Can You Use Your Current Boss As A Reference?

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In our next Ask Victoria column, we tackle reference etiquette:

Dear Victoria,

I have a question regarding reference etiquette. I’ve been in my position of fund development for 3 years with the same organization. Recently, I’ve been interested in researching other job opportunities to find out if I’d be a competitive candidate whenever I do decide to leave. My issue is that since all of my development work is tied up in this one role, my reference is my current employer. If I was seriously considering leaving, then I would have an honest conversation with my supervisor, but since I’m wanting to ‘test the waters’ so to speak, I’m wondering how I can use my employer as a reference while applying for jobs, without straining my relationship with my employer.

Thank you,

Rhonda

Hi Rhonda,

Thank you for your question. It’s great that you are thinking ahead so you are prepared when the time comes.  While it sounds like you have a pretty good relationship with your manager since you were considering to use them as a reference, you are wise to question whether or not you should.

Even within the best professional relationships, if you are forthright about your desire to leave the organization a question arises, “What happens if I don’t get the job?” How your manager behaves towards you can vary; your manager may fully support your leaving as a “next step” to your professional growth, or they may assume you have a “one foot out the door” mentality and avoid giving you long-term projects or other opportunities for your growth.

It will probably take a few discussions with your manager to get an idea of where they stand and how they will react. You don’t have to blurt out “I’m thinking about leaving,” but have some honest conversations about your career aspirations and ask for your manager for feedback on how they see you achieving them at the organization. Also, pay attention to how other people are treated when they leave. Are they still supported and included? Or shut out completely?

In the meantime, remember that you can keep your job search confidential until you are further into the hiring process. You may have noticed that many organizations do not request that you submit a list of references right away with your application. Most will ask for them later on in the process, and by that time you should have a better idea of where things stand – both in regards to your candidacy and your current employer’s willingness to serve as a reference.

Wait to share your list of references until asked, which is usually after you’ve been interviewed. When filling out a job application, there may be a question on the form that asks “may we contact your current employer?” You can certainly check off “no” and add a note stating you are keeping your job search confidential and will provide current references later in the hiring process. Most employers will understand your desire to keep mum about your job search.

While it’s great to have references who can speak about your abilities in a specific job function, don’t discount those who are outside of that area. Even though your current employer is your first reference who can attest to your fundraising and development work, your previous supervisors can share stories about your work performance that are just as wow-worthy. It is perfectly acceptable to list them as your references instead, as they can speak about your transferable skills,the ones that are most related to the development jobs you will be pursuing.

Selecting references takes care, planning, and communication. You want them to be able to share the very best insights about you. Your references should be people who have worked with you at least a full year and have directly supervised you. It’s also a good idea to get the “okay” from your prospective references before disclosing their contact information to an employer. It’s helpful to give them a copy of your current resume and the description of the job you are seeking so they can focus on your skills that most relate to the work. You may even want to schedule a short call with them to give a recap of your experiences and what makes you fit the role. After the hiring process, send a thank you note to your references in appreciation of their efforts and cooperation.

Hope this gave you some clarity and ideas for next steps as you continue with your job search. Please do check in and let us know how things go!

Have you dealt with a similar situation? What did you do? Share your insights and experiences below!

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About Author

I became acquainted with Idealist in late 2000 while working in the career development office at a private liberal arts college in NYC. I used it almost daily to help students and alumni find meaningful careers. After a 12-year stint in higher education, I worked as a career coach for professionals in various industries (and still used Idealist). During one of those many searches, a listing really caught my eye- the one for the newly-created position, Careers Program Coordinator. So... I jumped at the opportunity. Since then, I took on the role of Manager of Career Content for Idealist Careers, creating career content for job seekers, leaders, and other nonprofit professionals. Understanding the roles that a positive outlook and holistic self-care play in career success, I've shared with our readers time-honored methods for improving confidence and productivity. Now, as Manager of College and Professional Development, my focus is on lifting the advice from Idealist Careers "off the page". Drawing from my experience in career development, I propel job seekers and career changers towards taking control of their searches with confidence and removing fear, uncertainty, and other blocks to success via in-person workshops and seminars, webinars, and conference programming. My great loves are cooking (preferably without a recipe, otherwise I doctor it up), dancing, live cultural performances, identifying the tasting notes in a good cup of coffee, exploring neighborhoods for hidden gems, and anything else that sparks the senses and allows me to experience all the beauty, dynamism, and intrigue that vivaciously living in a remarkable world offers.

3 Comments

  1. Great question and answer today!

    Here’s what I have clients do: cultivate a list of references that includes former professors, classmates, supervisors and/or colleagues. Ask the recruiter or hiring manager to call those references first. It’s okay to ask that your current boss be called last, assuming that you’re still in the running.

    Most recruiting coordinators and hiring managers will want to respect your current situation. If you think your boss will be mad to learn about your departure, it’s okay to share that. I’ve talked with lots of recruiters who’ve spoken to bosses and supervisors who really upset to learn that their employees were leaving but still gave very positive reviews.

    I also think that quitting your first job is really scary…it gets easier!

  2. Pingback: Should You Use Your Current Boss as a Reference? | Social Work Jobs in Massachusetts

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