References are there not only to give an indication of your skill, but also your work ethic. Regardless of the new field you are moving into your prior colleagues and managers could easily speak to your general work skills:
For example working retail, a prior manager could speak to on things such as:
- Trustworthiness: "Georgienne worked a register for X years, and I never found a discrepancy. This allowed me to trust them with additional tasks.",
- Punctuality: "They were always on-time and available for work",
- Presentation: "In a client facing retail role, they were always well presented and respectful to clients",
- Performance : "Georgienne showed initiative, performing tasks such as stacking shelfs without asking, ensuring their station was always clean and tidy for clients and staff"
When you are first applying for jobs, especially straight out of university, its often understood that you won't have extensive references in the skills for that new role. However, a demonstratable positive work ethic, along with a good academic record will likely be enough to get you in the door.
If you are concerned about having a referee for that specific skill, I'd recommend approaching a lecturer/professor about your work and seeing if they can speak to your skills in the new role.
The term "reference" can mean two different things depending on where you are in the recruitment process.
- A reference can be a verbal or written indication from a trusted third-party that gives an indication of your skills relevant to the position.
- On a resume a reference can be a synonym for a referee, that is the actual third-party who could provide the above reference defined above.
When discussing a resume, if people ask for "references" they generally mean the latter, a list of referees who could give a reference for you, not a collection of written reports for your skills.
If I were asked in an interview for references for a position, I would point to the list of contacts towards the end of my resume that includes a name, contact detail and relationships to that person. For example, my references section might include:
- Max Burger (Shift Manager at Burger joint): (03) 555-3901
- Jane Smith (Manager at Widget Co.): email@example.com
- Prof. Professorson (Lecurer/Supervisor for Consipracy Theories): firstname.lastname@example.org
This allows the hiring manager to call my references/referees to get an actual reference if required.
An exception to providing just names as "references" often comes into play when applying for senior management positions, where a more comprehensive dossier may be required.