Though a solid resume and strong interview might help bring you closer to landing a job, the company you're talking with might choose to check up on you independently before extending an offer. If you've been in the workforce for quite some time and have compiled a long list of contacts, this won't be a problem. But what if you're brand-new to the workforce, or had a previous job but left it on bad terms? Or what if you only worked for a company that just plain prohibits employees from serving as references? In any of these scenarios, you might have a challenge ahead of you.
But here's the good news: If you're willing to get creative, you might manage to eke out a few references who can help you land the job you're after. Here's how to approach that task depending on where you are in your career.
If you're a recent graduate
Many job candidates who are fresh out of college go into their searches with no actual work experience under their belts. If that's the case, then don't worry -- you're not out of options. For one thing, you can ask your former professors to vouch for your hard work and character, especially those you've gotten to know pretty well. You can also ask your old track team coach, play director, or whatever person you interacted with in a non-academic but meaningful setting.
Furthermore, if you have a neighbor or family friend you ever worked for, whether in the context of babysitting, dog-walking, or snow-shoveling, don't hesitate to tap that resource. You may not have held down a job with that person in the traditional sense, but if that individual is willing to talk about what a reliable person you are, that may just do the trick.
Remember, most employers are reasonable when it comes to getting references from new graduates. After all, you can't be expected to whip out a list of corporate hot shots who will vouch for you if you've never worked in an office -- so don't be shy about going the aforementioned route.
On the other hand, if you worked a part-time job or had an internship during college, you're in luck, because the folks you reported to can easily serve as references. It doesn't matter if you're applying to an accounting firm and the reference you're providing is your old manager from the campus cafeteria -- if that person is able to confirm that you showed up on time every day to wash dishes, and maintained a good attitude throughout, it'll help make your case.
If you're a seasoned employee
If you've already held down at least one full-time job, you'll probably be held to a different standard than a recent college graduate when it comes to references. But don't despair if you can't look to your former colleagues, whether because you left on poor terms or they're prohibited from promoting you as the solid employee you were -- there are other resources at your disposal.
First, reach out to those associates you met through professional channels, like business conferences, but never actually worked with. While those folks won't be able to confirm that you consistently exceeded expectations and met deadlines, they can speak to your industry knowledge and passion. And that could be enough to get a prospective employer to take a chance on you.
You can also try getting in touch with former colleagues who are no longer at the company you worked at together. If that's the case, then the ban on serving as references probably won't apply.
If you're a little more desperate, you might ask your landlord, roommate, or longtime friend to jump in and help. All of these people can speak to your character, and if your skill set is strong, an employer might be willing to give you a shot in the absence of more traditional references.
Though not every company will insist on professional references, if you're looking for work, you'll need to be prepared to hand over some names. So do your legwork in advance and compile a list, even if it's a fairly short one. Otherwise, you might get caught scrambling -- and risk losing an otherwise great job in the process.