Industry insights for job seekers and employers.

Should You Consider Your Past Boss a Viable Reference?

As you fill out a job application, you notice that the company is requiring several career references – more than you usually provide. You rack your brains trying to think of some additional people you can use as references, other than your immediate friends and family members, your college roommates, and your family doctor who has known you since kindergarten. Then you think of someone – your former boss, is he someone I should list as a career reference?

Stop right here.

Before you even think about writing a former boss down as a reference, here are some questions to ask yourself:

Did you and your boss have a positive working relationship?

  • If so, then this could be a viable person to list as your reference. Your boss is likely to remember you with fondness and say nice things about you.
  • If not, and you and your boss had a love-hate relationship, it’s probably a bad idea to use this person as a reference.

Did you leave your former job on good terms?

  • If you gave plenty of notice and left your job as a professional and without any malice, then your boss could be someone to list as a reference.
  • If you were fired, quit without notice, or left for a bad reason then your boss will be all too h happy to share the negative details, and it will be a mistake to use him or her as a reference.

Have you kept in touch with your former boss in the last few years?

  • If you left on good terms, you have probably kept in contact with your former boss through social media or some other way. This is good, and he or she can be a positive reference for you.
  • If you have not talked to your former boss in the last couple of years, have not kept in any contact, or you don’t even know if this person is still alive – they won’t remember you and it’s a waste of time to use them as a reference.

Is your former boss someone that has a good track record in his/her own career?

  • If your former supervisor is an admired professional with a good record of employment in the industry, or a prominently credentialed person, then he or she may be a perfect reference.
  • If your boss was questionable at all in his or her professional conduct, has left the industry, or has gotten in some kind of trouble – it’s better to not list them as you will only make yourself look bad.

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