Had a a great job interview, but was asked for references. I don't have any! Am I done for?
June 22, 2009 10:06 PM   Subscribe

I recently had a job interview that I felt fantastic about. However, the employer asked me to provide references. I can probably rustle up one, but other than that I've got nothing. Will this completely kill my chances of landing the job?

The job is an entry-level position in IT. I feel that I'm a great fit for the job, and I really think the company is interested in hiring me. However, I'm really worried that the lack of references will look bad and sink my chances.

I don't have a lot of work experience. I had one IT-related job and worked retail in high school--that's about it. I'm pretty sure I can get a reference from the IT job, but that's the only one I'm fairly sure about.

1) Will this raise any red flags? I'd like to think that it's reasonable for an entry-level applicant to have few references. However, I know the employer is looking for several references. People are also telling me that it looks terrible to only submit one.

2) I might be able (and will try) to get a reference from my old retail job, but I last worked there seven years ago. Given that it was a retail job from that long ago, would that look silly or unprofessional?

3) I've did a bit of support and data entry for a friend that was setting up an e-commerce site for his family business. However, it wasn't officially a job so it never occurred to me to include this on my resume. I could probably get a reference from him, but it would be from a company that I never mentioned before. Also, his company is also located in a state on the other side of the country. Should I even try using him as a reference? Given the resume exclusion, I'm worried that it will seem like I'm trying to use a fake reference.

Apologies for the wall of text, and thanks for any insight.
posted by anonymous to Work & Money (13 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
What did you do in the years between your retail job and your IT job? Were you in school? If so, your professors are your references. You can get references from coworkers at your IT job as well as from your boss. And I think you could probably list your friend too and say you were helping out with a friend's family business and you didn't think it was worth putting on your resume, but you thought they had worthwhile things to say about you.
posted by crinklebat at 10:20 PM on June 22, 2009

Since it is entry-level, maybe they are looking more for personal references? A friend, neighbor, former teacher or professor, your landlord? And definitely use the person you mention in 3. Frame it as "freelance client" or explain it the way you did here.
posted by peep at 10:20 PM on June 22, 2009


Get your friends to stand in as either former coworkers or supervisors.

Or at the very least talk to your friend who you've worked with and ask him to be a reference.

Round it out with one or two "personal references" - people with clout who know you reasonably well and can speak to your aptitude. These can be friends of friends, family friends, or people you've worked with/for indirectly.

Depending upon the size of the company, they may have some schlub in HR, who hasn't even met you do the calling and they are likely to ask canned questions, "Does so-and-so work well in group environments? Is he a good self starter?" They are going to jot down a few answers and pass those along to whoever interviewed you... meaning that the interview is probably way more important (for an entry level job) than the references.
posted by wfrgms at 10:26 PM on June 22, 2009

I think that it's standard to provide three references. You should be able to come up with three people who can speak to your skills and work ethic. It sounds like you have two: your IT job person and your friend. (Your friend is fine, I think, as long as he or she can sound professional on the telephone and can give concrete examples of how you did a good job.) The third one could be a professor, someone with whom you volunteered, someone you know through an extracurricular activity... anyone who can testify to either your skills or your general good qualities as a worker.
posted by craichead at 10:28 PM on June 22, 2009

If you've gotten to the point where they're asking for references, in general it's a good sign. Of course every employer is different; in some cases asking for references is just a standard HR practice to verify prior employment, in other cases they may want them to evaluate your candidacy. You know better than us what the situation is.

At any rate, for an entry-level job (especially if you haven't been out of school for long), I don't think they will be too concerned with your lack of references. Just list references for each job that you claimed on your resume, and offer to provide academic or personal references if needed. If you did as well in the interview as you think you did, it's not like they're going to hire somebody else over you because he has three references and you only have two. At any rate, don't misrepresent your background.
posted by pravit at 10:39 PM on June 22, 2009

References are not a big deal and you shouldn't worry about it at all. Unless you are going to work for the government in the CIA, your references are just a way for your employers to signal to you that they would only hire reputable people. In reality, most such firms know that the references provided by their possible hires are going to be positively biased toward them. I mean, unless you got some serious family issues, I doubt your mother would say anything terrible about you, nor would your best friend, or a former fellow employee of yours.

In summary, the references aren't important. Just play along with the firm, give them three people you know will provide you glowing reviews and you'll be fine.
posted by leybman at 10:47 PM on June 22, 2009 [1 favorite]

There are so many people who could provide good references for this post that lying about them, as suggested above, is a terrible idea.

Were you involved in any clubs/organizations/charity/frat etc in college and made a positive difference, so that you could ask a fellow club member? Did you have any professors who you especially impressed? For an entry level position like this, they don't have to be work-based.

At last resort, it could even be a long-standing family friend writing "I've know x for 10 years, he's a brilliant guy with great integrity..." and so on. Don't overthink this.
posted by Spacelegoman at 11:10 PM on June 22, 2009 [1 favorite]

Certainly don't lie. Definitely nthing the professor route if you went to college. Even if you weren't particularly close with any profs, as long as you can find one who gave you a good grade, that may be sufficient. Call `em up (better than an email - something like this will go to the bottom of most people's "to do" lists if you send an email, I feel) and see how they feel about acting as a reference. Mention your grade, and offer to send them a copy of your transcript if it would help. And hell, if you have any old papers they graded lying around, maybe offer to scan and email that to `em.
posted by Conrad Cornelius o'Donald o'Dell at 11:28 PM on June 22, 2009

My experience with "references" in an engineering entry level job was that people wanted to call and make sure you hadn't falsified anything or had other red flags - asking for references was basically the last step before a job offer. So definitely the IT guy, a professor wouldn't hurt, the family friend is certainly someone you've worked for although you might mention that since it was for a family business and not for pay you didn't think to put it on your resume.

Also you should put that on your resume, next time. It's work you've done, it shows off your skills and abilities.
posted by Lady Li at 11:45 PM on June 22, 2009

For my entry level job (not in IT, but still), I gave the following references: a former employer from college, a parent a child I babysat years ago, and a professor. None of these people knew of my skills pertaining to the job I was apply for, but they all knew me.

For an entry level job, employers typically don't expect a lot of professional references (I work at a staffing firm, so I'm not just speaking out of no where). They know that, if you had that many professional references, you probably would be aiming hiring than entry level!

So don't worry too much. A mature friend, friend's parent, or parent's friend is fine, but steer clear of family members.

And good luck! Let us know how it goes.
posted by firei at 3:28 AM on June 23, 2009

I would interpret the request for references simply as a sign that you have not yet been excluded from consideration, and no more than that. Many companies require their human resources department to request references from every candidate.

As Lady Li suggests, references are often used by a company simply to verify the things on your résumé, or brought up during your interview, that the company has no other means to verify.

When I was starting my professional career, my references included my high school soccer coach whom I worked for over the summers and a friend from a professional organization in college who had a business-like demeanor and a mature perspective on the world. If you get really stuck, think about people that have passed through your life that you respect, and you'll start to see relationships that you may not recall normally.
posted by RobinFiveWords at 5:07 AM on June 23, 2009

References are not a big deal and you shouldn't worry about it at all.

I always checked references, or ensured that HR did. Not being able to come up with three of them would be a red flag to me. They fall under the umbrella of basic qualifications needed to get the job, like:
- Has required skills and experience.
- Presents well and can speak coherently in an interview.
- Has three people willing to speak on his/her behalf and who can answer basic questions like how they know the candidate, what are his strongest characteristics, etc.

For entry level, personal references are fine! You can also include more than one reference from your IT job if you'd like. Don't lie - right now, at your first job, you can decide whether you want to be a direct person with integrity or an opportunist who will say anything. Direct is better for you as a person and for your career.

Here's a suggestion on how to frame your reference list to make it easy on both your references and your prospective employer. Make sure you check with everyone that they are okay with serving as a reference, and will provide you with a good one:

John Doe, IT Director
Acme IT Company
Preferred contact method: 555-555-5555
I reported directly to Mr. Doe during my employment with Acme.

Jane Smith, Help Desk Analyst
Acme IT Company
Preferred contact method: jane.smith@acme.com
Jane was my collegue at Acme, where we worked on several technical projects together.

Jim Thompson, Owner
Jim's Company Inc.
Preferred contact method: jim@jim.com or 222-222-2222
Jim is a friend who is familiar with my work; I assisted him with supporting an e-commerce site that he created for his company.

Juan Doe, PhD
Associate Professor of Mathematics, Some State University
Preferred contact method: john.doe@state.edu
Dr. Doe was my professor for Math 301 and Math 302 at Some State U.

Good luck!
posted by txvtchick at 6:17 AM on June 23, 2009 [7 favorites]

nthing DO NOT LIE. Sorry, but that's horrible advice for an entry level position, and it could color all your future dealings with employers.

You aren't expected to have lots of work reference at this point. txvtchick has the right idea.

Congrats on the job opportunity!
posted by misha at 11:29 AM on June 23, 2009

« Older can't afford not to work   |   Which of the Canon Vixia camcorders has the best... Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.