Dear Amy,

I’ve decided to leave my family’s business–an engineering firm. I’ve been there for 5 years, and I’m ready for a change. I love my dad, who’s my boss, but to be honest, I’m just bored. It’s a small firm, and I’d like to meet new people as well as take on new projects. Fortunately, my dad understands this and supports my decision.
I worked for another organization for 3 years before I joined the business, and I feel confident about my skills. But I’m stuck on the idea of references. I’m really not comfortable giving my dad’s name as my boss. It seems so juvenile. But I do need to list a few people. I will contact my manager from my old job, but I need a more recent reference.
Any suggestions?

Dear Anne,
Thanks for your very practical question. It does sound like you’re ready to leave, and that you have skills and expertise that other organizations will value. Finding references may take a little work, but I’m pretty confident that there are ways you can deal with it.
Here are some of my suggestions:
1) Don’t underestimate the value of having worked in your family’s business. Undoubtedly you grew up learning about business, which not every engineer does. So as you present yourself to other firms, I think you emphasize the depth of your experience in both engineering and in business. The fact that you have prior experience in a non -family firm is also certainly as asset.
2) The reality is that your dad HAS been your boss. Assuming he understands that you are ready for a new experience, you might coach him about how to handle a conversation with a potential employer. Your dad can discuss why he hired you, what your responsibilities have been and how you’ve handled them, what he considers your strengths, and what he considers some of the challenges you need to work on. I’d coach him to be prepared, and to answer questions in a straightforward manner. If you’ve achieved certain goals or added value in unique ways, you can encourage him to discuss them. Your dad
may be reluctant to talk about your talents-may not want to brag-but he can say something like “speaking as her manager, and not her father”, or something like that.
3) If there are other engineers in the firm who know you’re planning to leave and can serve as an additional reference that might be helpful.
4). Have you been involved in any volunteer experiences? Perhaps someone in the community can serve as a reference in addition to a professional reference.
You are probably your best reference. Your reasons for seeking a new opportunity are clear and unambiguous, and you have a strong record of work experience. I have no doubt that you’ll present yourself

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