As a career coach, I am often asked how to tackle not having a referee. Most employers expect to be able to contact a previous supervisor for feedback on your past performance, yet we’re not always in a position to provide a professional referee.
This situation can occur across all stages of the career journey. Perhaps you’re too nervous to tell your current supervisor you’re on the hunt; maybe your previous boss passed away; your earlier employment was overseas and you’ve lost contact with them; perhaps you and the boss didn’t see eye to eye; or you’ve taken some time out of the paid workforce or never worked before. Whatever the reason, don’t despair because there are a few ways that you might be able to get around the issue.
Past or current colleagues, or previous bosses, can make great referees. The hiring manager/recruiter basically wants to speak to someone who has observed your work so think laterally about who fits this bill – present and past clients or suppliers might even suit. Have you done any relevant voluntary work? If you need to dig deeper, you might consider presenting past written references, performance review information, performance feedback, LinkedIn recommendations, and/or awards that you have achieved. You can suggest to the hiring manager that you offer a personal referee to supplement what you are able to present. Offering the option of an extended probation may also tip them over to making an offer.
If you’ll need an opportunity to explain your referee circumstances, I recommend stating “Referees available upon request” on your resume (unless it is completely untrue in which case leave the heading out). This will allow you an opportunity to impress with your resume and interview before having the conversation about referees. I have a contact who was employed by a large corporate without a professional referee (she had taken a parenting break and worked for her husband for the preceding five years) but it went all the way to the CEO for approval. Always be honest with the potential employer and be prepared to work with them to achieve a solution.
If you want to be proactive in remedying the referee situation, you might consider volunteering or doing some temporary work which may not have the same rigour around referees but have the potential to lead to a referee.
Career Vitality offers 1:1 and group career counselling to individuals and organisations in Brisbane. We’d love to chat about how we can support you in your career. Contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org.