This company is the only real experience (spanning almost 5 years) I have for the type of job I’m interviewing for. The company I’m interviewing with asked me for a manager’s reference when they consider hiring me and I can’t provide it as my company is small and it would really jeopardize the position I’m in. How should I address this with potential employers?
Professional references are gathered and checked for every type of job one could apply for, from a McDonald’s cashier to the director of a trading desk at a major investment bank. Nearly always conducted as a last step of the process, your references will hopefully confirm the positive image you conveyed to your interviewer during the courtship. As individuals move through various firms during career changes, keeping in contact with former colleagues isn’t just good business networking – it’s maintaining your network of character references as well that will help you as you interview for positions of increasing responsibility.
Potential employers will typically ask, when you apply, for at least two supervisory references from your last two employers. A supervisory reference doesn’t necessarily have to be your direct manager. Many positions require you to interface with managers who do not have oversight of your employment or conduct your salary reviews – working with a Finance Director on a Tax project or a UX designer on a back end data migration. In some instances, these “internal clients” can provide an equally compelling opinion of your work even though they didn’t initially hire you or conduct your performance reviews.
While two is the minimum number acceptable number of references, you should strive to provide more, if possible, and to vary the level and specialty of the people who will speak on your behalf. By including managers from within and outside of your particular group you can demonstrate a positive impact made at various levels of the organization. In tough economic times, companies strive to do more with less and aim to draw as much value as possible from each employee. Your references can relate, for example, that you are an accounting professional who can also scope requirements for a financial system upgrade. References from those in “less typical” reporting relationships can reveal strong additional value a candidate brings to the table in areas outside of what, in this example, a typical accountant will be able to handle.
Carefully handling references from your current employer while still working there
Searching for a new career opportunity while currently employed presents a few specific and difficult challenges. Managing one’s calendar for interviews during the work day, being quickly responsive to a recruiter or hiring manager while in the office and, most importantly, providing professional references from the firm that currently employs you are all obstacles that must be planned for in advance.
While widely spreading word to the office that you’re looking for opportunities elsewhere is certainly not recommended, it’s likely that you have one or more trusted peers that you can freely discuss your careers with. Often the individuals in your hiring class or in similar positions with different departments become close confidants as you move through the organization. Hopefully they will approach you first with a comment about their own aspirations that might lead you to think they’re looking elsewhere so you can naturally segue into conversations about your own career search. Assuming you have some of these colleagues you can trust, they can serve as excellent character references in the absence of a supervisory one. Employers understand that it’s often not possible to speak with a manager when a candidate is employed and will substitute a peer or an indirect manager. In these cases it becomes even more important to provide true supervisory contacts to provide positive references from companies you’ve worked for prior to your current role. The combination of past supervisors and present peers, along with a background check, can typically satisfy any hiring manager’s needs and assuage potential concerns.
How do you want to present yourself through your references?
When you provide a potential employer with professional references, give thought not just to the specific individuals you will use but also to the story that multiple references, when taken in context together, can tell about you. During the interview, did you spend a large portion of time relating a specific project that is relevant to the potential new role? If so, providing a direct manager as well as someone intimately involved with that particular assignment – a Project Manager or line manager from another involved group you worked closely with – can provide more detail specific to the area that you chose to highlight as a reason the company would want to hire you.
Ideally, when moving on to another company, you’ll leave with a positive impression and a continued working relationship with your former colleagues. Knowing that how you exit a firm will leave the most lasting impression on the people you work with is important – you’re going to need assistance from a number of them in the future and maintaining that productive relationship is important. Ensuring that your reputation isn’t tarnished in part or all of your former employer will allow you to call on individuals at all levels in the future to provide reference details that will help you land another job.