I'm re-doing my resume after years of using it to apply to retail jobs. It worked very well for those jobs, and I'm proud of it, but I don't think it's suitable now that I'm in university (3rd-yr), hoping to look for retail manager positions (and later entry-level jobs when I graduate). Up to now I've never included references on my resume, and only been asked once for some, however when I made a follow-up phone call they told me they hadn't had a chance to call them but offered me the job right then.

For many reasons, which I'm happy to explain, I don't have any reliable/good work references that I could provide, today, if asked. I've been told that at the university-level, personal and family references are unacceptable, though for me these are the most reliable (long-term, know me well).

Should I provide references regardless of the old job's situation? Should I provide personal anyway, until I can provide work ones?

(I apologise if this is written incorrectly for this site. I can re-write/word it, if necessary.)

  • I should clarify that I'm not considering adding references to my new resume; just that re-writing my resume led me to consider this problem and try to find a solution.
    – georgienne
    Feb 26, 2014 at 3:12
  • I think it suffices to put "Available upon request" under the "ref" section Feb 26, 2014 at 3:13
  • But you shouldn't use family as references. it is clearly somewhat biased Feb 26, 2014 at 3:13
  • @JoeStrazzere The 2 retail companies I worked for the longest (1yr+) both can only confirm employment, not comment on me or my performance. Also, the manager of one of those companies has since left, and the location closed (I've no professional contacts from that location, but other sales-floor co-workers). Three jobs ended on what I consider to be less than good terms: one because they no longer wanted to accomodate my (unchanged) university schedule, the second job I left after being accused of stealing (and had unpaid hours), and the third I was let go without reason.
    – georgienne
    Feb 26, 2014 at 21:32
  • @JoeStrazzere I did not follow up or challenge the last two (though my father encouraged me to) for fear it would do damage to my image, so instead left quietly. Of course, now I'm not even comfortable using them as references, so part of me regrets not taking further action. Though I suppose if I was desperate for references, they could give them. They'd have nothing bad to say, but I doubt they'd say anything complimentary, which looks bad on me.
    – georgienne
    Feb 26, 2014 at 21:33

5 Answers 5


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 protected]
  • Prof. Professorson (Lecurer/Supervisor for Consipracy Theories): [email protected]

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.

  • I've always understood references to be more for this sort of reason, other than 'yes, she could do the job. No conflict happened to cause her to leave.' This is part of the reason it worries me not to have any. I've worked many retail jobs, but don't have any references to back this up or confirm my work.
    – georgienne
    Feb 26, 2014 at 21:24
  • @georgienne I think I see the issue here. Let me make an edit.
    – user9158
    Feb 26, 2014 at 23:38
  • Not sure I have a better understanding after the edit. I agree that 'references' is a list of people who can confirm skills, abilities, or habits. This is my concern; that I've listed skills on my resume that I think I have and can demonstrate, but no one from any of those past jobs to confirm that was is on my resume isn't made up. I went out of my way in several jobs to make my own and other's positions easier, but I've no contacts or references to say 'she did in fact do that, and it made things better.' At this point, people could look at my resume and see a list of un-proven skills.
    – georgienne
    Feb 28, 2014 at 0:33

Great references are becoming harder and harder to come across but remain hugely valuable when available. Your references should be people with whom you've actually worked on a daily basis. We gain experience and skill over time, but if you are starting your career, you may lack these things. Be honest and add transparency to the process.

  • Definitely understandable. Just nice to have some, and scary not to when I've had them in the past (now very, very old contacts).
    – georgienne
    Feb 26, 2014 at 21:27

Smart employers use other resources such as Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn profiles (especially) to look for any positive comments from other people.

LinkedIn has recommendations. This is a big plus, so if you have limited reference resources see what you can do around the social/business social side of things. It helps to establish character - which is what a standard reference would do anyway.

A bonus point, employers can only really say that you worked at a place for XXX long. They can't say negative things but only positive. in the UK that is law anyway.

  • I'm familiar with UK law, but am currently living in Canada. I do have one reference that can only confirm my employment, so no comments available.
    – georgienne
    Feb 26, 2014 at 21:27

In short, any reference is (usually) a good reference. I've never really heard about a company writing a negative reference, instead of writing none at all. The only exception, as mentioned, is any reference where family (or friends) is involved in a significant way, such as working at your fathers workshop, or in your mothers flower shop.

A reference is more to show who you are, so if you've been on time, tidy, kind to customers, respecting coworkers and been actively taking part in various tasks, you're already in a good position.

General knowledge about what you work with will usually be expected, but it's rare to just enter a work space and instantly mastering its rules. Something that is perfectly accepted one place, might be frowned upon somewhere else.

So yes, use your references, it's better than going blank. In the end, the worst thing that can happen is to get a 'no', and it's not uncommon knowledge that one will have to work for that one 'yes'.

  • I will make sure to pass on some references when requested, hopefully some relevant ones. Thank you
    – georgienne
    Feb 26, 2014 at 21:25

You can never use family and friends as references, it will immediately raise red flags with your new job. From the manager's perspective, if the only person who will say something nice about you is mom, you probably were the school bully.

I would get an internship or a seasonal temp job that doesn't require a reference check first, then be sure to perform well and use your manager their as a reference.

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