Creative ways to sell yourself when you don't have professional references

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Great references shouldn't be hard to find (Stocksnap.io)

Companies have to ensure that they’re hiring the right person. It’s easy for a candidate to say ‘Oh, of course I’m great!’ But it’s much harder to convince a former employer to agree and act as a good reference if you really weren’t all that great in your previous post.

That’s why many companies, recruiters and hiring managers insist on at least three references - to find out as much second hand information about you as possible. But what if you just graduated, have no previous experience within the industry, have never had a boss, or you’ve had ugly breakups with all your former employers?

Here’s a few CV tips on how you should get around the ‘no reference’ issue.

If you’ve volunteered, partook in charity work or worked in the community:

You can add the name and number of someone that was your group leader during any charitable activity you were involved in.

Not only will this person be able to vouch for your team ethic, but also they can confirm that you’re self-sacrificing and eager to give back to those less fortunate. To make up for the lack of practical experience in the industry you’re eyeing, a great personality and the desire to reach set goals as a team, is a great way to make up for it.

If you’re involved in any clubs or religious affiliations:

If you have been actively involved in your church, then you probably know the Reverend personally. You should approach her to ask if she’ll be your reference. Perhaps you were involved in your denomination’s youth group, women’s committee, or even sang in the choir. You can use your leader or assistant leader as a reference too.

If you have a hobby or play a sport and belong to a club, you can also use your team leader, the head administrator, or club owner to vouch for you as a reference.

If you recently matriculated or just graduated:

The last school or learning institution that you attended is filled with reputable people that are well aware of your abilities. Approach one of your lecturers, tutors or even your high school teachers and principle to request if they’re okay with being your reference.

Again, if you belonged to any school or varsity teams and clubs, you can list the leader of the group as a reference.

If you still don’t have at least three references:

You may include personal character references to your CV too. Be sure to advise your friends, neighbours and relatives that they should be expecting phone calls from potential employers. They’ll need to provide information about your values, your character, and the type of person you are in general.

Other tips and tricks:

To leave a good impression, you should include copies of former evaluation forms, letters of recognition, thank you notes, awards and copies of recommendation letters in your CV as well. This will show that you have a track record of impressive behaviour.

You can also include portfolio items that showcase your skills. Have you done freelance work, or anything else in your spare time that may be of interest to the employer you’re applying to? Include it. If you’re applying via email, attach these items separately from your CV and also provide a link where they are able to see more of your work.

If all else fails, perhaps you should apply for a more junior position so that you can build up your CV a little bit more. Start getting involved in your community and other volunteer programmes too. Yes, it can be very frustrating to be stuck even though you know you’re capable of a lot more. But at least you’re on the right path and working towards the next level - with a great reference in hand!

Careers24 has loads of amazing CV and cover letter advice.