I was once given some free advice by a very smart man when asking him for a professional reference. This advice became a staple in my own toolkit because it seemed so obvious, yet it was necessary to be offered. Based on my own anecdotal non-scientific study of one, evidence has demonstrated beyond doubt that many people seem unaware of how best to ask for a reference or how awkward this can be.
So here it comes!
It is always a good idea to contact the person you asking this of and let them know that they may be getting a call. If they agree to provide the reference, give this person their talking points. You really do not want your reference talking off the cuff when being asked about your strengths and weaknesses. It seems like common sense, yet it is uncommon.
You need your reference to be clear and concise. Your reference needs to know the basics:
1) What job are you going for?
2) What projects or work are likely to be emphasised?
3) Is there likely to be emphasis on being team oriented or are you expected to be a self starter?
4) Are you looking to lead a team or remain a individual contributor as I knew you?
5) Are any particular technology, expertise, or soft skills likely to be asked about?
6) Why did you leave my team?
There are no secrets, just clear communication. It is your obligation to help the person you asking for help. No one likes to be surprised or be Johnny-on-the-spot. Pretty simple?
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