Ask LH: What Can I Do About A ‘No References Given’ Policy?

Ask LH: What Can I Do About A ‘No References Given’ Policy?
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Dear Lifehacker, I work in a call centre for a large international company, and I’ve been recently thinking of moving on. I have been told by various employees and mangers that it is company policy that staff here cannot be contacted for a reference. It’s very disappointing as I believe I have been a valuable employee and I’m sure my manager would give me a glowing reference if he were allowed.

This is the first time I have encountered this in my 15 years of working and thought it was really weird. Is this normal in big companies these days? And what can I do about it? Thanks, Referred Pain

Call centre picture from Shutterstock

Dear RP,

This isn’t the norm but it does happen; especially in high turnover jobs where multiple employees leave the company on a monthly basis. The first thing to do is check whether it’s actually an policy or just hearsay (it’s possible that certain managers imposed the rule themselves to avoid the aggravation).

One possible strategy is to ask for a written reference instead of a contact number. If you got along with your manager he/she will probably be happy to bash one out for you and it technically gets past the “do not contact” policy. As we noted in a previous Ask LH post, this also gives you more control over what is said about you — the manager may even prefer to affix their name to a reference you write yourself.

Otherwise, the best policy is to be honest and explain your former employer bars reference checking for everyone — if the company is reasonable, they should be willing to provide a written statement to that effect. And hey, it could be worse: at least you didn’t divorce the boss’ daughter!


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  • As I noted on the last time this topic came up, I’m not so sure it’s not the norm.. I think it’s very industry dependant. I don’t know if your day job is as a journalist (you do quite a good job of it either way), but at least in every technology centric role i’ve had it’s been the same way, as for most of my friends in similar circumstances.

    I was given a reference one by someone who knew they were not supposed to give me a reference though.. It really just seems to be a matter of finding someone specific to vouch for you, rather than asking someone to do so in their position within the company directly (very often routed through HR).

    • Almost every job I’ve had in the last thirty years has had a policy of “statement of employment” at best. If you’re at a level or within an industry where “creative differences” or other office political events can effectively remove any chance of honest assessment of your contributions then you should set expectations accordingly.

      • Yeah that’s what we get at my current employer – they will say when you started, how long you worked there, and if they would rehire you (which is pretty much yes for everyone except the most severe terminations)

  • Contractors.

    Ask the contractors working there (assuming there are some) to give you a reference.

  • On a side note on the topic of getting references, I’ve often wondered what the best strategy is for asking your employer for one.

    Obviously, if you’re looking elsewhere for employment and have had some interviews, you often don’t WANT your current employer to know that you’re doing so, for any number of reasons. So how can you get a reference for your potentially new employer from your current one if you don’t want your current one finding out that you’ve been shopping around?

  • When looking for a job in another department at my organisation the manager asked for the most ridiculous reference. He had a list of questions and asked for a paragraph on each. I know this because my boss asked me to write it myself!!

  • My two questions would be:

    1. Does this policy extend outside the workplace? I know someone whose referee met for coffee with the potential employer to give the reference. I’ve had referees offer their personal number to be contacted outside office hours.
    2. What about LinkedIn recommendations? They define the relationship between you and one of your network, and describe the work you’ve done together. They’re not given as a reference for any specific job, but often give a similar-looking result.

  • In my experience in the contact centre industry, if you’ve been in that job for a while, you’ll have plenty of people that have managerial experience that if you ask them nicely will be able to provide a reference – regardless of the official word from the company. Its about leveraging your relationships.

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