Dear Matt: Is it possible to land a professional job without references? I honestly have no former employers who would be able to give a reference and I don't want to let my current employer know I'm looking for another job. What do I do?
Matt says: If you are unable to provide a list of references, yes, it's a red flag — employers will begin to wonder why you don't have any professional contacts who can speak on your behalf. But just because you can't locate a past boss or manager doesn't mean you don't have options.
Think of those past jobs. That co-worker you sat next to every day — the one you ate lunch with and griped about management with — that's a potential reference. How about that vendor/sales person you worked with? That's a potential reference. Have you volunteered or been active in any professional organizations? Those contacts could be used as references.
Do you have any recommendations on your LinkedIn profile? Those who have recommended you are potential references. If you don't have LinkedIn recommendations, now is the time to ask. Doing this can also reconnect you with past colleagues who may have contact information for that previous boss you are trying to locate. Work a part-time job or volunteer? That's another group of potential references.
Most people struggle with listing references because they don't take time to prepare or update their reference list. Jeff Shane, Vice President of Allison & Taylor (allisontaylor.com), a reference checking and employment verification firm, offers these guidelines:
1. Call your former bosses and ask them if they are willing to provide favorable job references on your behalf.
2. Let your references know each and every time you give out their contact information and thank them for their efforts.
3. Keep your positive references informed of your career and educational progress.
4. Note that spending time communicating with your prospective employer takes valuable time from your references' workdays. If you plan to use these positive references over the years, you need to give something back. For instance, each time your reference supports you with a new prospective employer, send them a personal thank-you letter or (at a minimum) an e-mail. Better still, send a thank-you note with a gift card for Starbucks, or offer to take your former boss to lunch.
5. If you win the new position, call or e-mail your former boss and thank them again for their support. Also, let them know your new contact information.
Who would your top three to five references be? Do you still have their updated contact information and what would they really say about you?
It's time to contact them to find out — before the employer does. □