Ask LH: Should I Ask My Current Boss For A Reference?

Ask LH: Should I Ask My Current Boss For A Reference?

Hi Lifehacker, I am currently in my first job out of university and recently I’ve been thinking about looking for a new job. All of my references from before this job are from employment during high school and university. Is it appropriate to use my current boss as a referee, and to ask for a reference from them? Thanks, Cross-Referenced

Angry boss picture from Shutterstock

Dear CR,

If you’re not happy at your current place of employment, by all means ask for a reference. Your boss might not be too happy about it, but it’s not like he can fire you. In fact, many employers prefer a heads-up to being blindsided, as it means they aren’t unprepared when you hand in your resignation.

Your safest bet is a written reference. That way you can review the contents instead of naively trusting in a phone conversation. I learned this the hard way many years ago: after a string of unsuccessful job applications, I discovered my manager had been falsely slagging me off in a bid to keep me in a difficult-to-fill position. What a blaggard.

If you suspect that your boss is the vindictive sort, perhaps refrain from mentioning referees on your resume at all — as we have noted in the past, you only need to include this information if the job ad specifically asks for it. If not, leave it out.

Another option is to speak with your boss about the possibility of advancement or re-employment in a different role. Ask whether there are any other opportunities in the business you might be able to apply for. Generally speaking, most businesses are keen to hold onto hardworking employees and will be willing to negotiate to keep them on board.

We’re also going to throw this one over to our readers: if any managers are reading, what approach do you prefer when an employee starts looking for a new job? Share your opinions in the comments section below.


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  • If you like the company, people, and atmosphere then it’s worth meeting with your boss before moving on.
    Tell them you’re getting bored. 3 previous jobs, me meeting with my boss to tell them I’m getting bored with my role led to promotions. One of those, the promotion was the creation of a new role in the company just to keep me. If your a good worker, they will want to keep you around.

    Importantly, it’s not a meeting to go with with your resignation and say “promote me or I leave.” They will let you walk with that attitude. Everyone is replaceable.

  • Most large companies don’t (and shouldn’t) give references anymore – they give what are called ‘statements of service’ confirming you worked there and nothing more. This is because companies can sue other companies if the reference is false or misleading. Also, giving a bad reference for a person (often verbally) opens individuals up to defamation claims. It’s a bit of a minefield for the large, risk averse multinationals.

  • Always appreciated to know sooner rather than later if someone is looking to move on. Surprise departures are a pain in the a$$.

  • As a manager of two departments for an international wholesale fashion business, I would prefer it if my staff come and ask me for a reference and let me know they are looking for other work. I am more than happy to assist in providing a reference and I have a heads up as to having to fill a role.

    Having said that….I feel I am a good manager and my teams are very open and honest with me. If I was in a job where I had a tough or shitty manager, I would be reluctant to tell them. All depends on what sort of person you report to.

  • What’s the minimum amount of time one should wait before asking a boss to be their reference? Obviously, you don’t ask this sort of thing if you have the job less than a year. Of course, I realize there is no one size fits all answer, the relationship one has with the boss must be taken into account, etc.

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