I am a programmer on a fairly small team. I am planning on seeking new employment sometime this year. What is the best way to go about asking coworkers to serve as references without alerting my employer?

I have six coworkers that have worked with me enough to serve as proper references; however, three of these coworkers are my superiors, so I can't ask them. That leaves just three coworkers that I could ask.

Being on a small team my role is large enough that losing me would be a big hit to productivity. It could take them a longer than some other employers to replace me and get a new employee up to speed. So, if I do ask anybody, I would be concerned about it getting out.

And there's always the chance that they let it slip in a daily stand-up or product meeting.

This is actually my first full-time salaried job, so I have no experience with this. What considerations do I need to make?


  • 1
    Sorry this comes under the umbrella of "Questions asking for advice on what to do are not practical answerable questions" - voting to close Jan 23, 2016 at 11:22

4 Answers 4


Your coworkers cannot give you company references - that can only come from people who have the authority. The only reference they can give is a personal reference. For them to do that you need to get on very well with them. If this is the case then the company finding out is a moot point.

  • You cannot give a reference on behalf of the company that you work for unless you are authorized to to do. I can give one of my peers a reference but that will be a personal reference - not a reference for the company that I work for. That would be against my contract and also open up the company to litigation without the companies knowledge
    – Ed Heal
    Jan 23, 2016 at 14:27
  • @Joe - All the jobs I have had a part of the handbook is that you are not allows to give a reference using either the companies stationary, email address or mentioning the fact that this reference is endorsed by the company. Only HR is allowed to do this.
    – Ed Heal
    Jan 23, 2016 at 14:36
  • @JoeStrazzere - So are you saying that the you are able to give a reference to a person saying that this reference is endorsed by the company that you work for without the company knowing that you do this?
    – Ed Heal
    Jan 23, 2016 at 14:37
  • They do in the UK. There are two types of references over here. A personal reference or an employer reference
    – Ed Heal
    Jan 23, 2016 at 14:42
  • I cannot give out employer reference even if I work at the company and the person has been my peer. However I can give a personal reference to anybody
    – Ed Heal
    Jan 23, 2016 at 14:45

What is the best way to go about asking coworkers to serve as references without alerting my employer?

Take them out (one at a time) to a cafe or for a casual walk and inform them clearly about why you wanted to move out, and what it means to you if they don't let it slip in, until the move is made.

And you're right that it might get slipped in during standups, etc; as the work would get affected quite a bit, owing to the size of the team.

But still, explaining them clearly and informing them about why you want to keep it silent till the move is made, would help in reminding them to be extra conscious not to slip in.


The chances of you asking coworkers in a small team to serve and expect it not to be known pretty quickly is very very small. I would phrase it as a 'maybe future' type question and ask them if they would be willing to be a reference if I ever looked for another job.

It will probably still get out, but it's better than everyone flat knowing you're looking for a job right now.


You need to decide if, among your 3 coworkers, there is at least one that you can confide in. If you have been there a while, you certainly know who is most friendly, who you would talk with about personal issues, etc. Perhaps one of them has even confided in you with some confidential information.

And you want to make sure that this person would say wonderful things about you to a potential new employer. Not everyone would be willing to do that, but some will.

You would first ask that person "Can I ask you a question in confidence?". Based on his/her reaction, you would then explain that you are applying for jobs elsewhere and you would ask them if they would be a great reference for you.

Listen to the answer, and the way it is delivered. If you get the sense that there is any hesitance at all, then move on to the next person.

When done with the conversation, remind the individual that you want the discussion to remain in confidence, and make sure to thank them.

If you do get someone to agree to be a reference, tell them as soon as it appears they may be contacted by a recruiter or employer. Tell them the name of the person who would contact them, and suggest any points that they might choose to emphasize on your behalf.

If you choose a good friend as your reference, they will likely be happy to help.

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