What to Do When You Have No References for a Job Application

By Indeed Editorial Team

Published 19 April 2022

The Indeed Editorial Team comprises a diverse and talented team of writers, researchers and subject matter experts equipped with Indeed's data and insights to deliver useful tips to help guide your career journey.

References are one of the best tools employers can use to gauge candidates' suitability for their roles and organisational culture. If your CV impresses the hiring manager and they consider you for a role, they may request one or more references to verify your claims about your academic and professional achievements. Knowing how to get credible references can improve your chances of getting employed.

In this article, we discuss what to do if you don't have any references, discuss reasons employers ask for references, list people who can be your reference and explain how to ask them to act as your reference for a job application.

What to do if you have no references for a job application

Here are things you can do if you have no references for a job application:

If you're a recent graduate

When applying for jobs as a fresh graduate, it can be difficult to find strong professional references because of a lack of work experience. If the employer requests professional references, you can ask people from any place of work to serve as your references. You can also choose academic and character references that can vouch for your candidacy.

If you have a good relationship with your lecturers, you can ask one of them, especially your academic supervisor, to be your reference. You can also use people from organisations you volunteered for or companies where you did an internship as references. Highlight specific character traits or academic achievements that qualify you for the position to help the reference provide an accurate description of your capabilities to the employer. Make sure you have a positive relationship with anyone you're asking to be your reference.

If you're a self-employed person

If you've been self-employed and want to work in a company, there are several ways to get professional references, even if you don't have former colleagues or managers. You can ask a trusted client or industry partner to serve as your reference. Such people, thanks to the work history you share, are in a good position to talk about your professionalism, expertise and character. So long as you have a good working relationship with people, they can act as your reference and help position you as a suitable candidate for employers.

If you have no associations or clubs

People from your professional associations and social clubs can often serve as your reference for job applications. If you're not a member of such groups, you can still use people in your community as a reference. It's not ideal to use a family member or close friend as a reference, but people who have some level of professional interaction with you are most suitable.

If you can't find a reference at all, talk to the employer to allow you to use other methods to prove your claims. You can provide pictures, certificates, awards and other documents and items that can show the company you're being honest with them. If this doesn't convince them, they can still put you on probation for a specific period while you demonstrate your capabilities to the organisation.

Reasons employers request references

There are several reasons employers may ask you for references, including:

Verify your education and experience

One reason employers request for references is to validate claims about your education and work. Based on their experience with job candidates, some organisations don't rely on the information people provide in their CVs and cover letters. They want to follow up and hear from a third party about your credentials and professional accomplishments. That's why they ask for professional and academic references to verify your experience and work history.

Learn about your character

References can also help employers determine your character. Employers typically want to know about your personality and work ethic and how it aligns with their role. One way to do that is to get a recommendation letter about your qualities from someone who has a personal relationship with you.

Check your background

If you're applying for a job that requires handling sensitive information, such as trade secrets, patents or even cash, employers typically perform thorough background checks before deciding to employ you. In such cases, references can help the employer verify your identity and qualifications. They can also use your references to find out about previous criminal records and other important information that might be missing in your application documents.

Determine suitability

Organisations usually have an established culture that determines how employees associate with one another in their daily activities. Depending on your interests, personality and experience, certain environments can help you achieve peak performance. The feedback from references can help companies evaluate a candidate's suitability for organisational norms and values.

Related: What Is a Reference Check? (With Tips to Help You Prepare)

What is a reference for a job application?

A job application reference refers to a person with whom you share a professional or personal relationship who can verify your education, professional experience, skills or character for a potential employer. When you provide references, the employer contacts the person and requests that they send a recommendation letter verifying specific information about your credentials or personality.

Not all employers require references, as some perform independent investigations to check the claims in your job application documents. Note that academic institutions also request references, but while employers typically ask for professional and character contacts, educational applications require academic references.

Related: How to Include References on a Resume (With Tips and Examples)

Types of references

There are different types of references you can use for employment purposes. Employers typically ask for professional references, but some companies may also request academic and character references. Here are examples of people you can use for references when applying for jobs:

Professional references

Professional references are people who have worked with you in the past. You can use such people as professional references during a job application process, even if you don't work with them anymore. Here are some examples:

  • current and former managers

  • colleagues

  • hiring manager

  • senior colleague

  • team members

  • mentor

  • professional coach

  • team leader

Character references

Character references refer to people who understand your personal qualities and ethics. Here are examples of people who can act as your character references:

  • neighbour

  • pastor or minister

  • close friend

  • community leader

  • extracurricular instructors, such as martial arts teachers or music instructors

  • volunteer coordinator

  • coach

Academic references

Academic references are people who have taught you in the past or know about your educational achievements. You can use such people when you're applying for jobs as a fresh graduate. Universities and other tertiary institutions also request academic references from students, especially people applying for graduate studies. Here are examples of people who can act as your academic reference:

  • professor

  • lecturer

  • teacher

  • principal

  • academic supervisor

  • senior classmate

  • course mates

  • school guidance counsellor

  • lab instructor

Related: How to Write an Academic Reference Letter (With Example)

How to ask someone to be your references

Follow these steps when you want to request for someone to be your reference for a job application:

1. Develop a personal relationship

The first step when you want to ask someone to be a reference is to develop a personal relationship with them. It's best to meet them in person so you can explain your motivation for the job and the specific qualities you want them to highlight to the employer. If you can't have an in-person meeting with the person, send them a detailed email or call them to establish a rapport before asking them whether they can be your reference and help you achieve your professional goals.

If you're reaching out to an old contact, it's important to remind them of who you're and ask if they can help. You can describe yourself and one special experience you both share to help them remember you. Only after they can recollect those events and are up-to-date about you is it appropriate to talk to them about the specifics of your request.

Related: How to Ask for a Reference Letter (With Tips and Examples)

2. Be specific and honest

When you want people to be your reference, it's important to tell them exactly what you want to highlight about yourself. Discuss your goals and ambitions regarding the position and the experiences, achievements and qualifications that make you an ideal fit for the role. This way, your reference can write a more concise and compelling letter.

3. Provide adequate information and show gratitude

Once the person accepts to act as your reference, give them all the information they require to endorse for you. You can send them copies of your school certificates, professional certifications, CV and cover letters. It also helps if you can provide a brief biography so they can speak about you authoritatively to employers. Thank the person for assisting you and emphasise your appreciation for their role in helping you begin a new phase in your career.

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