How To Get A Reference When You're Still Working

Reference checks are not going away. With every passing year, I hear people saying that the days of reference checks are almost over. The reason mentioned usually has something to do with the belief that is "illegal" for an employer to speak about a candidate's performance. I am not a lawyer, but on the surface, it is certainly not illegal for a previous employer to give a reference. As a hiring manager, I can tell you that is a pretty risky assumption to make.

While it is true that many employers have a policy against giving references, that does not mean you can get away with not providing one when asked.

The more common challenge is how to get a reference at your current job when you are still working. Marching into your boss's office and telling her that you are interviewing somewhere else and, oh by the way, you need a reference, might hurt you in the long run. So, what's a job seeker to do?

First off, the hiring manager or recruiter is more than likely very sensitive to your situation. They will typically understand that you cannot use your direct supervisor as a reference. Some other possible options:

  • A previous supervisor that left the company - another reason why it is so important to keep in contact with co-workers when you or they change jobs
  • A supervisor from another part of the business that already knows you are looking for another job
  • A co-worker - just be sure it is someone that can actually speak to your work
  • A direct report, if you are a supervisor - this is very tricky and should only be used in rare circumstances; a former direct report that has promoted away from your group could be a very good option
To help prepare your reference, follow the guidance we wrote about in the How To Ask For A Reference article.