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How to Overcome a Lack of References on a Resume

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You want to give employers all they ask for -- glowing references are no exception. When you lack references, you may feel like you're in a sticky situation. Entry-level or first-time job switchers may feel particularly disadvantaged. Before you're at a loss, reevaluate who can be a reference and find ways to compensate for your lack. Start prepping references for the future -- today.

Think Outside the Box

Recent college graduates or first-time career changers may feel they have no one to list as a reference. But this is likely not the case. Reevaluate who you could list as a reference. Perhaps a college professor, an adviser, a volunteer group leader or a community leader could serve as a reference. The important thing is that you prep your references so they highlight those skills an employer wants to hear about. For example, if you're applying for a secretarial job, you don't want a reference telling the prospective employer what an excellent tile cutter you are. But you would want that reference to share your organizational skills.

Make the Rest Solid

If you lack references -- make sure the rest of your application is solid. Especially your resume. Be your own biggest fan and lead the marketing campaign. Be objective and help the employer measure your successes and achievements. If you have no one to vouch for you or do this for you, do it yourself. Imagine what an employer would ask your references, considering the job you're applying for, and answer these questions indirectly on your resume. For example, if punctuality is important, mention that you were consistently on-time or received an award for your time-management skills.

Use Your Social Networks

Employers may never get around to checking references. Instead, they may get all the information they need by looking you up online. Make sure your social networking profiles are working for you and not against you. Use a professional and consistent head-shot on all your profiles -- and remove any photos of you that could be questionable. Keep your friends or contacts clean and avoid any public discussion that could be deemed controversial. List your interests and keep your history up-to-date and in-line with the information you listed on your resume.

Faking References

People fake a lot of things. Even some career experts might suggest you fake certain things -- until you make it. While you might pull off faking a reference or two -- by either asking a friend to give you a fake professional reference or by paying a company to provide this service -- it is dishonest. And if you are caught, it will be a no-brainer not to hire you. When your information begins not to add up, the employer is likely to bag your application altogether and move on to the next candidate.


Sara Mahuron specializes in adult/higher education, parenting, budget travel and personal finance. She earned an M.S. in adult/organizational learning and leadership, as well as an Ed.S. in educational leadership, both from the University of Idaho. Mahuron also holds a B.S. in psychology and a B.A. in international studies-business and economics.

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