One thing that can be a little tricky to navigate in the world of job hunting and networking is the reference. It’s something that many recruiters and employers want candidates to have, and getting a good reference can make all the difference when it comes to securing the position you want. So, is it worth reaching out to old co-workers for references?
Yes, reaching out to former co-workers to ask about a reference is perfectly acceptable. Just make sure you do it in the right way.
Start with an email.
Assuming you haven’t spoken with the old co-worker in a while, it’s usually best to start with an email. Calling the individual out of the blue might make him or her feel awkward, and it may not get you the result you’re looking for. Play it safe and start with a casual email. Say something like, “Hi Sam, I’m in the interview process for a management position with XYZ Company. I wondered if you might be willing to serve as a reference for me. Here’s my phone number if you’d like to chat in person.”
Many times that will be enough and the co-worker will be happy to help. If they want to talk further, move on to the phone conversation.
Chat on the phone.
Make some small talk at first to catch up with your old co-worker. You don’t want to make it all business right away. After some pleasantries, remind the co-worker again why you’re calling. Be sure to make it clear what their responsibility will be in all of this — are they writing a reference letter for you? Are they to be “on-call” in case the company you’re interviewing with contacts them?
Only ask those you can trust.
If you have any notion that the co-worker you’re contacting might paint you in a bad light when speaking to your potential employer, it’s not worth the risk. Always choose someone you can trust. And if the co-worker you reach out to isn’t interested in serving as a reference for you, drop the issue and move on. He or she may have legitimate reasons that they don’t want to be your reference — perhaps they feel they aren’t qualified to speak on your performance, or they don’t feel that they’ll have time. You don’t want to force the issue and end up burning a professional bridge.