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Careers Dealing with a career gap and lack of references

Give your CV a power boost by filling in missing references and freshening your resume with new skills.

Chris Lamphear/Getty Images/Hemera/Chris Lamphear/Getty Images/Hemera

The question

My question is about references. Almost immediately after university, I was unable to pursue a career for medical reasons. Several years later, I am finally ready to get back into the job market and have found that most opportunities require at least three work-related references to be considered. I do not have any recent work-related references and the references I once listed on my résumé are either no longer at those organizations or have retired.

How can I address this to ensure that I am considered for a position?

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The answer

Despite your early setback due to medical reasons, there is no time like now to establish momentum and get started on your career.

Let's start with your question about references. Given your situation, you will likely need to address the gap in your résumé. In doing so, this will convey why your references are not from more recent work experiences. As for your concern that your references no longer work at the organizations in which you knew them, don't worry. It is perfectly fine to include references that may have moved on themselves to new roles or even retirement. The key is to include people who can meaningfully provide input on your past performance, character, skills and aptitudes.

If you haven't stayed in touch with these people, you may need to do a bit of work in finding them. With social networks these days, this may not be as difficult as it may have been years ago. Try LinkedIn. Part of the value of being connected on LinkedIn is that as people move to other workplaces – or even retire – you can still find them and their most current contact details. It is a very good networking tool and if these folks aren't on LinkedIn, you might find others who knew these individuals and might offer some help in locating them.

Networking is going to be very important for you. Not simply to find your references but in your overall job search. A recent survey by Workopolis found that 43 per cent of job seekers used networking to help them find their job. As part of your job search plan, create a networking plan. Reaching out to people who can be helpful in offering career ideas, insights, leads and guidance is going to be very important throughout your career.

Given the gap in years between the time you graduated and the start of your career search, you will need to consider how you will assure prospective employers and recruiters that you are a candidate worthy of consideration. Your résumé, your interviews and your actions will need to showcase that despite the delay in your career start, you are ready, capable and a quality candidate. Some thoughts to consider:

Do you need to retool and refresh your skills? Taking a course related to the work you want to do will not only help you brush up your skills and knowledge, it can also demonstrate your commitment to professional development. Professional development in itself is always important, and right now, this might also serve to freshen up your résumé with more timely content, presenting yourself as a good candidate for consideration.

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Getting experience at the beginning of your career can be challenging as it's the old chicken-and-egg dilemma. How to get experience without that first job? You might want to explore volunteer involvement. The idea is to get experience, network and learn along the way. You'd be surprised how people can leverage some of their non-paid endeavours and accomplishments to build their career profile and even land a paid job. Volunteer roles can build up your reference list, too. And many organizations look for people who share similar values related to social responsibility, so volunteering can round out your profile in this way too.

I encourage you to bring your most resourceful self to this phase in your career search. Stay optimistic. Network. Freshen up your résumé with new skills and learning. Most importantly, get out there and keep at it.



Eileen Chadnick is a career coach and principal of Big Cheese Coaching in Toronto.

Have a question for one of our career coaches? Send it to careerquestion@globeandmail.com. Please be advised that while The Globe and Mail may publish your submission, your name and address will be kept confidential.

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