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I'm in my first job out of college. It's been a few years and I'm now looking for a new role and am interviewing with various companies. My resume says 'references on request', and I have some colleagues and former colleagues that have agreed to be references for the rare times that I've been asked for references.

One of the jobs I'm applying for now is asking for references from 1 peer (done), and 2 superiors. All of the people who have ever managed me still work for the company, and my company does not know that I'm looking for other positions. I would rather keep the fact that I'm actively looking for new roles quiet until I actually get an offer.

What is a good way to handle being asked for references from superiors, when I have no such references to give? (There are four senior engineers on my team, including myself; the only superior on my team is my manager.)

  • have you talked to your peers about this? what is the process established in the company? Or even better, have anyone left company while you were there? What was their process? – aaaaa says reinstate Monica May 11 at 15:16
  • Are you just looking for a way to explain your situation to them? Because once you've conclusively decided that you can't find a suitable reference, there isn't much else left to do. If so, I don't see a lot of room for being able to mess it up - the bigger issue is likely to be the lack of references or the justification for that, not the exact words you use (but do at least give 3 peer references). Another option would be to reveal your job search to some superiors. For that, ask yourself: how likely are you to get this job? Would the superior react well? How will you handle the worst case? – Dukeling May 11 at 16:05
  • Are you considering anyone who's been in a more senior role (e.g. Developer vs Senior Developer) as a "superior" or are you strictly limiting it to those who've been directly managing you? – Dukeling May 11 at 16:08
  • @Dukeling that seems like an answer, not a comment – aaaaa says reinstate Monica May 11 at 16:52
  • Related / duplicate: How do I get references when still in my first job? – Dukeling May 11 at 22:11
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All of the people who have ever managed me still work for the company, and my company does not know that I'm looking for other positions. I would rather keep the fact that I'm actively looking for new roles quiet until I actually get an offer.

This is a common situation - the "norm" is to obtain a reference from a supervisor at a previous role if you can, but considering this is your first job then that also may not be possible. I'd simply explain that to the company you're replying to, and see what they come up with. It could be one of a few things:

  • They waive the references.
  • They offer you the job, then ask for references, but then reserve the right to retract that offer if the references are terrible.
  • They ask for additional references from other peers, instead of your supervisor.
  • They ask for a reference from a more senior peer who has known you / worked with you.
  • They ask for a reference from a tutor / professor who knew you well at college.

You could of course offer some (or all) of the above to them as options as well, depending on what fits your situation best.

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What is a good way to handle being asked for references from superiors, when I have no such references to give?

You tell them exactly what you wrote here:

"All of the people who have ever managed me still work for the company, and my company does not know that I'm looking for other positions. I would rather keep the fact that I'm actively looking for new roles quiet."

Sometimes it won't matter. Other times, they will ask for an alternative, such as a former professor or additional peers.

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