How to Give a Reference (When You're Least Expecting It)

You get a call from a hiring manager who would like to know if you’ll provide a reference for a former intern or employee. But this isn’t your typical reference call, and to be honest, you’re not sure how to answer—because you’ve been totally blindsided.

For starters, you didn’t know you that you were being listed as a reference. Heck, you didn’t even know your connection was looking to change jobs, or volunteer—or whatever it is the person on the other side of the phone is calling to inquire about.

Of course, someone shouldn’t just assume you’ll serve as a reference. What if she misjudged the relationship, and you would have turned her down? Not to mention she’s missing her chance to really prepare you.

But it happens: It’s happened to me, it’s happened to managers I know, and someday it may happen to you. And while you may be thinking, “I have no idea what you’re talking about,” you’ll probably want to say something more diplomatic to the person on the line. Here’s how to handle this situation based on your relationship with the applicant.