Got a great question from a job-seeker today and wanted to share the answer. Tim is an IT Analyst who has been at his current employer for 7 years. Due to a variety of legitimate reasons, he has been looking for a new opportunity elsewhere. (I specifically clarify that his reasons for looking for a new job are legitimate because it is important to have, and be able to articulate, good reasons why you are looking for a new job when you are in an interview situation).
Tim has had two rounds of interviews for a job that he is very interested in, and has been informed he is one of 2 finalists for the position. The problem? They want him to give a list of references. He does not feel it would be wise to let his current employer know he is looking for a new job, yet, the only management-level folks who know about his quality of work are at his current company. Tim doesn’t want to rely solely on personal references. What should he do?
The good news is that most Recruiters and Hiring Managers understand when a candidate cannot give references from their current position. However, they will still expect you to have professional references who can speak knowledgably about the caliber of your work, your job-related skills, and your business acumen. Simply offering your pastor, a neighbor, and a good friend from college as references will not suffice. When I am staffing a position, it is always disappointing when a strong candidate who interviews well cannot back up his story with strong professional references.
In an ideal world, you would have a strong professional network you could pull on in times like this. Potential references could include:
- Managers from other departments in your current company who would know about your work
- Managers from client or partner organizations who have benefited from your work
- Colleagues from Professional Associations where you have been an actively involved and contributing member, and you have spent time “talking shop” with them so they know your background
- Contacts from organizations where you have volunteered your professional skills and talents in service of their goals (think about work you have done for your children’s school, your church, a local charity, etc.)
- Instructors from professional development classes you have taken.
If you don’t have a strong professional network to draw from try to think of people in leadership positions in your community that you can use as references. Do you know a politician? Do you know a retired business person or other civic leader who would be willing to speak on your behalf? Absent strong professional or civic references, you will have to rely on your personal references and hope for the best.
Once you do get your new job, make sure to work on building a strong professional network. Get involved in associations and networking groups for your particular profession, volunteer in your community, and make friends throughout your company and through your client and partner companies. If you do, you’ll find that you enjoy your work more and your community more. Even better, through your networking, you’ll probably be asked to be a reference for someone else one day – and it is a great feeling to be able to give someone else a hand up!