So, you’re applying for jobs, but you don’t have any work references to send to hiring managers. This might seem like a serious problem, but don’t worry, there are plenty of ways to deal with a lack of professional references, especially in this candidate-driven labour market where employers need workers like you!
In this blog post, we’ll share some of our best insider job-seeking tips to help you show your value as a candidate even if you don’t have any work references. From building a portfolio of previous work to developing a strong network of virtual contacts, you’ll find some great industry secrets in this article. Let’s dive in!
1. Don’t put work references on your resume
What’s the number one thing to do if you have no work references? Don’t include them! Job seekers without experience often get stuck unnecessarily at the resume-writing stage because they think they need to offer 3 work references in print right off the bat. Believe it or not, you shouldn’t put work references on your resume.
Despite some information out there, including professional references on a resume is not best practice. If you include references freely on your resume, they’ll probably be overlooked by hiring managers in the early stages of the hiring process anyway. Potential employers typically ask for references in the last round of candidate selection, and they’ll always reach out to you for this information. This gives you plenty of time to demonstrate your value in other ways in the first stages of the recruitment process.
Plus, depending on the job you’re applying for, you might not need to provide work references at all! Entry-level positions, urgent temporary work, and certain other jobs don’t typically require previous work experience and professional references.
The bottom line is: don’t put references on your resume. It’s one of those “cross that bridge when you get there” items. You only have to think about giving references when you’re asked for them.
2. Use alternative types of work references
References come in all shapes and sizes, so it’s important to know how to leverage the different types of references to your advantage. You might not realize it, but aside you’re your professional network, your personal network is probably full of people who can positively validate your experience, skills, value, integrity and dependability—which, ultimately, is all employers want from references. If you have no references pertaining to a past job, you might be able to use a reference of a different kind.
Ask the hiring manager if they’ll accept the following types of references instead:
• Academic references: People who can speak to your work ethic in a school setting (university professors, mentors, peers you’ve worked on projects with, etc.).
• Character references: People who know you outside of a professional setting, but have still witnessed you demonstrate qualities like leadership and responsibility (extracurricular sport coaches, religious leaders, etc.).
• Work-adjacent references: People who didn’t employ you in a technical sense, but have knowledge of your capabilities from non-paid work (volunteer work supervisors, neighbours for whom you’ve mowed lawns or snowplowed driveways, etc.).
Take some time to think about all the people in your life “spheres” who might qualify as an alternative reference. You might be surprised at how long the list is!
If the hiring manager agrees to academic, character and work-adjacent references, you’re in the clear!
3. Communicate the reasons why you have no references
There are many valid reasons why you may not have work references. Maybe you’ve been a stay-at-home mom for the last ten years. Maybe you’re a recent graduate, brand new to the country or leaving self-employment for the first time.
Be honest and upfront about your situation and you might be met with more understanding and compassion than you think.
If the hiring manager insists on speaking to someone from your background, however, you may have to think outside the box. For example, if you’ve been self-employed for a long time, perhaps you can show client testimonials from your website or business profile online. If you’re a recent immigrant, maybe you can procure written reference letters from out-of-country connections so that the hiring manager doesn’t have to worry about contacting them. If you’ve been a stay-at-home mom, maybe other parents in your community can comment on your organizational skills when it comes to running soccer tournaments or birthday parties for kids.
Although these creative solutions are certainly better than nothing, remember that they might not be as appealing to hiring managers as standard professional references. So do your best to demonstrate your value as a candidate in the early stages of the interview process before your hiring manager asks for references. If you manage to ace the interview and stand out early on, then they may be more willing to overlook a lack of professional references later on.
4. Build a portfolio of work that demonstrates initiative
If you simply can’t provide work references of any kind, then you’ll have to get extra creative to show the hiring manager why you’re the right candidate for the job.
Training certificates are a great way to show that you’re serious about making a career for yourself in your field of choice. If you can show that you are actively improving your skills in your free time, you’ll show initiative and the ability to self-learn, two valuable characteristics that all employers love to see.
You might even have completed some hobby projects related to the job vacancy. If you’re applying for a job in programming for instance, you might be able to show something like a website you built as you were studying on the weekends. If you’re an aspiring copywriter, you might have unpublished or published op-eds and articles that you can offer as writing samples.
A rock-solid portfolio of work can go a long way in impressing your potential employer. The important thing is that you highlight your strengths and bring your initiative, passion and positive track record into the limelight!
5. Start networking to get professional references
It’s no secret that networking is one of the most important tools in the 2022 job market. If you’re not sure where to find work references, then consider growing your professional network!
It’s incredibly easy to get started on an online virtual network. Create a LinkedIn account for free and you’ll instantly be able to explore groups in nearly every industry and interact with professionals from all over the world.
If you’ve not been very active on LinkedIn and other networking platforms, now’s the time to start leveraging them. By regularly contributing valuable content and insightful updates, you can establish a powerful personal brand. This can show potential employers that you’re passionate about your profession and are actively learning from like-minded professionals online.
Now that you know how to get a job with no work references, it’s time to start putting these 5 top tips into practice. The sooner you start thinking about professional references, the less hassle you’ll have when your hiring manager asks you to provide reference contact information! For more helpful professional advice like this, check out our other blog posts for Canadian job seekers on the Adecco Lead Blog.