5 Rules for Reaching Out to a Reference You Haven't Talked to in Forever
You’re on the job hunt and you need to get your professional references together. And that means reaching out to a certain former boss who would be the perfect person.
There’s just one little problem. You’re not exactly in touch. It’s been months—or is it years?—since you last contacted him. The thought of suddenly jumping back into his life to say “Hi, can I add you to my list?” stresses you out.
Briefly, you dismiss him and begin racking your brain for other strong contacts. There’s the supervisor three jobs ago who is now freelancing a bit, no known company name or impressive title attached to her now. There’s the colleague who can speak to your work but not to managing you (she’ll still work, but not your number one). In fact, you can think of no one better than this person you lost touch with.
You really only have one choice then: You’re going to have to bite the bullet and rekindle the relationship. The fact is, we all have loose connections in our networks—people we once worked side-by-side with, or used to be close to, but with whom we don’t have regular coffee dates or frequent back-and-forth. Inconsistent contact isn’t the end of the world.
As long as you go into the ask with a clear mindset and positive attitude, it’ll probably work out just fine. If you believe he will give you an excellent reference, follow the five tips below:
1. Own Up to the Disconnect
Start by simply owning the fact that you haven’t been in touch. Don’t ruin it by giving excuses or apologizing excessively. Just call it what it is, and be sincere. Here’s an example of what to say:
I can’t believe we haven’t chatted since we worked at ACME together. I’ve done a terrible job of keeping in touch, but I hope you’re open to reconnecting now.
2. Be Transparent About Your Motives
We’re all super busy with careers, family, and other pressing matters—your reference included! It’s unlikely that he’s going to react with shock when you apologize for not being in touch and ask for this favor all in a span of five minutes. Don’t waste a ton of time on small talk; rather, respect his time and get to the point:
In preparation for my next career move, I’ve scored an interview with an awesome company I would love to work for. I want to have my references prepared in case they request them at the conclusion of the interview. I would appreciate being able to include you on that list.
3. Give Context
Give this person as much information as possible so that he can share information that makes sense and that places you in a good light. Here’s how you can broach this topic:
I don’t want to take up too much of your time, but I’d like to tell you a bit about the job, and how my qualifications match up. That way, if someone calls with a reference check, you’ll feel prepared and comfortable responding and answering any questions he or she may have.
Please let me know if you have a few minutes next Thursday or Friday for a quick phone conversation. Alternately, if you’re free to meet in person, I’d love to buy you coffee.
Imagine if the roles were reversed and you received that email or phone call. Wouldn’t you be inclined to respond positively?
4. Prepare Him for the Conversation
Once you get a confirmed yes, keep him updated. Let him know when you’re interviewing and when he might hear from the company. Bring up specific projects or outcomes you achieved while you were working together that would be good things for him to point out to an inquiring hiring manager.
Don’t assume he remembers everything about your work together, especially if he’s had a lot of employees throughout the years.
5. Say Thank You
Of course, if you receive an offer, share the news and don’t forget to say thank you! A thoughtful email will suffice, but a handwritten note is even better. And, if you don’t get the job, it’s worth sharing that news as well.
Express your gratitude and let him know that it didn’t work out with the most recent job you’d told him about but that you have your sights set on a couple of others. Throw in a line that you hope he will continue to be your reference as you move forward in the search. (And hey, you never know, he might know of an open position that you’d be interested in, too.)
Keeping in touch with all of our connections all the time would be networking nirvana. But it’s not a realistic expectation. Instead of beating yourself up because you aren’t sure you “deserve the reference,” remind yourself that people are busy and it’s unlikely this contact is going to scoff when he sees your name pop up in his inbox. Instead, follow these steps to make a long-lost manager your most ardent advocate and the best possible contact for all potential jobs.
Photo of conversation courtesy of Shutterstock.
Lea McLeod coaches people in their jobs when the going gets tough. Bad bosses. Challenging co-workers. Self-sabotage that keeps you working too long. She’s the founder of the Job Success Lab and author of the The Resume Coloring Book. Get started with her free 21 Days to Peace at Work e-series. Book one-on-one coaching sessions with Lea on The Muse's Coach Connect.More from this Author