Former bosses are often well connected, which makes them ideal resources when it comes to getting professional referrals. When you make your request, give the old boss an out if he’s not comfortable making the recommendation for any reason. This will help you maintain professional ties in the future.
Make a personal phone call to your boss to ask for the referral. It helps if you’ve maintained communication since you parted ways, but if you haven’t, take a few minutes to catch up and tell him how your career has been progressing. Let him know what you’re looking for and how you’d like him to help. For example, “I hear there’s an open marketing director position at ABC Company. I know you’re good friends with the GM over there, and I’d really appreciate a referral from you for the position.”
Take your former boss out for coffee or lunch and ask for the referral. Tell him you’re interested in picking his brain and want his opinion about your suitability for a particular company or position. For example, “I’d like to position myself to move into sales management. Do you have any suggestions or recommendations about local decision makers I should talk to?” This approach opens the door for your ex-boss to make recommendations or offer a referral.
If you’re looking for a quick, easy referral, a brief email might suffice. For example, if you’re asking a former boss if you can use his name when you apply for a new job, or if he can refer you to an appropriate person in a company, an email is an appropriate tool. For example, “I’d like to get a foot in the door of the marketing department at ABC Company. Could you refer me to the best person to talk to over there?”
Former bosses are also ideal people to ask to be references -- they’re familiar with your work history and can provide prospective employers with a good deal of information about your professional capabilities. Consider asking your boss for a letter of recommendation you can use for different job-seeking situations, or ask him if he’ll be a reference a potential new employer can call for more information about you.