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Candidate Question: How Do I Handle Giving My Boss as a Reference?

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Q:

I have a potential employer asking for a direct manager reference and I'm looking for advice on how to handle it. I've sent him three references from co-workers and clients, so he has good reviews in his hands. Now, he's asked for one reference who has managed me directly. I've been in my current job for four years, and would rather not have my current manager know that I'm job searching. In my last job of 5 years I didn't have the best relationship with my manager, so I'm not confident that I'd get a good reference from him. I'm not sure how to handle this situation. Can I really go back 10 years for a job reference? What have you seen or what would you recommend?

A:

I'm not surprised you're being asked for a direct manager reference. In the PR industry, it's common to be asked for references from a direct manager, a direct report, a client, and a reporter. Most employers will want to speak to the people with whom you have had a working relationship most recently.

It's understandable to be concerned about giving your direct supervisor as a reference at this point in the process. Without a job offer, risking your current position and letting your employer question your loyalty is asking for trouble. I would only give your direct manager as a reference IF he or she already knows you are leaving the company.

Considering you have already given a few colleagues as references, it should give sufficient material to move forward for an offer. The best approach is to be honest and to tell him if you give your direct supervisor as a reference now it will put you in an uncomfortable position and you don't want to risk your job just yet. He should understand. If that reference is really important to him, you could agree to giving it once you have you have received and accepted a formal offer. It's standard practice and should be an acceptable compromise.

Providing a reference from a manager ten years ago is too far in the past. The types of questions and information an employer would ask your manager reference at this point in your career is much different than the information sought early in your career.

This post is part of an on-going series featuring readers job search and hiring questions. If you have a question you would like answered in this blog, please send it to me here. Your information will be kept confidential.

Photo credit: Matt Camran
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