When you’re looking for a new job, most employers want to get job references from your current position. However, it is (obviously) almost impossible to get references from your current management. Obtaining professional references for a new job becomes a catch-22 that can complicate a job search.
If you’ve been with your current employer for quite a long time, it makes it all the more difficult. Potential employers then don’t care much about your past employers – they want current references, in particularly with your superiors.
The good thing thing is that there is a secret to getting great job references. The secret is: don’t ask for job references, take them.
It is more important for professionals to build and document a successful track record than to solicit references when they are looking for a job. In fact, many employers will likely discount references that you do provide at the time of job search, because these are often personal connections which are biased.
Here are a few ways to secretly build up a track record of success which any employer will gush over:
- Save all positive performance reviews – if you don’t have performance reviews, ask for them in the context of improving your current work efforts
- Save emails from managers praising your work and efforts
- Document any and all promotions and salary increases that you receive
- If you contribute to revenue, document that revenue
- Get colleagues to recommend your work on Linkedin
- Get all the continuing education you can from your current employer – this is a sign of their investing in you.
- Get to know your company’s clients. Even if you are not in a client facing role, you want to be very “close to the money.” These clients are also potential references.
The idea here is not necessarily to build up a “brag book,” which can sometimes look cheap; rather it is to support your statements when you are discussing new employment. For instance, if you only have peer references from a current position, the new potential employer will likely ask for a management reference. You can flatly deny the request but then provide documentation of your success with multiple levels of management.
When interviewing with a new company, confidence is key. Having documentation of your success will allow you to be much stronger in your negotiations. If you’ve carefully obtained “secret” job references with your current employer, it may even help to refuse to give telephone references entirely, or only give one or two with peers. In general, people respect strength – if you are in the position to show concrete, documented success and demonstrate confidence in interviewing, the effect is powerful.
The best job references are unsolicited – and the point is to build those unsolicited job references over time, before you need them. However, perhaps more important than the manner in which you get career references is the way in which you negotiate during the interview process about them. To your new employer, you must have nothing to hide and demonstrate a true confidence in your past performance. If you can steer the conversation and prove success, you will stand out from other applicants.