I understand what the purpose of references is, but the problem I'm having is that I just don't have any reference. I don't really interact with people outside of a work context. I've only ever had one real job, and a lot of people there never really get to know each other because of the constant flow of people joining and people leaving. I just started a second job, but it's only on-call and when I do work, I'm not there with anyone else (I work evenings/overnights alone).

I feel like I'm kind of stuck in a hard spot since most applications say you need to "list at least three references" and I can't even list one. Even worse, a lot of online applications won't even let me proceed and submit the application without filling in three references.

Even though I'm applying for entry-level positions, is having no references a bad thing? Would I be automatically disqualified from an application process for simply not listing any?

For an online application, would filling in all the fields with "NA" (as you would write on a paper application) just so you can submit the application be appropriate or looked down upon?

  • 5
    Could you clarify the types of references you're talking about (that you don't think you have), or if you mean all possible types (job, professional, personal)?
    – jcmeloni
    Commented Aug 8, 2012 at 23:43
  • 4
    If you've had one job prior to your current one, why do you have no references? Can you not put down your boss from your previous job? Commented Aug 9, 2012 at 0:16
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    There are probably several people, at least, who could be references for you. Just ask and tell them your situation! Most people are not just glad but honoured to help someone out with a reference. Start with your bosses and co-workers.
    – Angelo
    Commented Aug 9, 2012 at 0:39
  • You can always go back to and get academic reference. note a reference just needs to confirm you as the person and dates if any. references do not need to go in detail at all
    – shorif2000
    Commented Aug 9, 2012 at 10:24
  • well your current employer is one and as your young can you not get a reference from University or School.
    – Neuro
    Commented Aug 9, 2012 at 12:00

7 Answers 7


There are certainly jobs that don't require references - but when a job asks, you do need to have them ready. Certainly - "available upon request" as a listing is a nice way of limiting the reference exposure until the job is willing to get serious about offering an opportunity. Many people don't want to expose their references' contact information until a job offer is given and many jobs are willing to make an offer conditional upon references. I certainly feel that way - my references are diligent people themselves, and I don't want them to be bothered until the opportunity is serious about hiring me and I'm serious about taking it.

Keep in mind, that while the classic definition is professional vs. personal - there's also a different caliber of reference depending on the job and the company. These are less formal definitions of references:

  • Seriously professional - the potential employer will be calling and asking how dedicated and skilled you are and verifying elements of your resume to check your real credentials. In my 14 years as a working professional, I've been this kind of a reference once.

  • Character - I don't want to confuse this with "personal". Usually when jobs say "personal" they mean that it's basically a character reference, but sometimes jobs will ask for collegues (ie, coworkers/supervisors) and then do a character check because they want to know particularly that you are an honest, ethical person on the job. Sometimes these needs can be talked around - I've managed (in tense job situations) to supplement professional references with serious volunteer work references - for example, because the job was willng to agree that how I work as a volunteer is a lot like my professional demeanor. I'd say 50% or more of the references I'm asked for really fall into this category, whether they say "professional reference" or not.

  • Identity Check - it's just the facts that will be checked. How long have you worked at your job? Do you live where you say you do? Is your name really your name? Did you really go to school where you said? These can often be handled by a hotline for either your work and your school and then a few neighbors or your landlord. You may not even need a coworker, but if you do, it can be someone who knows your name and not much more. This is common for some forms of security check.

Also - the expectation on references rises with the level of the position. For example, in the tech industry - college grads may have 1-2 references from internships or summer jobs, and 1-2 references of favorite professors or research advisors. That's typical. At 5 years in the industry, the expectation ususally rises and they want to know not more than 1 old professor, and mostly peer and supervisor references. At 10 years in the industry, you sound kind of nuts if you didn't manage to make enough positive associations in the work place to provide three simple references.

In even an entry level job, you can usually do the "reference available upon request" and then follow up with the position and ask specifically what they need and why. Then be open to working with them. It's also worth it to keep in contact with your current supervisor and see if you can't work your relationship to a point where you feel comfortable asking for a reference. For an entry level employee, as a supervisor, I pretty much expect I'll be asked to give a reference - I'm not hurt and I don't feel betrayed - moving on is a natural part of a career these days. The only time I say "no" is when I have to live as my mother taught me -- "if you can't say anything nice, don't say anything at all"


It depends on the company. Many places I've worked didn't ask for them because they assumed the checks would not turn up anything. You certainly don't need them on your resume, and in any official form, you can say, "Available on Request." The one caveat is, if you do that, you have to be able to produce it. If you can't produce three people who can vouch for your character and work, then now is the time to start impressing a couple customers and colleagues.


There are really two types of references companies will expect.

  1. Professional references - these are people that can speak to both your skills and your ability to work in a job.
  2. Personal references - (sometimes called a character reference) these are people that can vouch for you being a good upstanding individual but probably not your work ability.

Most companies have policies in place that prevent anyone in management from being a reference for previous/current employees, however most never prohibit co-workers. It can be tough but try your best to get a few co-workers you interact with and can trust to be your references. I've been a professional reference for many former co-workers. It's usually a 5 minute call where they find out how you are related to the person, how much you worked together, what you thought of the person and their quality of work and usually they ask if you would work with the person again if you had the opportunity.

Again, failing that move to getting personal references. These should be people that you know and trust to speak highly of you. DO NOT use immediate family as that's just bad form. Unless you are complete hermit you have people in your life you can use. People like teachers, professors, advisers, leaders of volunteer groups you are in, an old coach, church pastor/priest (although this can be a bit iffy when dealing with religion), long time family friend, WoW guild leader, etc... basically anyone that you know that in a pinch could answer a phone call and speak with good knowledge about the type of person you are.

You should always try to get Professional references, in fact some places specifically request only professional references, but most will accept personal references if you can't line up pros. Plus, most entry level jobs are going to accept personal references because they know not everyone has a solid work history to build up professional references yet.

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    "Most companies have policies in place that prevent anyone in management from being a reference for previous/current employees,". I've never heard of such in my 30 years at 10 companies. Not saying they don't exist, just maybe not "most" unless there is data that proves it. Commented Jan 26, 2015 at 21:41

Yes it is, at least from the perspective of an employer.

Companies are looking for people who are going to be responsible, stick around long term, and not create problems in the workplace. If you can not make friends that last for more than a year that can be an indicator that you do not meet those criteria.

The truth is very few employers actually call personal references. The phone calls are generally worthless because if an employer calls you about someone you worked with you are probably going to give them a decent reference even if they were a marginal worker. And your friends are even worse. So it is not really about verifying your references so much as having a reference to provide.

The easiest thing for you to do is look back at your previous employers and think of the names of some people you got along with. Provide a work number for them and you are set. In today's world I would never want to put my friends personal contact information on an resume that may end up scraped and put in a national database. So provide a work contact number, even if it is to a switchboard, and general location.

It is probably best if you let them know you are using them for a reference. But in 25 years I have never had a personal reference except for a back ground check. I would not tempt fate by giving references you think might be bad, but most people feel honored immediately when they find out you thought enough of them to list them as a reference. So if you got along with them they will probably give you a decent reference if they do happen to get called.


If you've had one supervisor, you have a reference. Teachers and professors are acceptable for those just getting into the job market. If you worked on any projects with another student, use them especially if they are employed.

Be open and honest about your relationship with the person. I'd rather see a friend of the family listed than no one at all.


People have already mentioned most of the sources for references, but I want to add one more. Client references are good if you do any kind of direct client support. These can be either internal or external people. So you say you are on call and work nights. Who are you being called by and how happy are they with the support you give them? Some of them might be willing to be a reference.


You have two problems, a lack of good reference and a lack of references for online applications. While related, these are distinct problems.

There's not much you can do about the first, you'll just have to live with it. THe second on the other hand is a solvable problem -- references for an online application need not be the same references that get used if you are being considered for a job. References are generally checked after a successful interview and just before an offer. Keeping that in mind, just ask a random co-worker if you can use them as a reference, when filling out the online applications, if they are gone in a month, no big deal just ask the replacement.

The problem of no good reference, is a function of your work environment, the best you can do is use the people that know you the best at work at the time of the interview. Basically before you go to the interview ask the best possible references if they would be willing to be a reference. You might try to hunt up former co-workers and use them.

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