How to Ask Your Boss for a Reference for Another Job

by Grace Ferguson

According to Forbes magazine, it’s best not to tell anyone at your current job that you’re seeking employment elsewhere. Telling others could jeopardize your position with both your present and prospective employer. An exception would be if you are being laid off and your employer agrees to assist you with finding another job. Depending on your relationship with your boss, you might be able to secure a positive reference even if you are not being laid off.

Organizational Views

Prior to asking your boss for a reference, assess how the company views employees who switch jobs. If managers and superiors, including your boss, do not look favorably upon such employees, refrain from asking for a reference. You could be viewed as disloyal for leaving. Even if you get a reference, your boss might provide only basic information, such as your dates of employment. Politely explain to prospective employers that you welcome the chance to advance your career; however, you prefer not to risk your position by using your current employer as a reference. Conversely, if you believe your boss wants you to succeed in your career, you’re likely safe to approach him for a positive reference.


To ask your boss for a reference, you may do so in person or by email or phone. For a more personalized approach, go to her in person; this way you can determine if you will get a positive reference. Ask her whether she feels confident enough about you and your work to provide you with a good reference. If she says “yes,” she will likely follow through. If she says “no,” then she doesn't feel comfortable giving you a good reference and you will know not to use her.


For references, your boss might prefer to give the information by phone, email or hard copy letter. Ask him for his preferred method. On the reference sheet that you will give to prospective employers, include your employer’s name and address and your boss’s name, job title, phone, email and preferred contact method.


To avoid you and your employer providing conflicting information to a prospective employer, agree on the details beforehand. For example, both you and your employer should give the same information on why you left the company, your work ethics and perceived weaknesses. Keep your boss in the loop about your job-hunting process. After each interview, inform her that your prospective employer might be in contact; this way she can prepare for it. If you secure employment elsewhere, thank your boss for her assistance. Return the favor by offering to serve as a reference for her in the future.

About the Author

Grace Ferguson has been writing professionally since 2009. With 10 years of experience in employee benefits and payroll administration, Ferguson has written extensively on topics relating to employment and finance. A research writer as well, she has been published in The Sage Encyclopedia and Mission Bell Media.

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