People You Should Never Ask For Reference And Why

The following people should never, ever appear on your list:

1. Anyone who you haven’t specifically asked to be a reference.

This should go without saying, but even if you’re 110% sure your former colleague, professor or boss would give you a glowing recommendation, you should ask first, for several reasons.

First of all, it’s the right thing to do. It is just polite. If you’re like most people, I am sure you probably don’t like being surprised with phone calls and emails, asking you for things you weren’t expecting. It doesn’t matter if you yourself are a gibbering extrovert and can speak extemporaneously on any topic, be sure to recognize and accept that your potential references might not be the same way. Regardless, they are doing you a favor, you’re asking for their time, and that’s valuable. Do them the courtesy of giving them prior notice. Truth is, you’ll be doing yourself more good than you can imagine.

Second, you will be given an amazing recommendation, if the recommender has information about the job for which you’re interviewing. Giving a heads up and a little background information gives your recommender ample time to think about which aspects of your skill set and experience are most important for this new role, and allows them time to organize their thoughts to share with your interviewer.

Finally, this is the time you get to know if you assessment of the relationship you have with this person is right or dare I say flat-out wrong. The worst time to find out that someone wouldn’t give you a positive commendation is after they’ve told a hiring manager that they wouldn’t hire you again under any circumstances. Don’t sabotage yourself.

A quick note here: how you ask matters, as well. Don’t just open your mouth and ask if the person will give you a reference. Instead, ask, “Do you think you know me and my work well enough to provide me with a glowing reference?” That way, you’ll get a sense of what you can expect this person to say.

2. People who might say negative … or even less than positive things about you.

Obviously, you wouldn’t go out of your way to ‘intentionally’ ask someone to be a reference for you, if you had the slightest incline that they’d say something bad about you or your work. That’s why it’s imperative to check in and see if they feel comfortable providing a reference for you, ahead of time – hopefully, you’ll get a sense as to what they might say.


3. People who don’t communicate well.

Now this might come across as judgmental, but trust me, now is not the time for sentiments. Anyone who cannot speak (or write) well should not be added to your list of recommenders irrespective of how much respect the person has for you and your work. Remember that your network reflects on you, especially when they’re praising your work. If they don’t seem on top of their game themselves, they won’t be able to impress a hiring manager on your behalf. What good is a recommendation, if it comes from someone the employer wouldn’t hire?

4. Your current boss.

This is another very obvious one, but it’s worth saying, anyway. Unless there is a looming layoff, or the terms of your job is short-term – in short, unless your boss knows you’re leaving, and is OK with it – don’t ask him or her for a reference. Period!

5. People you don’t respect.

Whenever you think of asking someone for a reference, first, ask yourself, “Would I gladly provide a reference for this person, in return?” If you can’t sincerely and wholeheartedly say yes, then please by all means move on to the next connection on your list. I mean, it’s totally unfair to ask for something you wouldn’t readily do for them.

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