Using managers as references is important…but not why you might think.

Don’t Go Out in a Blaze of Glory!  Good manager references can help you succeed in your job search.

Burning_Bridge Many times as recruiters we set the stage for an offer by asking our candidates for references. Sometimes as the agency we will check them and sometimes the client prefers to. One trend that we notice is that top candidates always have their past managers listed as references.

For most people, there comes a time when they’re ready to move on from their current role and seek employment elsewhere. It’s often true that people don’t leave their jobs, they leave their boss.  In fact, recent studies have shown that unhappiness with a person’s supervisor is one of the top reasons why people look for new employment opportunities.

If this is the case for you hold off that urge to “go out in a blaze of glory” and burn every bridge you cross! This may feel good at the time and make for a great story for your friends – but ultimately it will come back to hinder future job searches in a big way. We had this happen with a contractor a couple of years ago – he got into an argument with his manager in a team meeting and walked right out of the conference room, stopped at his desk to collect his belongings and that was that. No notice – nothing. Well guess what? It will be hard for us to work with that person again – and I can promise you that if perspective employers ever call that manager for a “back door reference check” on this guy – he probably won’t get that next job.

So, for those who leave their jobs on good terms, the question becomes – should I ask my supervisor if they’ll provide references for me?

  • It enhances your credibility – Using your manager as a reference tells a potential employer that you’re willing to prove that you can actually do what you say you can.  This can also show that you left your past employers the right way – with a 2-3 week notice to allow for knowledge transfer and/or to finish or hand-off important projects that you were involved in.
  • It gives them a peer to speak with – It’s always a good idea to pair a manager with another manager if possible. Again, it builds credibility for your new manager to speak to a peer, and let’s them ask questions they might hesitate to ask a non-manager.
  • It builds a relationship with your manager – If there’s one thing to keep in mind, it’s that this is a small world and paths do cross again. So, by asking your supervisor, it lets them know that you value their opinion, and trust them to provide good references, both of which serve to strengthen your relationship – and you never know where that will come in handy down the road.  When I left my first job out of college I made a point to stay in touch with my manager.  I never miss a chance to let him know that any success I have had in my career is a direct reflection on the years he spent teaching and working with me. “David” gets a note and a phone call on his birthday every year!   Email is a beautiful thing!
  • Make sure they want to be a reference – It sounds obvious, but you’d be surprised how many times a source doesn’t give the glowing recommendation that was expected.  This again speaks to how you “walk out the door”.  Spend some time with your manager to let him/her know why you are making a move.  What things you enjoyed about your opportunity with their company and what factors went into your thinking about finding a new job.  Reasonable people understand that most employees will not stay with them forever (and chances are good that your boss has left jobs in the past for similar reasons).
  • Don’t overuse them  – Your supervisor is a busy person, so hold off contacting for them for the jobs you really want. You don’t need to use them for every job you interview for. When you are close on a new opportunity that you are excited about reach out to your reference and see if you can get their schedule to speak.  Help them understand that the goal of the call is to learn about whether you will be the right technical and team fit for your new prospective employer.

Having good references is critical for finding new and exciting job opportunities. Be careful not to drop the ball walking out the door!