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I would like to use my old boss has a reference. However I'm not sure if he will give me positive review (I think I did decent/good work at the job but we also had a few conflicts). Should I ask him if he will give me positive reference before using him? What is the etiquette? I did ask him if I can use him and he said yes.

I don't want to use him if he will give me a lukewarm reference.

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The fact that your old boss agreed to serve as a reference is a pretty good indicator that his input will be valuable, and in your favor.

People don't usually go through the effort of being a reference, only to say negative things. Besides, the more negative things they share, the more jobs you would have to apply for, and the more often they would have to be a reference. I imagine that to be kind of exhausting.

Most people will simply decline the request if they don't think they have good things to say.

It's always possible that your old boss is out to get you, and wants to be a reference in order to torpedo your future career chances, but that's highly unlikely, not to mention way too much trouble for your old boss, for very little personal benefit.

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  • I think you're underestimating how spiteful some people can be. I agree it's less likely than a "normal" (non-spiteful) person's behavior, but I wouldn't call it highly unlikely.
    – Flater
    Oct 12 '20 at 12:47
  • I'm sure it happens, but personally I've never heard an example of this type of situation. The only way to protect against this 100% is not to ask for any references. Or 90% by only asking those you've had a long-term positive relationship with. But I don't know how far you get as a practical matter by assuming the worst possible intent.
    – mcknz
    Oct 12 '20 at 16:46
  • Fair enough for the average person, but OP is specifically suspicious about the reference they will get. While maybe not everyone should do so by default, OP may have good (or at least better than usual) reason to question this.
    – Flater
    Oct 12 '20 at 23:10
  • I guess the rule of thumb would be: if you have any doubts as to what what a reference might say, don't offer that person as a reference.
    – mcknz
    Oct 14 '20 at 8:06
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An important thing you missed is asking them whether they would give you a good reference. In my experience, it can be something as simple "Will you give me a positive reference?" or "What kinds of things would you say about me?" Then considering their response and deciding for yourself if you would like them for a reference.

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You ask if you should ask him... but you state you already had and he said yes... So it seems to me that you already have your answer there.

Now, it's up to you to decide if you actually want to use him as reference. If you have other, better options to use then perhaps you may consider using those instead

If he didn't want to give you a reference he would have said no. Having differences is normal in any work environment. You can have your differences and still be professional and be a good worker. If you had good performance and were professional in general then I see no problem in using him as reference.

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No it is not good etiquette to ask if someone will give you a good reference.

Apart from anything else a reference is more detailed than just good or bad. They may say some things good about you and some not so good. Also the company may ask specific questions, and the referee will want to answer them honestly.

If you think you did good work for this boss, didn't have any major disagreements and got good feedback then go ahead and use them. Unless you have better referees, then use them instead.

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You don't ask if they will give a good reference. Think back to your interactions with your boss. If they were all positive and you always got good reviews it's a safe bet that he will give you a good reference. If you're uncertain then I would avoid using him as a reference. Better to use an ex co-worker or even a manager from another department who you only worked with for 1-3 months than a boss who has an issue with you ho you worked with for years.

And don't give out his contact info or even his name unless you have already had a final interview with a company and they say they want to move forward but need references. Also don't give references to third party recruiters or employment agencies.

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