Do you need a reference for your next job? Most likely you will.
There are two types of references, personal and professional.
Personal references can be written by anyone who knows you well. It is best however, to have someone with "authority" - a minister, doctor, family friend with a strong professional title or well-known personality.
Personal references will vouch for your character, personality, ethics and personal history.
Professional references are from former (and current) employers, co-workers and clients.
Your current employer may be reluctant to provide a reference for obvious reasons; they may not want you looking for another job! But most likely, your current employer will not provide a professional reference because of legal ramifications - if your reference does not reflect your current job status (such as promotions, pay raises, responsibility), then your employer could be sued - by you.
The exception to the rule is if you are voluntarily leaving your current company or are being released due to layoff or economic downturn.
Your former employer will usually provide some sort of professional reference. Generally it will consist of "worked from date X to date Y and eligible for rehire".
If you remain on good terms with your previous employer, you could very well receive a strong letter of reference. Keep these on file and use them again and again.
Co-workers are a good source for references which many overlook. Co-workers are especially good if they have a strong title and can reference specific projects they completed with you.
The most overlooked professional reference sources are clients and customers. If you have provided good service and have a good professional relationship, these are potential wellsprings of incredible value.
After all, professional references from customers attest to your excellent service and value you produced for a revenue source to your customer!
How to ask for a reference?
First and foremost, stay on good terms with your network of potential references. Remain in contact and don't wait until you need a reference to ask for one.
Second, offer to return the assistance in kind at the very least. At best, offer something of value to your references which they will translate as a gift of good faith - referrals, introductions, free consulting or contractual work.
Finally, have several reference sources in mind. No one who provides references wants to be hounded daily by the sad sack who has no network.
If a reference does not get back to you in a timely fashion, do not take this the wrong way - be understanding of their schedule and have an alternate plan.
A final note, do not forget to write a thank you note for the reference. This is common courtesy and should never be overlooked.
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