I'm starting to explore new opportunities and find myself in a not-so-great predicament.

First and foremost, I've been working at the same company 20 years. On top of that, I only have one other professional job that precedes that (my first job out of college).

Due to the fact that I've lost touch with most of my coworkers from my previous job (20 years ago), I don't have too many viable references there. On top of that, the people that can vouch for my more current skills still work with me at the same current company. I have a few people I can depend on for references, but not sure how much weight they'll have in the eyes of an employer.

Will the lack of a strong reference list be a detriment to landing a new job?

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    Considering you've been in the same job for 20 years, nobody is going to expect references from the previous job. That's just not reasonable. Just provide a few different references from your current job if you can, or from any volunteer work you do.
    – Mel Reams
    Commented Mar 21, 2017 at 3:54

2 Answers 2


Will the lack of a strong reference list be a detriment to landing a new job?


But just because you have been at one company doesn't mean you can't still have a strong reference list. And just because it might be somewhat detrimental doesn't mean it would be fatal.

Working 20 years at one job probably means two things:

  • You probably have strong relationships with at least a few people at work who would be willing to confidentially give you great references. I know that I would do anything for some of the people I've worked with for many years, even if it means I won't get to work with them any more.
  • You probably have lots of people who have worked with you over the past 20 years, but have already left your company and could easily provide strong references for you. Whenever I announce that I am leaving a company, I always get asked by my colleagues if I would be a reference down the road, and I virtually always say "Yes".

Do some networking and try to figure out who could fit into either of those categories and who would be willing to be references.

And even if you don't end up with a list of references that are as strong as you would like, a potential employer will understand what it is like to work at a single employer for 20 years, and what that means reference-wise. They almost certainly would take your individual circumstances into account when talking with references.

  • Strangely enough, I have a reference list that is far weaker than most people my age. No friends in the area, family that wouldn't be good references, and no contact with any previous co-workers. The best I have is my past 2 bosses, neither of whom provide reference. That didn't hamper any of the three offers I had when I was out hunting. I'm wondering what I did that got me past the reference hang up. >.> Commented Mar 21, 2017 at 20:28

Will the lack of a strong reference list be a detriment to landing a new job?

Probably not (but in a few cases yes)

As a hiring manager and job changer for over 20 years I would say in 99% of hirings and job offers the "reference" has been a verification of employment only, even in regulated industries and police.

So having a reference is less important than filling out job details correctly (no exaggeration).

In the 1% who did want a "reference" one good, honest testimonial can be fine (no weasel words to say a negative without being sued) , but should be as current (and senior) as possible. Getting a reference from 20 years ago (you would have enough time to do a UK life sentence in the mean time) will not help so don't worry about that.

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    Thanks! Your mention of "one good, honest testimonial" reminded me that I have a few testimonials on my LinkedIn page that may bolster my (currently) meager reference list (one of those will be a usable reference).
    – EasyDoesIt
    Commented Mar 21, 2017 at 0:48
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    "I would say in 99% of hirings and job offers the "reference" has been a verification of employment only" Do note that this can vary by country and industry.
    – Lilienthal
    Commented Mar 21, 2017 at 10:45
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    I do mention in MY 20 years experience. I have worked in various parts of the UK, and North America, but of course YMMV. Commented Mar 21, 2017 at 12:31

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