How to get outstanding job references when you have little or no work experience
When you’re just starting out in your hospitality career, it can be challenging when employers ask for job references. Some will wait until you’ve already interviewed and are further along in the process before they ask, but at some point you’ll likely need to produce some type of reference. So what can you do?
There are alternatives to the classic, corporate reference. Ask the hiring manager how many and what type of references they would like to see. You will likely not be the only or first applicant who may not have professional references. Here are five suggestions for alternatives you can provide if you don't have much work experience under your belt:
1. Personal references: This can be a person who knows you well, even though they may have never worked with you. It can be a teacher, supervisor at a volunteer position, a coach, etc. This type of reference confirms your good character, dependability, leadership and/or team-working skills.
2. Previous work you’ve produced: In this case, you’re not providing a personal reference about your abilities, but showing actual work that demonstrates what you know. Any reports, papers or essays you’ve written that pertain to the job itself, including schoolwork you may have produced will speak to what you’ve learned and how you’ve applied it to real-world challenges.
3. Previous evaluations: If you’ve had previous part time jobs, internships or volunteer work and have written evaluations, share those experiences with a potential employer. You can also include any awards, thank you letters or testimonials you’ve received.
4. Explain your situation: Explain what you have been doing in preparation for entering the hospitality job market and affirm how interested you are in the position. Once they understand how you’ve been planning for this career move, it may validate your commitment and work ethic. No one expects a long list of professional history when you’re straight out of school, but they will expect you to talk about your skills and how you’ve honed them. Sell your skills, not your experience.
5. Offer to work on a trial basis: If the employer is interested but the references are a sticking point, consider working on a trial basis for a set period of time, after which a decision to hire can be made. That should offer some reassurance once they see how you perform in their environment as an employee.
Job Reference Etiquette
When you do have some references to provide, avoid these common mistakes:
- Be sure to advise your references that you have listed them and they may be contacted. This will give them time to prepare some comments and you can be assured they are willing to participate.
- Confirm the contact information to ensure it’s accurate and that they are available.
- Don’t put “References upon request” on your resume. You’re wasting valuable space and employers already know this.
- Don’t send your references to employers before they’re requested. Focus only on giving references to those who are seriously interested. You don’t want your contacts to be overwhelmed and you want to prepare them for a particular call.
- Make sure you’ll get a good reference. Some companies have a policy to provide no other information than dates of employment and eligibility of re-hire.
- Bring your references to the interview: While you may not want to share them until requested, be sure you have them with you. Better to have the list with you and not use it, than to not have it and miss an opportunity.
A Few Additional Words of Advice
Employers understand you may not have a lot of references when you’re a new graduate or haven’t worked in the hospitality field before. To make up for that, be sure you learn all you can about the company you’re applying to, especially before an interview. Find out as much as you can about this particular position and come up with some questions you can ask the hiring manager. Check the company’s website, read recent press releases or news stories and ask around if someone you know has any information about the company, its culture or hiring practices.
Prepare for your interview and practice your answers. You really want to "wow" the employer so much that they might overlook a lack of references. Practice speaking without using "um" or "like," bring notes and questions to ask and arrive early so you have time to compose yourself. Dress for the part or a little better so you look professional and serious about the position.
Finally, be sure to send a thank you note after an interview. No matter what, send a handwritten note the same day (so it gets there quickly), specifically mentioning a couple things from the interview and addressed to the hiring manager you spoke with. That personal touch goes a long way in a business focused on customer service and strong people skills.