How to get a good reference from an ex-boss

By Francesca Hooper on 27-03-2018

It can be awkward approaching an ex-boss or supervisor when you’re in need of a reference and you haven’t spoken in forever.  It’s always best to bite the bullet and get in touch because references can really boost your chances at a potential job.  

It’s safe to say that having a couple of references at the ready is important.  In fact, 69% of employers have changed their mind about a candidate after speaking with a reference, according to a CareerBuilder survey, which analyzed responses from 2,494 professionals.  

If you’re still struggling to reach out, then here’s a guide on how to reconnect with your old boss and secure that reference.

Mention the elephant in the room
Luckily for those terrible at phone conversations, you can spend time curating the perfect email to your old reference.  It’s important to start the message by owning up that you may have lost touch for a while. Don’t ruin it by apologising excessively or making up excuses, but rather just by being honest and telling it how it is.

Although, if you are still working with your desired reference whilst you’re looking for a second or new job, then it’s best to ask face-to-face.  It’s easier to convey your gratitude and they’ll be able to read your tone much easier than by an email.

Be transparent about your motives
With everyone super busy with careers, family lives and other pressing matters, it’s best to get straight to the point on why you’re emailing.  Let your old reference know what you are planning to do career-wise, what role you’re applying for and how your qualifications match up with the job description.

It’s important to do this because if your potential employer does do a reference check, then your reference will feel comfortable discussing the role and know what questions to expect.  By giving context, it allows your reference to share information that makes sense and puts you in a good light..

Keep your reference in the know
Once you’ve connected again, keep him in the loop with regards to the job process.  Let him know when you’re interviewing and when he may hear from the company. It is also a good idea to refresh his memory and discuss past projects or outcomes that you achieved whilst you were working together, so that he can easily use these examples whilst he talks to your potential employer.

Say thank you!
If you receive an offer then share the news and don’t forget to say thank you!  Either through a handwritten note or an email, it’s important to let your reference know that you are grateful for their time (even if you don’t get the job!).

Francesca Hooper writes for Inspiring Interns, which specialises in sourcing candidates for internships and graduate jobs.


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