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How to Contact a Former Co-worker for a Referral

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If you’re embarking on a job search, former colleagues can help you gain an advantage over the competition by acting as references or referring you for jobs. When contacting a previous co-worker for a reference, respect the person’s time and acknowledge that he’s doing you a valuable favor by assisting with your job hunt.

Catch Up

If you immediately ask a former colleague for a reference, he may think you’re only interested in keeping in touch when you need something. Ask him to meet you for lunch or coffee and take time to ask how he’s been and inquire about his career, hobbies or family. Depending on how close the two of you are, you may want to focus only on work-related issues or discuss personal subjects as well. Discuss any developments in your own life, especially positive news such as honors, awards or high-profile projects you’ve completed. After you’ve made small talk, bring up your impending job change and tell him how and why you’d like him to help.

Ask in Advance

Give your colleague as much notice as possible. If you’re thinking of leaving your current position or have just lost your job, touch base immediately instead of waiting until you’re unemployed and in desperate need of work. This gives the other person plenty of time to write a reference letter, plan what he’ll say if contacted by prospective employers, or reach out to his own network for job leads. It also shows him you value his time and opinion. If you wait until the last minute, he may think he wasn't your first choice or that you don’t realize the time involved in acting as a reference.

Make It Easy

Reduce the time and effort required by reminding your co-worker of your qualifications and of projects you worked on together. If it’s been several years since he worked with you, he may have difficulty remembering specific accomplishments or skills. If you’re asking him to provide a reference, give him a copy of your updated resume or create a bulleted list to refresh his memory. If you’re asking him to help you with job leads, explain what kind of position you’re seeking and what you have to offer employers.

Take the Pressure Off

If your colleague feels pressured or coerced into acting as a reference or offering a job referral, he might be less likely to help. If he does help, he might put less effort into it than if he’s enthusiastic about the process. Ask him if he has time to assist you and if he can endorse you without reservation to potential employers. Tell him you’ll understand if he can’t act as a reference and stress that there will be no hard feelings.

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