The mother who stayed at home for years to raise children. The worker who has been job hunting for two years. The employee whose sole past employer has died.
Each has job references that are outdated or inaccessible.
“What do you do about keeping your references current?” wrote one job hunter.
Clearly, if prospective employers check references, they’ll want to reach people who have timely information.
(That’s not to say that getting references to talk is easy. Many employers won’t give out anything more than dates of employment, title and pay level at departure.)
I asked two Kansas City-area career consultants, Meg Montford and Gordon Smith, to advise job hunters whose work references are going or gone. They said:
n Don’t list references from more than 10 years ago. What they say isn’t likely to be relevant in today’s job market.
n A good reference doesn’t have to be a boss. A peer who has a good reputation or high profile in the profession is good, too. Stay connected with them by staying active in trade or professional associations.
n If past bosses aren’t available, consider using vendors or clients with whom you had a great working relationship.
n Have you been an active volunteer? The executive director or president of the nonprofit could comment on your energy, dependability and attitude, all important considerations for employers.
n Professors and teachers can vouch for communication skills, the ability to meet deadlines and overall intelligence.
n Religious leaders can speak to character.
None of the nonwork references is as valuable as a recent and relevant supervisor. But having someone to vouch for you is better than coming up blank.
Just be sure to ask all references for permission to list them. Try to have a sense of what they’ll say about you. After all, you want positive reviews.
And be sure to keep them up to date. They should be well-informed about the kind of job you’re seeking and be able to speak accurately about your credentials.