No References Besides Family & Friends...Will It Hurt Me?

networking20photo"J.T. & Dale Talk Jobs" is the largest nationally syndicated career advice column in the country and can be found at J.T. & Dale: My job forbids current and former employees from being references — it only permits HR to verify dates of employment. If I get laid off, I will have only family and friends to use as references. I had two previous jobs, but both companies went out of business ages ago, and the people I use as references have died. Will employers be understanding? — Eric Dale: No, no, no … Eric, please listen to yourself. The application process is the first test of how an employee fits the culture. And here you take a routine request for references and make a soap opera out of it. Employers want to hire somebody who “finds a way,” not someone skilled at recounting all the reasons why it’s too hard. The minute you say all your former references have died, so have your prospects. J.T.: Which is why we’re glad you contacted us. The answer is yes, you can expect most employers to be understanding about the trend toward strict policies on references. However, your solution — personal references — is not going to be enough. Two thoughts: First, see if you can drum up any old contacts using social media tools like Facebook or LinkedIn. If you can track down co-workers from former jobs, at least they can vouch for your employment history. Second, if you do any community volunteering or are active in any associations, you can use those individuals as references. Dale: Good advice. When most people compile job references, they think of former supervisors, and, sure, those are ideal. However, most employers are willing to talk to other colleagues who’ve seen your work. So, broaden your pool of potential references and re-establish contact until you find at least two or three who fondly recall working with you and are happy to talk about it. jt-dale-logoJeanine "J.T." Tanner O'Donnell is a professional development specialist and founder of Dale Dauten's latest book is "(Great) Employees Only: How Gifted Bosses Hire and De-Hire Their Way to Success" (John Wiley & Sons). Please visit them at, where you can send questions via e-mail, or write to them in care of King Features Syndicate, 300 W. 57th St, 15th Floor, New York, NY 10019. © 2009 by King Features Syndicate, Inc.