If you’ve been out of the workplace for a while or changed jobs a lot you may have trouble supplying recent referees. You may even be concerned about the type of reference you’ll receive. Many people have had bosses they don’t trust and jobs that are just rubbish. First step, don’t panic. I get this question a lot. There are ways upon ways around this little dilemma. Here are few things that I know have worked.
How hard have you looked for them?
At the risk of sounding like my Mum did when I said I’d lost something, just how hard have you really looked? How many people are on Facebook now? Is it 500 million? How many degrees of separation are there? Six, five, four? Think Google and think laterally. Then proceed with caution. If you do decide to approach someone who may know someone on Facebook, just be respectful of their privacy and don’t demand that they help. Not everyone likes to be approached this way.
If you can’t provide a reference and the recruiter seemingly won’t budge, be helpful. Don’t let the conversation stop there. Explain why you can’t supply referees and skip the BS. Good consultants are not silly and will have heard a variation of the excuses you can think you can get away with. Ask the recruiter to ask the employer what they would accept as an alternative. I’ve heard job seekers who have provided recent performance reviews. I’ve heard other people negotiate a longer probationary period.
There are alternatives as well. Some employers still will accept character references from other areas of your life such as teachers, lecturers, clients, customers, colleagues, suppliers and referees from voluntary work or sporting teams.
How to and when to bring it up
State that you have no referees at the start of the recruitment process you risk sounding defensive. This is the last impression you want to create. At the end of the interview explain your dilemma. Explain also the work you have done to find your referees. You don’t want the recruiter to think you are covering something up.
You may not be asked for a reference
Recruiters and employers will not tell you this, but it happens a lot. I was once hired by a recruitment consultancy who did not ask me for a reference. If you impress during a job interview and the employer is really keen (or desperate) to take you on, the question of references might not come up. You’ll just be hired.
One place I worked took me on quickly but then put into my letter of offer that my employment was subject to successful reference checks, which they never undertook. We both got busy – I did a good job and my employer forgot the whole reference issue.
I once recruited for a small business. The owner insisted I didn’t do a reference. She said they were rubbish. Watch this clip for a funny take on how people get around this question. It’s a plug for their business, but funny just the same.
The thing I’ve found in my years as a recruiter is that if an employer wants you badly enough, they’ll find a way to take you on, references or no references.