Man and woman standing and looking at a bookYou know you're a hard worker, and you're ready to enter the workforce. But what if you don't have work experience? Employers won't just take your word for it, so they'll likely ask for references. Learn what you can do if you need a job reference.

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Need a Job Reference?

Apr 29, 2021

Man and woman standing and looking at a bookYou know you're a hard worker, and you're ready to enter the workforce. But what do you do if you don’t have much or any work experience? Employers can't just take your word for it, so they'll likely ask for references. Without that work experience, what can you do?

Many young adults may have questions about job references. Today, we're offering 3 ideas for people who can provide references for you.

  1. Teachers: Your teachers can provide a reference — just ask. This can be someone from high school, vocational school, apprenticeship or college. They can speak to your work ethic for completing assignments that will provide insight regarding your reliability and commitment and demonstrate how you are likely to perform on the job!
  2. Coaches or club leaders: Did you play a sport or belong to a club in school (or outside of school)? The attitude, character and leadership you brought to the playing field or to club activities can give potential employers a look at how you'll perform at work. This can include religious activities, like youth group, school clubs, school or local sports teams and so much more. Ask the team leader if they would be willing to give you a reference.
  3. Volunteer coordinators: Whether you're a recent graduate or have been out of school for a while, you may have had some volunteer experience. Volunteering is an excellent way to build your network and make contacts with people who can help you on the path to employment. Ask your volunteer coordinator to serve as a reference. If you haven't volunteered recently, find an opportunity and start building those relationships!

What are employers looking for in a reference?

When an employer contacts your references, they are seeking information to help them decide if you’re a good fit with their organization. They'll be interested in learning about your work habits. For example, are you a team player, self-starter, or problem-solver? They will also ask questions about:

  • Your previous duties and responsibilities
  • Your accomplishments
  • Your dates of employment

How to Ask Someone to be a Reference

Once you've narrowed your list of possible references, there's still work to be done. You not only have to ask the person if they'll agree to be a reference, you also need to prepare them to be an effective voice for you. Take the time to follow these tips:

  • Get their permission. It can leave a bad impression with a potential employer if someone you've listed as a reference is caught off guard when they are contacted. If you haven't been in contact with the person recently, consider a written request by letter or email. Otherwise, an in-person or telephone request is best.
  • Include details. If the person isn't familiar with your current job search, let them know what sort of work you're looking for. This will help the person think about skills and experience you have that relate directly to that type of job when they are contacted by the employer.
  • Provide your latest resume. This gives your reference a fuller appreciation of your capabilities and also lets them know what the employer has seen.
  • Follow up and stay in touch. If you learn that the employer called your reference, you'll want to know how the conversation went. This will give you a sense of what the employer values in employees and possibly more information on the skills and experiences for the position. Periodically, let your references know how your job search is going.
  • Say thanks. Once you receive a job offer, remember that the people you've asked to be references helped. Let them know that you've gotten a job. If they agreed to serve as a reference, they'll be excited for you! A written thank-you note, or a personal phone call will show your appreciation for the person's time and help.

About Ticket to Work

There's a lot to consider when job searching, and it can be tough trying to do everything on your own. Social Security's Ticket to Work (Ticket) Program supports career development for people ages 18 through 64 who receive Social Security disability benefits (SSDI or SSI) and want to work. The Ticket Program is free and voluntary. It helps people with disabilities move toward financial independence and connects them with the services and support they need to succeed in the workforce.

By participating in the Ticket Program, you'll have access to a wide variety of services from service providers that offer free short-term and long-term supports to help you find and maintain employment.

Learn more

To learn more about the Ticket Program, visit choosework.ssa.gov or call the Ticket to Work Help Line at 1-866-968-7842 or 1-866-833-2967 (TTY) Monday through Friday, 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. ET. Ask a representative to send you a list of service providers or find providers on your own with the Ticket Program Find Help tool.

Learn more

To learn more about the Ticket Program, visit choosework.ssa.gov or call the Ticket to Work Help Line at 1-866-968-7842 or 1-866-833-2967 (TTY) Monday through Friday, 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. ET. Ask a representative to send you a list of service providers or find providers on your own with the Ticket Program Find Help tool.

Receive Ticket Program Texts

If you're interested in receiving text messages from the Ticket Program, please text TICKET to 474747. Standard messaging rates may apply. We'll send updates from our blog, identify steps on the path to employment and more. We hope you'll find this new way to stay in touch helpful. You can opt out at any time.

If you're interested in receiving text messages from the Ticket Program, please text TICKET to 474747. Standard messaging rates may apply. We'll send updates from our blog, identify steps on the path to employment and more. We hope you'll find this new way to stay in touch helpful. You can opt out at any time.

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  Opt in to receive information about the Ticket program via text. Text the word "TICKET" to 474747