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Handling An Interview Without The Desired Reference

I know of someone recently who after having worked for the same employer for several years without issue, decided to hand her notice in. As a highly qualified professional with an excellent track record including no sickness days and who works in an ‘in demand’ industry, she predicted that she would be able to get another job easily. So once she handed her notice in, she began searching for other roles and was offered several interviews.
Written by
Joanna Clare
Content Manager
Published on
May 30, 2024

I know of someone recently who after having worked for the same employer for several years without issue, decided to hand her notice in. As a highly qualified professional with an excellent track record including no sickness days and who works in an ‘in demand’ industry, she predicted that she would be able to get another job easily. So once she handed her notice in, she began searching for other roles and was offered several interviews.

The first interview went very well. She impressed the interviewing panel and she was offered the job, pending references. The start date was provisionally agreed and she was informed that dates and times of induction and training sessions which would help gradually introduce her to the role over the first few weeks until she would be able to work autonomously, would be forwarded on to her.

However, as time went by she had not had any expected communication so she contacted them to find out when her start date would be and to ask for details about the training days so she could adequately prepare in advance. Unfortunately, she was informed that the main reference from her previous employer had still not been received despite several requests. Therefore she contacted her manager herself firstly by email which was ignored and then by phone to politely ask if she could send the reference as a matter of urgency but was met with some hostility and the excuse that the manager was very busy and would ‘get round to it when she gets round to it.’ Luckily, the reference was received by the new employer within a few days and all was well and everything could go ahead as planned.

Attending a job interview without a reference from a previous employer can be daunting but it certainly doesn’t mean that you can not be considered for the role but you do need to handle the situation with confidence and professionalism.

During the interview, be proactive in addressing the issue and acknowledge the absence of a reference while offering alternate references such as other former supervisors, managers or even colleagues. This will demonstrate your transparency and initiative which will assure the interviewer that you can manage challenges and are eager to find solutions. Additionally, offer the possibility of seeking other references from sources that can vouch for your character and abilities such as mentors, industry peers or professional contacts who can speak about your work ethic, skills and professionalism. Of course, a desired reference such as a previous manager is extremely valuable, alternative references can still provide valuable insights into your qualifications and suitability for the role and can be just as effective.

Do emphasise your accomplishments and skills to the interviewer and try to provide concrete examples of your achievements, experiences and contributions in previous roles, highlighting your strengths and capabilities. This allows you to showcase your suitability for the role based on your own merits and impress the interviewer at the same time. Demonstrate your enthusiasm for the interview opportunity by asking insightful questions  and engage with the interviewer in a positive and professional manner. By building a strong connection which is based on your qualifications, skill, experience and your personality, this can help to alleviate concerns about the lack of reference.

Be diplomatic and truthful if you are asked by the interviewer why you have been unable to produce a reference from someone that you had initially named. Never be tempted to speak negatively about an individual or a previous company but clearly and briefly explain the circumstances while emphasising your willingness to provide alternatives or produce additional documentation. Most employers will understand that occasional challenges can and do occur regarding references and they appreciate candidates who handle these hiccups with integrity and professionalism.

Not having the desired or expected reference is not necessarily a barrier to success. Offer alternatives and stay confident, focused and positive throughout the interview and showcase your full value and potential as a sought after candidate.

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