How to job-hunt after spending your entire adult life at one company?
February 14, 2014 3:18 PM   Subscribe

My spouse has decided to look for a new job after working at the same (large, national) retail chain since high school. How do you hunt for work as a 30-plus-year-old who has never had to apply for a grown-up job, and who can't get a reference from any of your old bosses? Seasonally-appropriate snowflakes inside.

The job in question started out as a high school summer thing, then it was a way to pay college tuition, and somewhere around graduation it turned into an actual career on a management track. Which is pretty great, but over the 10 years since, the hours have gotten longer, the appreciation from upper management has gotten pretty thin on the ground, and the stress keeps ramping up. For those and other reasons I totally support the decision to quit, but having never worked for anybody but this one corporation is making job-hunting interesting.

For starters, the company has a policy where current employees aren't allowed to give references for their co-workers, and every single supervisor The Spouse has ever had is still working there. The same goes for subordinates who have been successful thanks to Spouse's support and mentoring. Which is kind of an issue, because supporting and mentoring employees is the best part of the current job, with a bunch of success stories that nobody's going to be able to substantiate.

The other issue is that Spouse hasn't had to interview for a job since high school. No cover letters, no cold calls, not even a need to keep the resume updated. Part of the current job is interviewing applicants, so it's not like job interviews will be unfamiliar territory, but all the other niceties are going to be kind of rough, especially since we're talking about applying for positions on the level of district management.

This is completely outside my area of expertise - I'm a grunt worker, not a manager, and a string of bosses who quit or got fired means I've never had any problems getting references. Any advice the hivemind can provide, or resources for long-time company men/women who are jumping ship, would be very very helpful.
posted by anonymous to Work & Money (13 answers total) 9 users marked this as a favorite
Working for a company for a decade - including a career progression from seasonal help to full-time manager - is it's own reference. For liability reasons, no one gives personal references anymore. Companies will give dates of employment and sometimes salary verification (and there's probably a 800 number to call to get that).

In your husband's situation, I'd call his alma mater and ask if they have career services for alumni. Lots of schools will give resume and interviewing help to alums.
posted by 26.2 at 3:30 PM on February 14, 2014 [2 favorites]

Is your spouse looking for a job in the same field? Can he begin to go to meetups, networking events, trainings, etc. where he'll meet people from other companies face to face? It seems like you're focusing on his references -- which will likely come up at the very end of the job application process -- instead of the larger and more time-consuming challenge of finding a role he wants and connecting with the people at that company.

If a company is interested in him as a candidate the references may not even be an issue. I've gotten several jobs without the employer contacting my references.
posted by rogerrogerwhatsyourrvectorvicto at 3:31 PM on February 14, 2014

the company has a policy where current employees aren't allowed to give references for their co-workers,

How on earth is this

1) legal?
2) enforceable?

Is there anyone there who will ignore this policy? I know I would.
posted by small_ruminant at 4:48 PM on February 14, 2014

No one really expects to get actual references these days for a bunch of reasons. It's not a big deal. Focus on interviewing skills and her resume. Especially interview skills!
posted by GuyZero at 5:03 PM on February 14, 2014 [2 favorites]

The only way to get used to job-hunting and interviewing again is to do it, really. I think that, yes, this kind of solidity in terms of staying somewhere long-term will speak for itself to a large degree. When I went back to look for accounting work after going to law school, I felt like I was going to have a horrible time being competitive with that giant white elephant in the room, but it was basically just... somewhat more awkward than it would have been otherwise. You get back into the swing of things and pretend you have more confidence than you do. Unless there are literally only a handful of places in the country you'd be willing to work, you have a lot of chances to screw up while you're figuring things out.
posted by Sequence at 5:05 PM on February 14, 2014

References are mostly a liability to companies these days. If they check at all it'll just be as a part of a general background check to insure he really worked there 10 years. Really, the fact that he stayed there 10 years while progressing up speaks for itself.

However, your comment that there isn't a single former supervisor or former employee that has ever left the company is kind of hard to believe. It's retail, isn't average turnover in the neighborhood of 100% annually? If I were the interviewer I might raise an eyebrow at that claim. If it really is true he might want to think about how to spin it.
posted by COD at 5:08 PM on February 14, 2014

Some companies still do place high value on references. I just changed jobs and all three of my references were contacted and asked pretty thorough questions about my past experiences. The last company I was at had a third party that verified references, but never asked any detailed questions.

I would expect that if your spouse interviews somewhere, they would accept his explanation regarding his current company's policy on references. If they like him enough, they would find a creative way to work around this challenge, right?

If your spouse has experience conducting interviews, he should have access to also viewing the resumes of the candidates. This might help him get a flavour of what resumes look like nowadays, since it sounds like he has to start from scratch. I'd take the opportunity to make notes of resumes that stand out to him, and try and copy the format.

As for jumping ship after being with a company a long time, I hope your spouse will find that a lot of places will absolutely value his long service and loyalty. I found that to be true in my recent job hunt.

The advice that I found helped me the most was to always modify my resume and cover letter for every difference job I applied for. Subtle changes that highlighted specific skills or competencies that were targeted to the job I applied for. It's a pain to modify every time, but it's worth it.

Good luck! Job hunting sometimes sucks and feels frustrating… but he can do it! :)

p.s. I keep say "he' - just assuming spouse is a he… apologies if I got this wrong.
posted by caroo at 5:53 PM on February 14, 2014 [1 favorite]

Just my $0.02, but I think working for the same company for so long is an asset, not a liability. It shows loyalty, it proves he was good at what he does, if he was promoted it shows growth, etc. I would be proud about it and mention it in interviews

(ditto on the "he" as caroo mentioned.)
posted by JohnnyGunn at 7:43 PM on February 14, 2014

Nthing "might not even need references" depending on what field they want to work in (if they plan on working with children, for example, references are more important), and that legally, all they are supposed ask is if you really did work there at those dates. Not saying that that law never gets broken, but references may not be as much of an obstacle as you anticipate.

For the cover letters and resumes, the internet is full of free help. Look at several examples and figure out what they have in common, what seems appropriate, and so on. I've linked a couple, but you can get even better ones by searching for a more specific type, like "resume [intended field]" or "cover letter to unknown person" and so on.
Cover letter examples for different situations
Management track resumes - examples, templates, etc.
Have them get someone else (like you?) read the letter, resume, and any other written correspondence for tone, clarity, and errors.
posted by jorlyfish at 7:55 PM on February 14, 2014 [1 favorite]

References are such a minor piece. Really. I mean it could depend on the place, but… I recruit for a leading tech company, with a very high hiring bar and an exhausting interviewing practice and we actually do not check references at all.

If your spouse is going to be interviewing for positions in the same sort of businesses, even roughly equivalent, then the places she's going will probably know her old company because they're in the same business space, will know what sort of skills and drive it would take to have advanced the way she has, and will roll out the red carpet to poach good talent from the competition.
posted by fingersandtoes at 9:11 PM on February 14, 2014

Any former employee that worked closely with your spouse can give a reference, including peers on a management team. Volunteer work is a good source of references. Also, if your spouse has recently taken outside education, the educators can be used as a reference.

Most recently I submitted one peer that I have known for over a decade and won't rat me out, a fired coworker, and a volunteer contact in a professional society. Nobody questioned my selection of referees.
posted by crazycanuck at 10:36 PM on February 14, 2014

I wouldn't sweat the reference thing. For the reasons stressed above.

In the resume, I'd show a progression of responsibility, most recent first. Stress skills and experience.

Your husband should have an idea of what his next gig should be, and should tailor his resume to fit that.

Good Luck!
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 8:42 AM on February 15, 2014 [1 favorite]

In my recent job search I definitely was asked for references. In my experience with various institutions there's a "policy" about references used as an out when people don't want to give a reference. When they do want to give a reference, they do. If your spouse has good relationships with some of her former colleagues or supervisors, they should at least ask before assuming.

For the rest of it:
1) Think hard about everything you've done for the company. Look over emails and to-do lists and status reports - it's really hard to remember all of your accomplishments even when you update your resume frequently. Make a list. Then look at that list and think about which things you want to emphasize. If you worked on Foo but loathed it, take it out, keep it to a short bullet, or write a longer bullet emphasizing other aspects of the project.

2) Look at sample resumes online. If you have colleagues who will let you see their resumes, look at them. Look at the linked in profiles of your colleagues and people in roles you are interested in. Make note of terms and phrases that seems appropriate for your resume. Obviously you won't copy, this is just for inspiration and to make sure your resume is on par with others in your field.

3) Write a resume. Ask people to look at it. Revise it. Ask more people to look at it. Ignore it for a day and re-read it. Revise it again. Your resume should show growth and focus, be neatly formatted, and typo-free.

4) Create a linked-in profile if you don't already have one.

5) Look for lists of sample interview questions. Then think about the questions specific to your line of work that you would expect to be asked. Make a list of interview questions.

6) Reach out to your support group - family, close friends, spouse. Give them the list. Ask them to call you at random times and ask you questions from the list. I did this recently and people were very helpful. I found that getting a call while washing dishes and being asked "tell me about a professional challenge you faced, and how you handled it" gave me very helpful practice with thinking on my feet. I was much more confident with interviews after that.

Good luck!
posted by bunderful at 10:13 AM on February 15, 2014

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