Hi Ronnie Ann. I am a Preschool teacher wanting to return to work. Unfortunately, the places I have been employed have a huge employee turnover rate. So my former bosses don’t work there anymore. In fact, NONE of my previous directors or co-workers are currently employed at those places.
How do I handle this lack of good references on job applications? I don’t have a problem with prospective employers contacting previous employment places. But there is no one currently employed who knows me. And definitely no previous boss.
It looks pretty bad on applications if I mark “No. May not contact.” Even part-time for summer jobs I had, either the former supervisor is no longer around, the company changed names, or the company is no longer in existence.
Please, I need your expert help. I don’t want to lose any possible job opportunities due to this. And I have an excellent work history. In all cases, I left positions for good reasons, including an unforeseen medical issue, pregnancy, moved or needed full-time hours.
Thanks for your time and advice.
If former bosses don’t work at former jobs…
First … don’t worry. There’s usually a way around a situation like this. Not everyone stays in their jobs -– no matter what the industry. So sometimes references disappear. And most future employers know that.
Also, with such a high turnover rate in your field, odds are your prospective employer will be even more likely to understand. These things happen. And if an employer needs to hire good people, they find a way to check them out.
More than ever, companies turn to “online snooping.”. And then there are companies they can hire that research people, especially if you’ll be working with children. Or, if none of that works for them … they can use their gut to make the final decision.
So definitely mark “May contact.” And if there is a place on the application to explain your situation, do so clearly and simply. You might even want to prepare a separate sheet to attach that has your explanation — as well as several good references. I’ve used that technique in my own job searches.
So where do you get these references?
If former bosses don’t work where they once did, it’s worth making a strong effort to get in touch with someone with whom you worked. Even if you have to track them down on LinkedIn or do your own snooping online to find them.
Hopefully you were friendly with some of the people and actually know where they are now. Or sometimes, as I mentioned, it just takes a little detective work. You’d be surprised how much you can find online now if you really dig in and look.
Also, you can ask your former companies if the people you knew left forwarding addresses. Or phone numbers. Or whether anyone working there now knows how to get in touch with someone who knows you.
Just explain your situation. And be very friendly and polite. Sometimes the former company will even contact them for you and ask if it’s ok for you to contact them.
Will these references be good enough?
Assuming they don’t mind, it’s perfectly fine to use these people as references. Even if they are no longer at the company you worked for. Just make sure you explain to your prospective employer that they used to be at ABC Company and are now at XYZ Company. (Again, you can use your reference sheet to do that briefly.)
As for the place that had a name change, that’s ok too. A name change doesn’t mean there isn’t still someone there who remembers you. At least, it’s worth trying. Just list the company name as it was when you worked for them. And in parentheses add the new company name: (LMN Company (now known as QRS, Inc.)
You say you have an excellent work history, but it’s hard to prove it unless you have someone to vouch for you. Or solid documentation like performance reviews. Understandably anyone applying for a job working with children has to find good references.
Just as a note: If you haven’t maintained contact with people from the past, please remember to do so from now on. You can see how important it can be!
Are there good alternatives to work references?
Now if you absolutely can’t find anyone you’ve worked with (and it still would be best if you could), then you need to come up with someone you’ve volunteered for. And / or a person of professional standing -– especially in the education field -– who could provide you with a reference if needed.
If all this fails, just be honest with your potential employer and explain the situation carefully. And honestly. Tell them you’re excited about coming back to work and would love to work for this company. Then ask what they would accept instead of work references, saying you’d be happy to do whatever it takes. Even if that means a trial period.
Again, if former bosses don’t work there anymore and your goal is simply to make it past the application stage, you can prepare that reference sheet. Just include it with your application. Next to each name, explain who this person is. And add a note on top explaining why these alternatives to direct bosses. It may just do the trick.
Addressing the gap question
By the way … I assume since you have no current references, it’s been a while since you’ve worked. This will bring up gap questions. Also the fact that you’ve had quite a few jobs will raise questions.
Still, it sounds like you have good reasons for leaving. Just be prepared to address the issues in detail during an interview. Any employer wants to feel secure that you’re ready to work again. And will stay with them for as long as possible.
One last trick
If you try everything and still run up against a roadblock (and I hope that’s not the case), then take a refresher course. And do your very best. Get to know your teacher. And make a good impression.
If the class has a student-teaching component, then get to know that teacher. A related volunteer job could also help. This way you can get yourself some fresh references — even if your old former bosses don’t work where you did anymore.. 🙂
I wish you all the best. Good luck!
~ Ronnie Ann
[Post updated 2020]
About the author…
Ronnie Ann, founder of Work To the Wise and Work Coach Cafe, bases her real-world advice on her many years as an organizational consultant where she helped interview and hire people, added to a certificate from NYU in Career Planning & Development, as well as her many adventures as a serial job seeker.
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