I Don't Have any References for a Job Application (With Tips)

By Indeed Editorial Team

Updated January 24, 2023

Published October 18, 2021

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.

Most employers request references, which are people who can inform them about your credentials and suitability for the job to which you applied. If you don't have any references for a job application, you can still apply and secure your desired position. Without professional references, you can find alternative contacts who can give positive feedback about you to a potential employer. In this article, we outline four reasons why you may think you lack references for job applications, discuss types of references, explain why employers ask for them, and offer suggestions on how you can get a job without these contacts.

Four reasons why you're thinking, "I don't have any references for a job application."

When applying for jobs, you may think, "I don't have any references for a job application." Here are four reasons why you may be thinking this:

1. You are a recent graduate

If you have just graduated from school, the only work history you might have is an internship or a part-time jobs, which you can use as a reference. You can also find an academic or a character reference outside the work environment, such as a tutor or coach. A spiritual leader or a person of high integrity in your community can also write you a reference if you recently graduated and can't find an academic reference on short notice.

Related: 12 Recently Graduated Jobs to Consider (With Helpful Tips)

2. You are self-employed

If you're self-employed, it might be difficult to find people who understand your professionalism or expertise. You can ask your customers or a vendor you trust to be your reference. You may want to ask people you did business with because they understand your diligence and competence.

3. You aren't a member of any clubs or organizations

You can use anyone you have interacted with to be your reference, so long as they can give positive feedback regarding your behaviour. Prepare a list of these people, excluding your family members. If you pick a friend, choose someone you worked with on a project or was a close classmate.

Related: Who Can I Use as a Reference for My First Job? (With Tips)

4. You recently moved to Canada

If you have recently moved to Canada, it's difficult to find professional contacts for your first job. You can use your former managers or colleagues from your previous country. Ensure that the potential employer can easily reach the references you provide, and they can communicate with them in English or French, depending on where you live in Canada.

Related: How To Write a Character Reference Letter for a Friend

Types of references for job applications

References for job applications are people who know you and can approve your qualifications, work experience, skills, or character. They are people you worked or interacted with and can endorse you for employment. These references include:

Work references

Also called professional references, work references are former colleagues or supervisors who know about your professionalism. They also include people you have worked with as volunteers or in community service. A work reference describes your character, capability, expertise, strengths, and experience that make you an ideal candidate for the role in question.

Academic references

Some employers prefer educational references depending on the job, which is the best option for fresh graduates with no work experience. Consider asking a professor or tutor to be your reference, particularly if they can give positive feedback about your personality and competence.

Character references

In the absence of work references, you can use character references instead. They are people you have interacted with socially and can talk of your attributes like honesty, reliability, or hard work. They can include friends, clients, or neighbours.

Read more: Personal vs. Professional References: What's the Difference?

Reasons why employers ask for references

References assist organizations in establishing if the candidates were truthful in the job recruitment process. They also help them in knowing your personality and the value you can add to the company. Other reasons include:

  • Know your character: Getting information from the person you have interacted with helps prospective employers to appreciate your personality and determine if you can fit into the organization's culture.

  • Confirm work and educational history: Some employers might need to prove that you provided the correct information regarding your educational background and work experience.

  • Check your background: Some jobs require rigorous vetting of applicants, including contacting references to confirm some details about an applicant.

Read more: Academic Reference Letter (With Request Tips and an Example)

How to get a job without references

Here are some tips you can use to gain employment without the references asked by employers:

1. Use alternative references

You can consider the following approaches, which do not require someone to speak about you:

  • Provide work you did earlier: You can collect your best work that shows your skills and abilities. If you're a new graduate, prove your skills using your school work, such as reports, essays, or journal articles.

  • Use evaluations from previous jobs: Most employers do a performance review for their employees and share a copy with them. This is supportive, especially if your last employer is not willing or available to provide you with a reference.

  • Get reference letters: Written endorsements prove your employment at a previous company and show your qualifications and abilities. If you lose your job because of genuine reasons like lay-offs or re-structuring, you may want to ask your employer to provide you with a reference letter.

  • Use individual references: It's sometimes difficult to get a reference letter from employers, but you can use individual endorsements from former colleagues or supervisors. They can write from their personal experience, without mentioning the employer.

  • Understand the type of references needed: Some employers need references to confirm if you worked at the places you stated in your job application. Here, any person working in the human resources department can provide such information by checking their records even if they do not know you personally.

  • Negotiate with hiring managers: If you don't have the professional contacts the hiring manager is asking for, you might ask to provide alternative references. You can also offer to work on probationary terms for a short period to allow them to determine if they can hire you permanently.

Related: How To Write a Reference Letter for a Student

2. Use various techniques to get contacts

Consider using the following practices to increase the number of your professional contacts:

  • Contact former managers or colleagues: Contact your former colleagues and ask them to be your references. If you handled clients in your previous job, you could also ask them to act as a reference.

  • Ask for a recommendation letter: If you quit your job for any valid reason, you may want to ask for a written recommendation from your colleagues, supervisor, or employer. This is helpful because it might be difficult to contact them in the future.

  • Expand your current network: Evaluate and increase your professional network by including professionals in your field, coworkers, fellow students, teachers, or clients. You can keep their contacts and remain in touch by following them on their professional or social media platforms.

  • Consider volunteering: You may want to offer your services at events or in voluntary organizations, which can provide you with the opportunity to work in a team and get contacts for references from fellow volunteers or supervisors.

  • Keep professional relationships: When you leave your current employment, ensure you're on good terms with your colleagues and managers. They might help you get your next job by providing positive feedback about you to a potential employer.

3. Get the job you want without references

If you don't have any job references, it's still possible to apply for and secure your dream job. Consider these strategies:

  • Submit an outstanding job application: Write a remarkable cover letter and resume before applying for a job. Also, prepare well for the interview and impress the hiring managers who might consider hiring you with no references.

  • Apply for a job for which you qualify: Most employers request references after the job interview. When the hiring manager asks for your references, discuss your alternatives with them. If you performed well in the interview, they might address the absence of your references.

  • Learn more about the company: Before attending an interview, research the company to compensate for the missing references. If one of your professional contacts worked at that organization, ask them about its structure and the employment procedure.

  • Seek guidance from a career consultant: Consult a career expert and let them write for you an exceptional reference letter, job resume, and tips to pass interviews. They can also advise you on the best way to get a job without references.

  • Send a thank-you letter after the interview: Consider sending a thank-you card or email to the hiring manager for the opportunity of an interview. You may want to include some of the questions they asked.


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