Jobhunting while working: about those references

  • I could lose this job if the boss found out. He hates disloyalty.
  • We’ve had a personality conflict from the beginning; I can’t use her for a reference.
  • They all see me as just average.  I’d rather give my volunteer job as a reference.
  • Everyone who knew my work has retired or changed jobs.

Yes, it’s challenging to come up with appropriate references for each position. There are things you can do to minimize the above-mentioned obstacles.

The boss doesn’t know you are looking.  Most applications have the option of indicating that you do not wish your current employers to be contacted.  Interviewers will doubtless honor that, although casual information exchanges may take place.  You cannot control this.  It’s awkward and potentially dangerous.  There are those who will terminate you upon hearing this news, so you are right to be apprehensive.  If this is the case, you are doing the right thing by job-hunting.

She doesn’t like me.  I can’t give her name. A human resources representative wants to talk with an immediate supervisor.  As long as you include a supervisor from a previous job as well as a colleague or two (or a project manager) from your current situation, you might be able to sidestep this obstacle.

They don’t see me at my best . I suggest you provide not only your present supervisor but also the leader at your volunteer job, the one in which you exhibit a passion and skillset that are not called for in your present paid position.  It seems okay to mention that this is why you are seeking change – the opportunity to work with enthusiasm and commitment.

My best references have all moved on.  Track them down and give the names and new contact information. It should be added that you need to stay in touch with your references and remind them of the relevant highlights of your work.

This is a sticky situation, fraught with career peril.  But please do not let the awkwardness keep you from pursuing new opportunities.  If you would like to talk about your unique situation with a career counselor, feel free to contact me by visiting my website ( or by leaving a comment.  If you have found an effective way to handle the reference question while employed, I hope you will share it with other readers.

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