Opinions on asking coworkers to be references for a discreet job search?

OK, I’m far from being in “look for a new job” mode, but I’m at a point where I’m considering updating my resume and starting to keep an eye on what’s out there and possibly apply for a job or two if something looks like a good opportunity. The thing is though, that I’m actually pretty happy at my current job, and depending on how a few things go this year, I’m still thinking my strong preference would be to stay long term, unless I was offered something else that was really too good to pass up. Since I’m not looking to do anything to damage my standing at my current job, and I’m absolutely trying to avoid burning any bridges, one of the main priorities of my potential job search would be to keep it on the down low.

Now, asking my boss for a reference would be out of the question for obvious reasons, but there are some coworkers who I think would be good references and who also would keep it to themselves if I asked them to. My question is if this is a reasonable request for me to make of a coworker/friend, or if I’d be putting them in a bad spot by asking them to do something that could potentially lead to the company losing an employee. To be honest, if someone asked me to be a reference, I’d probably have no problem with it or with keeping it a secret if necessary, but I guess depending on the exact circumstances I could see how I might be at least a little conflicted. Is it a reasonable request to ask a current coworker to provide a “secret” reference?

It depends on how well you know and trust the person to be discrete. Almost everyone changes jobs at some point and you need references for that. Current ones are the best especially for people that have been at their present company for a long time and don’t have many outside ones.

Coworkers have told me many times that they are looking and why. If I like them, I will offer to give them a reference and expect them to the same if it comes up. I don’t have any company loyalty and won’t tell anyone. That is the way it is supposed to be in my book. If someone is doing a good job, you should be willing to help them if a better opportunity comes up. It would be pretty crappy to refuse to do so if it were someplace that worked out better for them. OTOH, some people can be backstabbers so it is best not to make those types of references generally known because no good can come from it from either side.

Discreet! The word is discreet!

Personally, there are people at my job who I would trust. It depends on your personal relationships, I guess. There are also people who I would not trust at all - if you’ve worked with somebody long enough, you know. You know exactly who you can rely on and who will be a little bitch about it.

Could you find references from previous jobs? I have done this. Employers know about not contacting current employers and most will accept references from people not with your current company. It’ll look OK if you are at Acme Company and you put down a guy who works for Coyote Central as a manager but USED to work at Acme Company as a manager.

Some companies have very strict policies about giving out references at all. When I worked for a hotel company they were strict and said, “ALL references, must go through H/R and no one is allowed to give any reference but the H/R director.”

The thing is it’s easy to “spill a secret” so if you do rely on current employees make sure you can trust them.

Also don’t put down references UNTIL the company is ready to call. I don’t understand this, but now I am applying for jobs and they will call my references BEFORE they even call me in for an interview. Seems like a waste of time, but it’s happened at least six time to me since last July, where they’ve called my references and only one of those times did they call me into the interview.

I can tell you, with jobs so scarce, the process is really different from anything I’ve seen in my 30 of working. They keep coming up with new things.

Good luck

Thanks to everyone for the replies. All three brought up something I didn’t mention in the OP, but which I’m also keeping in mind, and that is to take into account the trustworthiness of anyone I might ask to be a reference. That’s something I’m definitely taking into consideration, and no one I’d ask would be the type to intentionally dime me out just to be a jerk or to try to make themselves look good, but I’d definitely have to think about them unintentionally saying something, because pretty much anyone can let something slip by accident once in a while.

Regarding looking for references from past jobs, that’s something I’m also considering, but I’m concerned that they might not exist or might be outdated. I left my last job on decent terms, but I only stayed just under a year, so I don’t think I really have a reference there, and the one before that was 6 years ago and was also my first job out of school, and somewhat removed from what I’m doing now. I think I’d have at least one great reference from the first job, but I’d really need to compliment it with at least one from my current position.

Thanks again for the posts and advice, it is much appreciated.