Sticky Situations Off-Campus / What To Do When You Can’t Get References

by Connie and Caroline | June 23, 2009

  • My Vault

Posted by Caroline Ceniza-Levine

For younger workers, there is often a lack of references.  Maybe you only had one job or internship.  Maybe you haven’t had a related job – you have extensive babysitting experience but this is an office job.  Sometimes this lack of references is compounded by the fact that you can’t use one of your jobs because you didn’t get along with your boss or the job ended badly.

Every jobseeker needs references, so start thinking of them now.  Try to have a minimum of 3 and shoot for 5-6 in case the 3 are unavailable when the prospective employer tries to reach them.  Here is what to do for all the sticky situations listed above:

If you only had one job or internship, definitely get someone from that experience to give you a reference.  This will be the one that carries the most weight because it is most closely related to your next position.  However, feel free to add to this with professors, deans, and the university liaisons of clubs you work with.  Ask people who know your work, whether that be in a specific class, your academic performance overall or your work with an organization;

If you feel your past jobs are very different, use these references anyway.  The past employers can speak to your overall attributes – work ethic, dependability, attention to detail.  If you did a small project that approximates the new job you’re going for, remind your past employers to mention that project.  This is a way to tailor your reference to your target;

If you fear that a reference will be bad, then try to get someone else in that company.  Oftentimes an intern or entry-level employee will work with several people, even if there is just one main “boss.”  If you think the main boss will give a lackluster reference, ask someone else who knows your work and can speak to that specific project.


Sticky Situations Off-Campus / What to Say When Your Last Job Didn't End Well

Posted by Connie Thanasoulis-Cerrachio

Twice this past week did a job seeker ask me how to handle a question about their last employer because by the time they left, the relationship was beyond bad. 

In one case, the current job seeker was instructed by their manager to do something that was against the law and if they didn't they would be fired (so they were fired).  Good for them!  You can always get another job, but you cannot get another name once your reputation is ruined.

In another case, this young person was laid off and the manager wrote a scathing letter to HR saying this was one of the worst employees she ever managed.  This was not the first such scathing letter that this manager wrote.

So if your situation was bad, and hopefully it wasn't as bad as what I wrote above, it's a tricky thing to manage during an interview.  Especially in a world that is becoming increasingly small, where people in the same field all seem to know each other. 

Here are some strategies that will help you:

  1. Professors can write excellent recommendations – especially if they are in the field you want to work in.  For example, a finance professor can write a recommendation about how well you understood the work and how active you were in class.
  2. Career Services can serve as a recommendation – writing about how passionate you are about your job search and the good attributes of your job search:  follow-up, relationship building, attention to detail, etc.
  3. Peers can write recommendations for you about how well you’ve done on a group project.  When I ran campus recruiting at Merrill Lynch, several businesses included peer recommendations at the end of the summer, when we had to determine who was to get an offer.
  4. You usually have one manager, but you usually also work for several people.  Line up recommendations from those other individuals for whom you delivered exceptional work.
  5. If you are an intern, you not only have a manager, you have a human resources recruiter who had a lot to do with bringing you in as a hire.  That person could be an excellent resource for you.

Remember, gather your recommendations from many sources.  Keep it positive during an interview.  Even if your boss was God awful, talk about their positive traits.  They have to have at least one or two.  ACT as if all went well, because one slight word about something not going well throws up a huge red flag to the recruiter.  They can sniff it out of you immediately, so do not go there.

Filed Under: Job Search | Workplace Issues

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