I Have No References or Work Experience, Now What?

Written by Nick Armstrong on July 22, 2009

Volunteer Fire Fighters
Cara asked: "I have no work experience, and therefore, no professional references. What should I do (other than not say that to a potential employer)?"

A lot of millennials are in the same situation she is, I'd like to share my response publicly.
You might not have any work references, but you most certainly have academic references or people who can speak to your character.

You might have a favorite professor (college) or teacher (high school) whose class you excelled in, consistently performed well, and so on.  To this day, my best references come from my favorite marketing professor.  I graduated in 2007.  Think about teammates on sports teams you might have been a part of or classmates who worked with you on projects, anyone who can speak well of you and isn't directly related to you.

If you are still coming up short – find a mentor, volunteer position, open source project, or something else you can work on for a length of time. Pick something interesting – like habitat for humanity or volunteering at a local Better Business Bureau. Over time you will gain someone who can speak as a reference, whether it's a volunteer co-worker or the coordinator or even the recipient of the volunteer work.

No Work Experience wasn't always this scary, but the economy that we're facing at the moment is rife with peril for new entrants. My advice? Do as much networking as you can – get involved on MeetUp with a professional organization, do an Ignite speech – hell, start up an Ignite group if your town doesn't have one.

Do anything and everything you can – claw for every inch.  Collaborate, connect, and dream – but most importantly, DO SOMETHING.

Nick Armstrong is the founder of Psychotic Resumes.  Nick is a creative, nerdy mad scientist living in Fort Collins, Colorado. He's a social media nut who loves to bring creative ideas to life. Nick is the voice behind the Psychotic Resumes podcast, which he also produces and promotes. Catch him on Twitter @ImNickArmstrong and his personal website I Am Nick Armstrong, which links to all his other projects including Giant Gnome - an audio production group, The Trek Project, and his upcoming projects like the "No Really Newscast".