What if I Don’t Have Professional References?
In a comment on When and How Does an Employer Check Your References?, a stay-at-home mom writes to ask what to do. She got an actual job offer, but she has no recent references – and her old ones are no longer in the business!
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I'm sharing this since I know she is not alone out there facing this oh-so frustrating potential problem. Here is some of what she wrote…
Question from job seeker with no current references
Dear Ronnie Ann,
I received a job offer a few weeks ago. The employer is having issues because I do not have any recent references. I have been a stay-at-home mom for almost 6 years and before that I owned a small company for seven years prior. They knew this during my interview.
I was in the financial field so it is against privacy policies to give out old clients' names for reference. The only other work related reference I had was an employee, but she is also my sister in law. I tried calling old contacts from 6 years ago and they are no longer in the business.
I asked the employer if I could provide personal references or neighbors, and they said no. I have not done volunteer work since I have been home with the kids, so there is not any recent volunteer references to use.
Can they pull the offer? I have done everything they have asked.
Thanks. ~ Tina
My response to Tina, with a few extra thoughts
Oh how frustrating to be so close, and yet not have the final piece in place. Especially since they understood your circumstances up front.
It sounds like you've tried most of the things I would recommend. You've come across the age-old questions: who can you use as a reference? Just so you know, most employers accept references from former colleagues, even if they are no longer in the business. Old employees and colleagues are just as valuable as former clients. And while they certainly have the right to pull the offer, I am hoping they won't. Here's what I'd try:
- First, who qualifies as a professional reference? Anyone with experience working with you and who can recommend your qualifications qualifies as a professional reference. These individuals are normally former employers, colleagues, clients, supervisors, or fellow volunteers. IN your case, reaching out to your former colleagues, regardless of their current employment, would be your strongest move.
- Explain your situation again and mention that you do have some former colleagues (try to find one or two using Google or old connections), who can still speak about you in a work capacity even if they are not in that business now. I would speak to the hiring manager you strongly connect to and reaffirm just how much you want the job and how you plan to prove that you're the right hiring choice.
- And if this isn't good enough for the employer or you just can't find even one of your former colleagues, then ask the person at the company for help finding something else to make them comfortable with hiring you. Again, promise to do your best to show that his or her faith in you is completely warranted.
- If that fails, then perhaps you can ask that they give you a chance to prove yourself with a short probation period. Employers have a right to be suspicious without good references, but you can try to calm their nerves and give them some extra assurance by showing them who you are as an employee. Then THEY can be your recent reference!
- If that fails, suggest that you can work for them freelance for a while – a try & buy situation – and then see how that goes.
I hope at least some of that helps. And if the employer shows absolutely no flexibility, then just maybe you will be better off with another employer who will give you the chance you deserve!
Best of luck, Tina! ~ Ronnie Ann
What you can do to make sure this doesn't happen to you
- Have a solid list of references ready. If there are one or two people from your current workplace on it, all the better. Three references are usually enough, as long as they can speak knowingly about you in a work capacity and can be reached.
- Who would be a personal reference? Solid references are people you worked with (recently if possible) or volunteered or interned for. If you are just out of school and haven't had any work or volunteer experience, perhaps a teacher or a coach or project leader or maybe even someone you've helped extensively in some way (such as in a caretaker role) can vouch for you.
- Check with each reference to verify that their contact information is current and to make sure that they are available and willing.
- Use the references sample (find link below) if you don't already know how to create a professional reference sheet.
IMPORTANT TIP: If you have no references at this moment, please go create some as soon as possible by volunteering or by taking a part-time or temp job. Even a short-term leadership role for a fundraising benefit at your place of worship or a local school or some public service neighborhood group will be better than no references at all. More would be even better, of course.
And as a bonus … you never know whom you might meet or what opportunities may come your way just by reaching out!