm currently looking for a new professional challenge. Would you be comfortable serving as a professional reference for me?"

Tread carefully asking someone who you currently work with, let alone a current supervisor/manager. I only told a co-worker I was looking for work, when he told me he had applied somewhere and needed a reference. I mean, this is going to sound awful, but unless you have something over their head, don't give them something to hang over yours. Sometimes, people drop things by accident. Also, when I was a manager, I had many employees tell me they were looking for other work ("because working here sucks!" or "the pay here sucks!"), and I wished them the best of luck and made sure I had a plan in the back of my head for when they left, but that was retail and the expectation is that everyone is looking. But: you better bet I remembered when they applied for supervisory roles or their name came up for a longer-term project, and, depending on how they had approached me about job hunting, it would be a "heck no" (the "this job sucks!" person) or a sit-down conversation about where they're at. And, yes, if my employee told me s/he was interviewing at other companies but didn't plan on leaving, I would not believe the employee. If you were 100% happy and wanting to stay, you wouldn't be interviewing. It's nothing to be ashamed of, but don't fool yourself: it sends one message.
posted by coast99 at 10:47 AM on May 5, 2015

Response by poster: Thanks for all the feedback so far! Just to clarify, because I see this was a little ambiguous, I absolutely am leaving if I get this particular job, it's just that I'm not otherwise looking for a new job in general.
posted by Ragged Richard at 11:13 AM on May 5, 2015

I recently changed jobs inside my company and when I was notifying my supervisor I spoke with her privately and said something like, "I just had a really great opportunity to interview for new job. The interview went really well and I think they may be contacting you as a reference at some point. I wasn't looking to leave, but this new job is really exciting and I couldn't let it pass me by."

In my situation my supervisor acknowledged that new job sounded like a great fit for me and I think she appreciated the heads up.
posted by MadMadam at 11:30 AM on May 5, 2015

Here's how this went for me, once, 15 years ago, with a (in retrospect) jerko supervisor:

"Hey, I had the opportunity come up to interview for another job..."

(Interrupting) "Well, I hope you get it for your sake. Because we can't keep you around, knowing that. We're going to have to let you go."

Then I didn't get the new job either, and was out of work for a couple of months.

So, I'm glad to see some stories here that didn't end like that!

Good luck!
posted by Cookiebastard at 3:01 PM on May 5, 2015 [1 favorite]

My husband didn't want his current employer to know he was looking. For references he used:

1) a friend who was a current co-worker. They'd been friends since college, and my husband also trusted this friend not to accidentally slip up and mention that he was looking to their boss.

2) a friend who he'd worked for in a volunteer capacity for a local convention, doing much the same work he does in a professional capacity (writing code) so that this friend could say "yes, he did what he was asked to do, it worked, and he was easy to work with."

3) he doesn't remember if he listed this friend or not, but he did ask this friend to stand as reference: a friend who did the same sort of work, who comes across as "normal" as possible and not as weirdly geeky as some of our friends.

Apparently it worked: he got the job.
posted by telophase at 1:38 PM on May 6, 2015 [1 favorite]

I should add that my husband didn't use any former employers because he'd been working at his current job for almost 14 years, and had lost track of them (dot coms that went bust and vanished, I believe).
posted by telophase at 1:40 PM on May 6, 2015

Response by poster: Update: I decided to use a co-worker who has left the company, a grad school professor, and someone in the industry I know.

Reader, they hired me.
posted by Ragged Richard at 12:47 PM on May 8, 2015 [3 favorites]

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