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Working Wise - Missing Job References? What You Can Do

Dear Working Wise,

One of my former employers is refusing to provide a telephone reference, because they are getting too many requests. I have a great reference letter from them, but the new employer wants 3 verbal references and I really want this job. What can I do?
Signed, Missing References

December 21, 2016

Dear Missing References,

Your situation is not unique—many people come up short when it comes to references for a number of reasons.

You can start by providing your letter of reference and an explanation of your former employer’s policy.

If the new employer isn’t satisfied, develop some supplementary references:

  • Think of other potential references in your current and past workplaces, including co-workers, supervisors of other departments, clients, customers and other people who are familiar with your work.
  • Ask someone who supervised you in a volunteer role.
  • Assemble a package of performance evaluations, letters of recognition, thank-you letters, and examples of your accomplishments and offer that in lieu of a reference.

How to ask for a reference:

Ask, “Do you feel you know me and my work well enough to provide a reference?” This question gives them a gracious way of saying no. If they say yes, you can feel fairly confident that they will have good things to say about you, but it’s always a good idea to ask what they will say.

More tips:

  1. Prioritize your list based on how well they know your work, how recently you’ve worked with them, and what they will say about you.
  2. Always ask permission before providing someone’s name as a reference.
  3. Keep your reference list up-to-date including their name and current job title, company, contact information, and how they prefer to be contacted.
  4. Contact your references each time you provide their name to a potential employer and give them some notice so they can prepare for the phone call.
  5. Prepare your references – send them a copy of your resumé and the job posting so they are familiar with your current skills and accomplishments, and will know which of your strengths to focus on.
  6. Ask your reference what they think your weaknesses were and tell them how you’ve worked on them since.
  7. If your reference is a former supervisor, make sure you both agree why you left that job.
  8. Some employers will only confirm basic employment information such as dates, job title and salary. In this case, ask your former employer to explain their policy so the new employer does not mistake their brevity for a bad reference.
  9. Thank your references and keep in touch with them.
  10. Every time you leave a job or your supervisor leaves their job, ask for a letter of reference just in case your supervisor wins the lottery and disappears.

For more information on missing references, read the Unavailable or Problem References.

Good luck!

Photo Credit: © iStockphoto/AdamGregor

Working Wise is a syndicated newspaper column prepared by the Government of Alberta to answer work-related questions from Albertans. Do you have a work-related question? You can send it to Charles Strachey (charles.strachey@gov.ab.ca), a manager with Alberta Community and Social Services.

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