It’s very easy when you are employed and busy to let old professional contacts slip away. Past colleagues, bosses, and business relationships get put on the back burner. It’s natural. But now you’re in the job market again, looking for the perfect opportunity, and you’ve realized that it’s been months, maybe years since you’ve been in touch with your former employer. Your last boss loved you, you left on good terms with the company, she’d be the perfect reference for your resume, but the thought of blindly showing up at her doorstep to ask for her help in your job search gives you heart palpitations. Understandable, but there’s some ways you can go about about rekindling this relationship that make it easier. As long as you go into it with with a friendly, positive attitude, it can’t hurt to ask. Here are some tips:
- Be honest.
Don’t go overboard with excuses or apologies, that makes it seem like you’ve done something wrong, when in fact letting old acquaintances and work contacts fall by the wayside is perfectly normal. Be friendly, be sincere, and be honest. A basic “Hi Susan! It’s been awhile since we chatted. I can’t believe we haven’t talked since we worked together at X! I hope that you’re able to reconnect now! I’ve been remiss in letting it go so long, I hope all is well. If you’re open to it, I’d like to reconnect now.” should be a great intro to get you started.
- Don’t hide.
Don’t pretend to be looking for friendship or bury the lede. Everyone has a full plate and a busy life, including your boss! No one will blame you or be shocked that there is a reason for you reaching out now. Don’t waste a lot of time on small talk and don’t try to cloak your intentions. Try something like “I’m preparing for my next career move, and I’ve got a potentially exciting interview lined up with a great company. In getting myself prepared I was looking for a killer lineup of references and I would really appreciate being able to put you on that list.”
- Give them all the information.
No one wants to do legwork on a favor, especially if you’re coming out of the blue to ask for it. Make sure they are prepared. Don’t overburden them, but do give them the details. Outline the job in brief and tell them how your qualifications match what they are looking for. Reference projects or organization plans you worked on with/for them to give them context. Make sure to briefly mention the work and growth you’ve accomplished in the interim so they’re all caught up. Also offer to take them out for a cup of coffee or a lunch if they’d rather go over it in person, which is a nice thing to do, and will also give you the chance for the small talk.
End the conversation or email with a very clear “May I count on you to give me a favourable reference should the company call you?” You do not want an uncertain or lackluster reference. That can sink you with a hiring manager when you’re probably pretty close in the process. If you get a concise “Yes, of course I’ll help”, you’re in good shape. If there is a hesitation or and kind of wavering when answering you should not include their name in your list of references. A lukewarm reception from an old work acquaintance can be even more harmful than no reference at all.
- Follow up.
Your source went out of their way for you, so make sure to keep them posted on the outcome. Tell them if you didn’t get the job, this will give you the opportunity to ask to take advantage of the reference in the future. Also they might have the contacts to put you in contact with a hiring manager at a different company. If you get the job, they would really appreciate the thank you and the knowledge that they helped. Also nice is the opportunity to offer being a reference in return. I’d also recommend sending a small gift in thank you, like a coffee. To keep a useful business contact useful, the little extras will keep people on your side.