Ask LH: How Can I Get A Reference When My Boss And Co-Workers Are Dead?

Dear Lifehacker, What can you do if you have no work referees for a potential employer? I lost my current position after four months, due to major differences with the manager, so I can’t use him as a referee. Prior to that I worked for a small team for seven years — but three of them, including the manager, were killed in a car accident. That means there is no one that can vouch for my work to any employer. Any ideas? Thanks, Reference Not Foun

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Dear RNF,

Bloody hell, that’s rough!

Were your dearly departed colleagues part of a larger company? If so, I imagine you would have no issues securing a referee from upper management. Given the circumstances, they should be more than willing to write you a reference. As an added bonus, you’ll probably get to write it yourself, especially if they never worked with you directly.

If it was a small business with just a few employees, you could always mention the tragedy during job interviews to explain why you don’t have any references from that workplace. I assume this event was covered by local media, so it shouldn’t be hard for them to Google it.

Other than that, our advice is to track down semi-relevant professionals who you can trust to vouch for you. These people don’t necessarily have to be from within the same industry. They just need to talk knowledgeably about your professionalism and character. As a general rule, try to concentrate on people who hold a senior position in their line of work and who you know reasonably well.

Securing a written reference can also help in certain industries. This also allows you to review their testimonial and ensure everything important is covered. Again, you don’t have to restrict your referees to the relevant industry: instead, get them to highlight skills and strengths that carry across multiple sectors. (Being a quick learner, getting along well with others, putting in the hard yards, etc.)

When it comes to showing off industry-specific skills, there are more options than relying on referees. One popular approach is to write a blog which can then be included on your resume. At the very least, this will show a real passion for the line work you’re applying for. You can find some tips on starting your own website or blog here.

On a final note, try not to worry too much about this. While a good reference can help your chances, it’s not the be-all and end-all of your resume. An applicant’s referee list is rarely the deciding factor in a hiring decision, especially for non-senior positions. It’s far more important to craft a resume that emphasises relevant experience and previous work achievements. Follow our Resumes tag for a dizzying array of tips.

If any readers have additional ideas on how to ace job interviews without a reference, share your tips with RNF in the comments section below.

See also: Ask LH: How Can I Build A Resume When I Have Nothing To Put On It?


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