Imagine you’ve been job hunting, and you’ve just gotten that call – the job is yours! Then, they ask you for references, and your heart sinks. In all of the excitement of your job search, you forgot to be in touch with your go-to reference people. Maybe it’s even been years now.

Can you still ask that supervisor from 10 years ago? What about that former coworker you exchange holiday cards with, but that’s about it? Is it ever TOO late?

The quick answer is no. Of course the best time to get in touch with references is when you start your job search. They can be great advocates and cheerleaders. But, if you haven’t, don’t worry, you’ve still got options!

Here are a few ideas for different circumstances you may find yourself in:

  1. If you’ve lost touch – Write a nice note (through LinkedIn, or even better, email). Acknowledge the time lapse, and include what you’re up to now, a friendly memory, maybe some light flattery and a simple ask (see below*).
  2. If you didn’t have a great relationship with your supervisor – Reach out to a former coworker or client you worked well with. A reference doesn’t always have to be your boss.
  3. If your supervisor has died or you can’t find them – With an aging workforce, this is becoming a sad reality. One of my clients explained the situation to the hiring manager, and asked if they could use another superior with whom they’d worked closely. The response? Yes, of course.

* Here’s some language you can play with for a simple ask: I’m a candidate for a great new job, and I was hoping to line up some references. You are one of the first people I thought of and I was wondering if we could hop on a quick call to chat about that. I look forward to catching up!

Once you’ve reconnected, be sure to let the person know what excites you about the new role and what you want them to emphasize about your background. And ask them about how they prefer to be contacted, so you’ll know that the hiring manager will be able to reach them.

On that note, if you are a former coworker of mine (and I know some of you get this email!) – no matter how long it’s been – just know I would be delighted to hear from you! Especially after the last several years of isolation, I’d love to reconnect!

Cheers to your career!

Ever wonder how to land the job of your dreams? Find out how with 10 Habits of Successful Job Candidates!