Ask LH: Should I Ask For A Written Reference?

Dear Lifehacker, I’m currently in the process of leaving one job and starting another. Everything is locked down and looking good, I just have one question: what is your opinion on asking for a written reference from my old job? I haven’t asked for one from the old job I’m leaving (I simply put “referees available upon request” and provided a list with names, titles, emails and phone numbers when things progressed past the first stage).

Someone told me it is a good idea to get a written reference anyway though since you never know what might happen. They’ve always seemed a bit old fashioned (not to mention disingenuous) to me. Simply providing names and contact numbers has worked pretty well for me in the past. What are your thoughts on this? Box Ticker

Reference picture from Shutterstock

Dear BT,

Your friend is right. It certainly can’t hurt to have a written reference in your CV arsenal. Assuming there are no hard feeling at your old job, it should be relatively easy to get hold of one from your boss — just be prepared to gently remind them a few times to get the ball rolling.

Depending on how busy/lazy they are, you might be asked to write your own reference, which they’ll then peruse and sign off on. This is annoying, but at least you’ll be able to control the content and highlight specific strengths you want to showcase to new employers.

On a personal note, I have found that relying entirely on phone contacts can sometimes backfire. I once had a job that was notoriously difficult to refill. After a few months of fruitless job interviews, I discovered my manager had been badmouthing me to each potential employer — simply because she wanted to keep me where I was. (I only found out about this when a new employer finally took a chance on me and advised that I might want to remove her from my referee list!)


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