Help! Where can I find a suitable reference?

Dear Aunty,

Nearly every job advert I see requests at least two references. I have only had two proper jobs since leaving university and now one of these (my former boss) is saying that they will no longer provide a reference because of the time that has passed since I worked there.

Where can I find another suitable reference?

Aunty says,

It is common for employers to ask for references for new employees. Employers do this in order to confirm that the information provided in your CV or application is correct. This reduces the risk of them employing somebody whose is unsuitable for the role. Employers do not usually have to give a reference, but if they do it should be fair and accurate.

The information requested by employers varies but can include:

  • Job Title
  • Period of Employment
  • Roles & Responsibilities
  • Qualifications
  • Personality Traits
  • Sickness/Leave History
  • Reason for Leaving

It is important to remember that employers usually only contact your references if your application and interview have been a success. Therefore, if you have reached this stage hopefully you will built up a good relationship with the employer and will be able to explain any problems or gaps in information!

If employers do request to check your references, then there are a number of options available to you:

  1. Contact your former boss (the one who is refusing to provide a reference) and try to convince him/her to provide one. Even if this is just a basic reference confirming your job title and the duration of your employment this is better than nothing
  2. If this fails, try contacting the Human Resource (HR) Manager (if there was one) and ask them for a reference. The HR Manager should at least be able to provide some basic information regarding your period of employment

If this does not work, you will need to consider:

  • Including a reference for a job you had before university of any other job that you have not deemed as “proper” since leaving university
  • Alternatively, ask former teachers/tutors or people you’ve volunteered with or respected community leaders for a reference

I know it can be tricky obtaining suitable references but I would try not to be put off from applying for any jobs because of problems with your references. Another top tip is to try to ensure that you stay in contact with and maintain a good relationship with those who you include as references – although I appreciate that this is not always possible.

I hope that this advice has been reassuring and helpful and wish you all the very best with your job search.


Why not share your views?

What are your views on this dilemma? Should he leave and take his dream job? You can share your comments below.

Want to submit a problem to Aunty?

You can send your career questions and problems to [email protected]. Each problem will appear anonymously ensuring that your name and contact details will be kept private at all times.

Search for Jobs

To search for the latest jobs in Zambia visit: