When Your References Go MIA

So you’re looking for a job and you think you’ve got your references all lined up. Before you start passing their contact information along to potential employees, you’d better make sure you can truly rely on them.

Even if you left a job in good standing, that doesn’t mean your former boss, co-workers, or Human Resources department are going to give you a glowing recommendation. Don’t take it personally. In some instances, that’s because company policy does not allow them to do so. HR, in particular, may only be allowed to verify that you were indeed employed at the company from date X to date Y. They cannot make any statements with regard to performance, professionalism or the like.

Other times, a would-be reference may not respond to calls from a potential new employer because they themselves are no longer with the company in question. It could also be that the company switched phone systems and extensions have changed.

Finally, your listed references may simply be following the old adage of “if you don’t have anything good to say, don’t say anything at all.” As hard as it may be to come to grips with, you may not be remembered as fondly as you would like to believe.

Many job hunters have had their dreams dashed when the people they thought of as good references either gave them a less-than-stellar recommendation or proved to be completely unresponsive. Fortunately, there are steps you can take to ensure this unfortunate fate doesn’t befall you:

1) Obtain Their Permission: Before giving out someone’s contact information, call them yourself and politely ask if they would be willing to serve as a reference for you. If they decline or seem at all hesitant, thank them for their time but by all means, do not place them on your list. Move on to the next person.

2) Double-Check Contact Info: Nothing frustrates a hiring manager more than a list of references which leads them nowhere, thanks to countless disconnected phone numbers or no-longer-valid email addresses. Take the time to reach out to your references and verify that the contact information you have for them is still correct. Also be sure to ask if they prefer to be contacted at the office, at home, or via their cell. They may not want to raise suspicions about their own future with their employer by having a hiring manager call them at work.

3) Get Creative: If none of your former bosses or co-workers are willing or available to serve as a reference, think of other people who know you well enough to vouch for you both personally and professionally. Have you done volunteer work for any non-profit organizations? If so, ask the appropriate person there if they would serve as a reference for you. This can be especially helpful if you volunteered to perform the same kind of work you do professionally on a pro bono basis. By all means, avoid listing relatives or close friends, however.

It can be incredibly frustrating – and frankly, a little scary – when your references go MIA. By keeping your cool and following these steps, however, you can overcome this challenge.

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