Job References: What You Can Do When Former Bosses Don’t Work There Any More

Dear Work Coach,

I am a Preschool teacher. Unfortunately, the places I have been employed have a huge employee turnover rate. None of my previous directors or co-workers are currently employed at those places. On job applications, how do I handle this? I don’t have a problem with prospective employers contacting previous employment places, but there is no one currently employed who knows me and definitely no previous boss. It looks pretty bad on applications if I mark “No. May not contact.” Even part-time for summer jobs I had, either the former supervisor is no longer around, the company changed names, or the company is no longer in existence.

I need your expert help. I don’t want to lose any possible job opportunities due to this. I have an excellent work history. I left positions for good reasons: unforeseen medical issue, was pregnant, moved or needed full-time hours.

Thanks for your time and advice.

TB

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Hi TB!

First…don’t worry. There’s usually a way around a situation like this. Not everyone stays in their jobs – no matter what the industry – and so sometimes references disappear. I would imagine, if there’s such a high turnover rate in your field, your prospective employer will understand that these things happen.

Definitely mark “May contact.” If there is a place on the application to explain your situation, make sure you do so clearly and simply. You might even want to prepare a separate sheet to attach that has your explanation as well as several good references.

So where do you get these references? It’s worth making an effort to get in touch with someone with whom you worked. Hopefully you were friendly with some of the people and know where they are now. Or sometimes it just takes a little detective work. You can ask your former companies if the people you knew left forwarding addresses or phone numbers – or whether anyone working there now knows how to get in touch with someone who knows you. Explain your situation and be very friendly and polite. Sometimes the former company will even contact them for you and ask if it’s ok for you to contact them.

Assuming they don’t mind, it’s perfectly fine to use them as references even if they are no longer at the company you worked for. Just make sure you explain to your prospective employer that they used to be at ABC Company and are now at XYZ Company. As for the place that had a name change, that’s ok too. A name change doesn’t mean there isn’t still someone there who remembers you. It’s worth trying. Just list the company name as it was when you worked for them and in parentheses add the new company name: LMN Company (now known as QRS, inc.).

You say you have an excellent work history, but therre’s no way to prove it unless you have someone to vouch for you – or documentation like performance reviews. Understandably anyone applying for a job working with children has to find good references. Just as a note: If you haven’t maintained contact with people from the past, please remember to do so from now on. You can see how important it can be!

Now if you absolutely can’t find anyone you’ve worked with (and it would be best if you could), then you need to come up with someone you’ve volunteered for and/or a person of professional standing – especially in the education field – who could provide you with a reference if needed.

If all this fails, you need to be honest with your potential employer and explain the situation carefully and honestly. Tell them you are excited about coming back to work and would love to work for this company. Then ask them what they would accept instead of work references, saying you’d be happy to do whatever it takes. (Again, if your goal is to make it past the application stage, you can prepare a sheet to attach with your application that says all this. It may just do the trick.)

By the way…I assume since you have no current references, it’s been a while since you’ve worked. This will bring up questions. Also the fact that you’ve had quite a few jobs will raise questions, but it sounds like you’ve had good reasons for leaving. Just be prepared to address these issues in detail during an interview. Any employer wants to feel secure that you are ready to work again and will stay with them for as long as possible.

One last trick: If you try everything and still run up against a roadblock (and I hope that’s not the case), then take a refresher course and do your best. Get to know your teacher and make a good impression. If the class has a student-teaching component, then get to know that teacher. A volunteer job could also help. This way you can get yourself some fresh references.

I wish you all the best. Good luck!

Ronnie Ann

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Note: I’m one of the columnists on the Q&A site Job Lounge and will be sharing those posts like this one here on my Work Coach blog.

 

About the author…

Ronnie Ann, founder of Work Coach Cafe, bases her real-world advice on her many years as an organizational consultant where she helped interview and hire people, added to a certificate from NYU in Career Planning & Development and her own adventures as a serial job seeker. She can also be found on her new blog, and on Google+.

Comments

  1. Hi Ron,

    I dont have work experience but my new employer wants supervisor reference. Where do I get it from? Kindly reply.

    Seema

  2. Hi Seema!

    If you don’t have any work experience, the best you can do is explain that (they should already know that if they’ve seen your resume) and provide the name of someone you’ve helped on a volunteer project or as part of some organization even if you didn’t get paid. You can also offer the name of a professor or teachers, especially if they can vouch for how you handle assignments and work with others. Other than that, your best bet is someone who is in a responsible position who can vouch for you personally.

    It can be hard getting that first job, but let them see how determined you are to do a great job for them and just do your best to provide them with the best reference you can come up with – even if it’s someone you helped on a bake sale or on a committee to improve your neighborhood.

    Good luck, Seema! And by the way…my name is Ronnie Ann. ;-)

  3. Hi Ronnie,

    I am currently seeking work in the admin field and I took voluntary redundancy in November last year. I was recently offered a job involving admin work at a care home. All the checks have come back fine, but one out of two of my references has responded, which I find odd as both references were friends at my last job and I was actually very good in my job – always helping out and volunteering to do things for them and others.

    The reason I didn’t give my previous manager as a reference is simply because I didn’t get on with her very well towards the end of my job – I did when I first started out on her team and then somewhere down the line something in her snapped and she wasn’t easy to work with anymore.

    I also supplied two other people as references as my potential employer got back to me to say only one of the ones aforementioned responded. They have yet to get back to me, does that mean that I won’t be able to work there? I’m also worried that the references I supplied have also said something to my previous manager and she has told them not to supply them with a reference for me.

    Thanks

    Jo

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