No References? Here’s What to Do!


You impressed them with your resume, wowed them at the interview, and they are ready to make you an offer!  Great news!  But before they say, “You’re hired!”, they want to talk to your references to make sure that you’re as good as you say you are.  Uh oh!  You don’t have any references.  So what do you do now?  Here are some tips that will help you identify a few people who are willing to sing your praises:

Get in touch with your previous colleagues.  The best possible reference would be one of your previous supervisors, but if you aren’t in touch with one then a previous colleague may be sufficient.  It is important that you make an effort to maintain these connections.  Social media is an excellent tool that you can use to keep in touch with people, but you need to make it a priority.  Try to contact your previous colleagues and supervisors at least once every three months to keep the connection alive.  You never want to give them the perception that you only call them when you need them.         

Connect with people.  When you are looking for your first job, getting references can be a challenge.  Since you don’t want to put your mom down as a reference, you need to find a way to make connections in a professional setting.  You might want to try volunteering, doing an internship, or joining a professional association.   It doesn’t take long to find a few people who are willing to speak on your behalf, but it will make all the difference when you are looking for a job.

Start thinking about backup references.  If you can’t get a supervisor reference then you need a backup plan.  Contact former teachers, coaches, people you were involved with in your extracurricular activities, and your neighbour (didn’t you used to babysit her kids?).  These types of references are definitely better than nothing and if you made a great impression at the interview, it may be enough.

Make sure that you ask them first.  Once you have identified the people who you are going to use for references, it is important that you get their permission.  Ask them if they would be willing to recommend you to an employer and try to determine from their response if they would give you a positive reference.  Contact your references each time you give their contact information to an employer so that they aren’t surprised.  It’s also a good idea to provide them with some information about the job you are applying for so that they are able to give you a strong, targeted reference.

If references are a problem for you, then you need to make it your top priority to find some.  Almost every potential employer will want to speak with at least two references, so if you don’t get them in place, you will be blocked whichever way you turn.  You don’t have to do it overnight, but if you start working on it a little bit each day, you’ll be lot more confident the next time an employer asks for your reference list.

(Written by: Karen Bivand, Image courtesy of Stuart Miles at

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