I have been working for the same company for more than five years and am currently
starting an active job search because of a downturn in business. I cannot give
anyone in my current company as a reference because of the need to keep the
job search completely confidential and the company I worked at previously is a
key client of my current company so giving a reference from there is not possible
either. Neither company has had turnover to the point I could use someone
as a reference that is now at another company. The place I worked at (for 9 years)
prior to my last two employers was sold and I do not have contact information for
previous co-workers or managers there. I am interviewing with a state agency
that requires that I provide three references that they will contact. How should
I approach the reference situation in this circumstance?
The Career Doctor responds:
Your situation allows me to get on my soapbox about a couple of
issues — and while I’m up here I hope to also provide you with some
The situation you find yourself is more common than you think and I
do not understand why.
First let me assure you — or deflate you — that you can only in the very
rarest of situations ever keep a job search completely confidential. Job-hunting
is a people business and people talk. So you kind of need to get over this
hurdle. You can do your best to make people promise to not divulge the
information but the world is smaller than you think — and word often gets
But word getting out that you are job-hunting is not always such a bad thing.
In many cases you become almost instantly a more attractive worker. In a
sense job-hunting is a test of your value in the marketplace. Will some
bosses be offended? Of course but others may see you in a new light — and
especially if your work helps them look better.
Back to my soapbox… yours is another example of the importance of
networking — building relationships — throughout your life not just when
you are job-searching. People in your inner network should respect and
support you enough to serve as a reference for you even if they work in the
same company — all the while keeping your job search confidential. On the
other hand a casual acquaintance may also serve as a reference but has
fewer reasons for keeping your job search confidential.
Finally remember to keep up relations with at least a handful of people from
previous jobs — people who knew your work — and make them active
members of your network.
Read some general strategies for using references in my article
The Keys to Choosing and Using the Best Job References in Your Job Search
published on Quintessential Careers.