The Secret Sauce of Professional References 

The Secret Sauce of Professional References 

When you’re a nurse in the process of finding a new position, there’s much to think about during the complex job search journey, from your resume and cover letter to interview prep and negotiating salaries, but one thing many nurses overlook is always having a reliable set of professional references on tap whom you can call when you need them.

There’s also the question of approaching your current supervisor for a reference when required. It’s all too common to be unprepared for this situation, which can cause considerable stress.

In the interest of your nursing career, maintaining relationships with the future in mind is a smart strategy to consider.

Planning for the Future

Being a nurse usually means that your life is full, aside from working hard. You may have pets, elderly parents, a partner or spouse, and children, which means you’re also a caregiver at home. Maybe you’ve gone back to school. You may be involved in a faith community or a volunteer organization that provides fulfillment and social connection. And you can’t ignore your health and well-being.

Despite it all, maintaining relationships with other professionals may be the last thing on your mind. However, when push comes to shove, and you’re looking for a new job, you’ll need references, and panicking about it at three in the morning is no picnic.

Maintaining professional relationships is very important, but many don’t bother. This doesn’t mean that colleagues need to be your BFFs (and lucky for you if you’ve found a few), but we all know these friendships can often fade once you’ve moved on. The reality is that it’s in your best interest to maintain at least some contact with key individuals from your professional life, which takes forethought, effort, and initiative.

Like-Mindedness and Connection 

Some people stand out during your career for their friendliness, kindness, and collaborative spirit, and like-minded colleagues, whether nurses, chaplains, physicians, social workers, or executives, are worth their weight in gold.

You may wonder if keeping in touch with key colleagues is somehow manipulative and that you’re simply using them. If you couple your efforts with a sincere interest in, and admiration for, the other person, you’ll be in your integrity. On the other hand, if you’re only thinking about how this person can help you, then it might not feel so authentic. Remember that these relationships can be a two-way street, and you may also be able to help them someday.

Like-mindedness, straightforward communication, and a friendly, professional rapport are key characteristics of these relationships. As you read this, you might already be picturing colleagues past and present who fit the bill. Some are just the kind of people it would be wise to keep in touch with over time.

How to Keep in Touch

There are many ways to stay in contact with colleagues, with the most essential ingredients being desire and effort. It does take a little work, but it’s worth it.

Try the following:

  • Periodically, keep in touch via email. Remember that people come and go from workplaces, so exchanging personal email addresses and phone numbers is smart.
  • Connect on LinkedIn, the most robust professional networking platform currently in existence. Savvy professionals have a complete LinkedIn profile and connect with colleagues there. Many people use the “recommendations” section to give and receive testimonials for one another.
  • If you’re on close enough terms, ask your colleague for their home address and send a birthday and holiday card every year.
  • Invite a colleague for coffee or breakfast occasionally if you live close enough; otherwise, try a Zoom or FaceTime call.
  • Find other creative ways to keep in touch.

Using Your Current Supervisor as a Reference?

Many people keep their job search a secret from their current workplace and coworkers. However, when the time comes that another employer is seriously interested in hiring you, they’ll ask for references, including a recent supervisor. At this point, you must bite the bullet and let your boss know that someone will contact them for a reference. There’s nothing else you can do, so you must be honest.

Your honesty is up to you if your boss asks why you’re looking for another job. You don’t necessarily have to spill your guts if you’re very unhappy. You always have the choice to say something bland but true enough, like, “I’m looking to expand my career and gain more experience with ___________, and this is a great opportunity that I just couldn’t pass up.”

You can also throw in some praise and gratitude for your current job and explain how it has helped you grow. Find the little and big things that were positive and list them for your boss. A little gratitude goes a long way and can soften the surprise of potentially losing you.

When it’s Time to Go

Moving on to a new job is about growth, and people should understand your motives for leaving. Some colleagues may resent you for moving on, but that’s not your problem — they’re probably just envious. Put a stake in the ground regarding your commitment to your career, and understand that leaving for elsewhere is a natural thing. As the singer Michelle Shocked once sang, “The secret to a long life is knowing when it’s time to go.”

Always be on the lookout for allies and mentors, proactively cultivate positive relationships, maintain contact, and don’t be shy about asking for help when needed. You deserve it, and so does your nursing career.

If you’re looking for a new nursing position, check out the Daily Nurse Career Resource Center to find a new job, get career advice, get certified and search scholarships.