When seeking references for career change, you might find that some are less understanding of your new direction than others.
Some of your former bosses might have undertaken the traditional linear approach to their careers, leaving them a bit confused as to what you want to do. Maybe most of your former bosses were specialists, or were in the same line of work for their entire careers.
Maybe everyone looks at you like you’re crazy for trying something new, and you’re not even sure what they’d say if called to act as your references for career change!
Do you need new references? Should you rethink your career change until you get “better” endorsements?
As so often happens, the solution lies with a simple – and honest – conversation.
Explain your goals
Don’t just ask for a reference, then slip in the “career change” aspect at the very end.
Be upfront with them from the beginning, and explain what you want to do.
The first thing you need to state is that you’re not going for a new version of that old job. It’s so important to be clear about this from the start, because many assumptions will happen about your goals if left open to interpretation.
Most people, after all, pick a career lane and stick with it. They might vary it a shade or two, but often It’s just iterative and not pursued with purpose.
So you need to show your purpose.
Explain what you want to achieve. Show them where you want to go.
Explain your qualifications
Depending on where you want to go, they might not get it.
It’s not that they don’t trust you. They might look upon you as the best employee they’ve ever had; a positive force that they counted on every single day to blow away expectations and accomplish the impossible.
If so, you’ve got a heck of a reference on your hands!
But they just might not see the connection between what you did, and where you want to go.
It’s natural. It’s understandable. Most people think in linear, iterative terms. After all, it’s the most logical way to go for most people.
Although you have your new career targets, and you have a plan to achieve them, many people won’t understand how you can get from A to Z.
They’ll only see A to B.
So you have to train them in the way you trained yourself. Explain your thinking, explain your logic.
Sell your references in the same way that you might sell your prospective employers.
The advantage here? The people you’re trying to sell are already in your corner, and they want you to succeed.
Explain your motivation
Almost as important as selling your new career is selling your motivation.
As described in Switch: How To Change Things When Change Is Hard, we have the intellectual reasoning part of our brain, and we have the emotional part. The intellectual part can only guide the emotional – and we won’t really get anywhere unless we get the emotions on board. (The book uses the “elephant vs. rider” argument first forwarded by The Happiness Hypothesis: Finding Modern Truth in Ancient Wisdom.)
Don’t presume that what you want to do is so cool that everyone is going to be thrilled by it. What excites you might bore others.
But if they’re really on your side, they will connect with your goals if you communicate just how important they are to you.
Talk about why you want to undertake such radical change. Describe how empty your current career is, and how much richer you will be as a person when your desire for happiness is satisfied daily.
Most of all, highlight your need for challenge, and how tired you are of running in maintenance mode.
Explain why you’re excited. And you might just get them excited with you.
Warning: make sure you really have their support
People have a wonderful, endearing ability to say one thing to your face, and say the exact opposite to someone else.
It’s not that they’re technically “lying,” necessarily. But someone can say out loud, “Hey, sounds great! Let me know if I can help in any way!”
And then afterwards tell a friend that there’s no way the plan could succeed.
If you hear a three-second hesitation after your request for support, followed by a half-hearted, “Yeeeaah…”, you don’t really have their support. You know it, they know it – you just have to admit it.
But that doesn’t mean it’s over. It’s just time to start probing.
“Do you have any concerns?”
“Have I covered everything?”
“Any questions I can answer?”
If they’re the references you think they are, they’re looking for reasons to help. So show them the reasons!
If you don’t ask explicitly if you have the right references for career change – giving you the support you expect without exception – you’ll never know for sure.
References for career change could be your biggest boosters
At the end of the day, if you built a great working relationship with these people in the past, you’ll want to continue it into the future.
Let them know where you want to go, and show them how it will benefit you. And if they’re sincerely rooting for your success, then they will seek to understand – and they will give you the support you need.
Just don’t presume that, because they like you, they will know what to do without talking to you first.
If you’re going to own your career, you’re going to have to own the whole process.
By recognizing your role – and your ownership of the process – you’ll make sure your references for career change understand your new future.
And are ready to sell it for you.
Have you ever gone to “old” bosses to act as references for career change? How did it go? Tell us in the comments!