What can I do if my former employer only gives factual references?

Try one of these alternatives

About 3 mins

Did you know?

Your employer doesn’t usually have any obligation to give you a work reference – at all.

But, if they do give one, it needs to be fair and accurate. You have the right to challenge a reference if you think it’s unfair – and even take a former employer to court for damages.

So, some employers will only provide a basic reference confirming facts like the length of time you worked for them, and your job title.

Why that’s tricky

A good reference will show your new employer that you have the right skills and qualities to do the job.

A cold, clinical response that you worked there for two years and three months doesn’t really help with that.

Six things to try if your employer only gives factual references

With factual references becoming far more common, your new employer might be satisfied with a simple response. But if they’re not, we’ve thought of a few things you could try.

1. Ask someone you knew well at the company

If you’ve made a good impression on your manager, they may be willing to bend the rules and provide a more in-depth reference. It may be a case of contacting them directly, rather than going through your HR department. It’s worth asking – at least to check.

You can also think beyond your own manager, too. Are there other people you worked with who hold senior positions? Would they be willing to speak for you? What about colleagues you’ve worked on particular projects with?

2. Ask someone who’s left the company

If someone senior has moved on, but worked with you and knew you, you could ask them for a reference. They wouldn’t be bound by the same HR rules. It just needs to be someone who can comment honestly on your work.

3. Ask a client

Depending on the type of job you’ve done, you might have worked with clients or customers who could vouch for you. This would still give an impression of your attitude to work and the skills you can offer.

4. Ask someone outside work

Do you volunteer? Are you a member of a club or sports team? Do you help with a community group? Have you done work experience or an internship? Think about all of the other people you know, who could comment on your attitude, skills and experience. Consider what they would be able to tell an employer.

Remember, if you’re looking for a personal reference, don’t ask a member of your family. This doesn’t look great.

5. Ask someone in your industry

Are you a member of a professional body? If you’re actively involved in your professional community, you may know someone who can act as a reference there.

6. Ask someone who’s taught you

This one might depend on the last time you did some training. Think about school, college and uni, but also any on-the-job training you’ve done. Is there a teacher, lecturer or trainer who could provide a comment?

One more thing…

No matter who you choose as a reference, it’s polite to let them know. Make sure that if your new employer contacts them, they are expecting it. This also lets you find out if they’ll be available and make sure they’re willing to help.

And remember to say thanks afterwards!