References are a common job search dilemma, especially for those that are already employed. You can’t ask your current boss to be a reference unless you’re moving, or facing a lay-off, downsizing, or a merger, or other obvious situations. So who to ask for a reference if you can’t ask your boss?
Who to Ask for a Reference: The Obvious
This is one of the many reasons why it is important to stay connected with former bosses and supervisors; keep the line of communication open so they can serve as references in the future.
Your current or prior colleagues, even if not your supervisor, can be valued references. They know how you perform on the job and act under pressure. If you are using a current coworker, make sure you ask them to keep it in confidence.
For young professionals or recent graduates, it is perfectly reasonable to go back to college professors, instructors, or advisors if it has been five years or less. Make sure you only ask those with whom you had a strong relationship and have kept in contact with since graduation.
Who to Ask for a Reference: The Not-So-Obvious
Customers & Vendors
You can approach your customers or suppliers to serve as references on your relationship-building and customer relations skills. This is especially helpful for sales, leadership, public relations, communications, and marketing positions.
If you’ve served on committees, boards, or other volunteer opportunities, ask those non-profit leaders to serve as references. They’ve seen your commitment, how you work on a team, and many other soft skills that are valuable to any employer.
Served on a committee for United Way? Ask the United Way Director or committee chairperson if they are willing to be a reference. If you started a donation drive for a local animal shelter, ask the shelter director to vouch for your drive and motivation.
If you’ve worked on successful Parent-Teacher Organization fundraising campaign or served as an officer, request that the PTA/PTO president or school principal provide a reference.
Did you become a merit badge counselor for Boy Scouts to share your expertise? Request that one of the troop leaders serves as a reference.
Lead your local 4-H group? Inquire if other leaders or county extension representatives will be a reference to your leadership and organizational skills.
Mentored with FFA or other location organizations? Ask the chapter advisors to be a reference.
Have you coached your daughter’s little league team or been a volunteer referee? You may want to ask the league’s director or park & rec coordinator to provide a reference on your ability to teach, connect and lead.
Do you teach Sunday school? Work on the church welcoming committee? If you are active in your church, synagogue, or other spiritual institution, ask religious leaders to serve as references. They can speak to your volunteer commitments, but also personal characteristics that make you a sound employee.
This is just a start to the list of more obscure sources of references. Hopefully, this jump-starts your brainstorming for unique contacts that can report on your performance. No matter what, make sure you ask first and keep references in the loop regarding your job search process.
Find out more about keeping a job search secret here.