Do you feel comfortable asking for reference requests and how do you maintain networks for this?

Today, I got a reminder about the importance of networking and relationship 🏘️building. Although I'm personable and find it easy to talk to complete strangers and build quick rapport, I haven't completely mastered building and maintaining long-term relationships. So today when I needed to call upon two people, I didn't think I had many options.

I'm applying for a British passport and one of the requirements is having two professional references from people who have known you for at least 3 years. Here is a link to what counts as a professional:

It was upsetting that I felt I had few options as I'm the type of person who has helped people (probably random strangers more regular acquaintances) over the years and love to help. I enjoy it and do it because I feel good when I help people. A lot of my help in recent years had been via online groups like this one. But today I couldn't ask anyone in those groups as I hadn't met them in person and hadn't supported one particular person just random people here and there.

Soon after moving to the UK I met my husband and ended up acquiring his friends who unfortunately didn't qualify as referees. And, as I moved frequently contracting at different companies for most of my career I didn't find it so easy to make lasting friendships. Whilst in those roles I was very focused on doing a good job. Of course, my old bosses would have done it, but I didn't want to ask them as I keep them for work-related references. Asking for favours is not something I like.

The group I felt not so available to me were neighbours. I live in London and only know a few neighbours mainly because I’ve spent a lot of time working and also didn’t really focus on it. On top of that, people move out of London every 5 to 10 years so people I knew have left. The situation has gotten better in the last 2 years as we now have a Whatsapp group for our street. Unfortunately, I didn’t know people on that group for more than 3 years. I’m also on which is great in my area, but again I didn’t have strong connections there.

I had volunteered at a local charity for about 6 years but that was a while back and I really felt I couldn’t ask those people as I was no longer contributing. In the event, the referee I had in mind didn’t work out because I needed his wet signature and he was too far away. I then was forced to reach out to the people at the charity. The first person who I had a slightly fraught relationship with when leaving the charity couldn’t have been more helpful –he recommended about 6 people he said he felt would be willing to do it because they had known me at the Charity. He would have done it but was out of the country. I was gobsmacked! My assumption that they wouldn’t want to help me was totally wrong. I didn’t know any of them very well, but I think they were aware I had made a contribution in the past. My husband is an active member of the society though not a volunteer probably also helped. Part of my misreading was caused by another member (not active) of the Charity who I knew a lot more and who my husband and I had supported on a few personal-related matters didn’t want to do it. When we first met that same woman had introduced me to a friend of hers! At the end of the request call she even suggested we could meet for a thank you drink (for how we had helped her) meeting we had postponed during covid! I believe this woman is very risk-averse and the need to give her passport # and date of birth may have put her of helping.

On a related subject an ex-boss contacted me a few weeks ago to ask if I knew of a 1-week science intern opportunity for his 17-year-old daughter. I replied quickly to say not personally, but that I'd ask the question on my Slack groups. It hadn't dawned on me that he wanted me to contact a particular company where I worked. This felt like a big ask as I only contact these people for a reference when moving to a new job. I thought it was a big ask and really didn't want to do it. He'd been helpful over the years but my asks had required only him to do something, not to ask another person to do something. Anyway, I knew I had to do it as I'd probably need him as a referee in the future. When there wasn't a reply for a few days, he got impatient (not in an aggressive way) and asked me to contact another person at the company who I'd put his girlfriend in touch with years earlier. I had lost touch with this person so told him directly and suggested his girlfriend contact the person as they had met in the past and had a common interest.

This reference-request experience has brought up a lot of stuff for me and it would be interesting to hear other people's thoughts on:

- uncomfortableness of asking favours.- the need to have a variety of people in your life and how to manage relationships as you move through life.

- using digital networks more effectively

-how do bosses feel about getting frequent referral requests from ex-employees

Don't feel too bad about this context - it's pretty normal for this situation as the pool of who is eligible to sign is quite small. I had to ask a neighbour I'd lived next to for that amount of time. My old boss who has lived here all his life did the same. Re: your ex boss situation. Your gut is right. Relationships are extremely fragile and you should feel comfortable declining if you don't think the ask is appropriate. It would screw you over disproportionately & he can just ask someone else. Just be clear and say 'Sorry, I'm too new there to ask at this stage - I won't be able to guarantee a response. Perhaps try someone else?' or 'Sure, but I'm quite new there so can't guarantee a response. Just being upfront with you.' But never send the email - just say you never heard back. I think your thinking is in the right place about these issues, perhaps the uncomfortable feeling is about pushing back & setting boundaries / self-worth stuff, and that's why these situations feel a bit yuck, because it's pressing on your self-worth and how you show up for yourself. I might be wrong here, so ignore if so. But just incase you needed to hear it - you're doing good here. Adding in incase helpful - for a work context (or housing rental) - I generally ask my boss/colleague if they are happy do a written recommendation when I'm leaving (or my landlord), saying it just helps to lessen the amount of times they are contacted re: references in the future. Then I have it on file and can send it when needed with their contact details if people want to follow up beyond that. Often they are happy with the written reference. Hope this helps.
margaretcarey's profile thumbnail
@ronnie44 thanks for that detailed response and I agree with all your comments. It's encouraging to hear that other people also feel like this. I'm not alone. I have some written references but new employers and/or recruitment agents always want to call. I had hoped the written reference would circumvent that. Today was a complete reversal of fortune! I'm going to amend the post. The application process kept throwing hurdles which didn't reval themselves until you'd completed the previous step. Very annoying😠. Just when I hit submit and thought I was finished there was a request for a signed confirmation from the referee! The referee lives about 2 hours away and I was nervous about scanning photo id and it been obvious I didn't have a wet signature (fine of £5k) as I know how strict government officials can be. I got my thinking hat on and thought of another neighbour. He qualified and would have done it but was in France. Anyway he suggested a few other people I hadn't thought of and who knew me from the membership secretary role 4 years ago. The two I called qualified and had absolutely no problem helping (but one was also in France). So I got my referee. These were the people I probably should have called in the beginning but I didn't want to as I felt I didn't know them very well. I very much misread these people so another lesson here for me jumping to conclusions about people sometimes.
Haha - I actually completed that passport process for an old boss. It took months to get everything together - was just crazy. So totally get that. And yep it's important to get right as they are very specific. Glad you got there in the end!And yeah - that last sentence resonates - I used to struggle with that too, I always felt like I was burdening people whenever I ask for something, when really - they don't really care / it was very easy for them to do & happy to. I guess if you ask gracefully and show you are appreciative of their time - people are normally ok!
Thank you for sharing your experience. I totally relate especially now because I need references for graduate school. I feel really uncomfortable asking for them. One thing that I have learned during the process is to "build the well before you are thirsty". For me this includes keeping in touch with people and updating them and checking on them when I do not need anything so that if I ever need their help, it will not be so awkward and uncomfortable. At the same time, I do not want to build transactional relationships so even though I know I will need help from my network, I am approaching it as just getting to know people and helping them without expecting anything in return. Lastly, as you mentioned, you enjoy helping people. My therapist asked me how I'd feel if someone reached out to me for help, and I answered that I like helping people and I'd be honored to provide the help if I am in a position to do it. She then said that most people feel the same and are always happy to help if they can so instead of overthinking, I should treat asking for help as relationship building and approach it with the mindset that a lot of people are always willing to help. All the best.
margaretcarey's profile thumbnail
@delana186 thanks for sharing your experience. And, yes your therapist advice is correct. I think I was overthinking. The positive turnaround (see my reply above(I had from people today) demonstrates that.