Let’s discuss how prospective employers can give advice to candidates for employment on how to come up with work-related references willing to talk, and what they should say and what they shouldn’t.

Here’s the basic premise: Most of the time, people we work with for any length of time become our friends.  They move beyond the more formal category of “boss,” “co-worker,” or “people who work for me,” to the second, more personal category in human relationships called “friend.”  I can only think of one instance in the last 30+ years when I have heard a job seeker claim that he never had any friends at work.  His contention was, as I recall, that he came to work, did his job, didn’t socialize with anyone and, at the end of the day, went home.  (So much for his talent and expertise in the area of interpersonal skills!)

Once that transition from “co-worker” to “friend” takes place, those folks become eligible to qualify for that third category of “reference.”  It doesn’t matter whether the candidate for employment currently works with this person now or not, as long as the period of their association stays within the past five- to seven-year time frame.  References can include friends with whom the prospective candidate has worked who are now retired, who have taken other jobs, or who have moved to another location or business unit with the same corporation.

Actually, people who have moved on are really the best references for candidates for employment to recruit as potential references.  Why?  Because they won’t be constrained by a company policy against talking about current or former employees.  They will feel perfectly free to accede to a request to serve as a reference!