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The Referencing Paradox

07 November 201203:43PMrants

(No, this isn't about academic writing again.)

I'm at this point in my 'career', if you can call it that, where I need a reference for a position, and I don't actually have anyone I can actually, y'know, refer to. This is a problem, because the things I'm applying to are the things which, in two years time should I be applying for a real job, will be my references. Like, volunteering, work experience, that kind of thing. But, my ability to get these references is predicated on my ability to get the positions, and my ability to do that is based on my ability to find references. It's ultimately circular.

To compound this problem, the references I do have are from a parallel but basically incompatible system, reaching back to my photocopied high school report getting me a job at a supermarket and the supermarket saying that, well, no, they don't give references per se, but they'd be happy to tell any potential future employer that yes, I had in fact worked there and no, I wasn't making it up, if I just give them the store phone number. And that was apparently enough for the catering jobs I have now but I kind of assume that they'll have a similar policy, and in any case the guys at this volunteering position aren't really going to want to hear "Oh, yeah, well, he can pour two beers at a time and doesn't yell at the customers, that's pretty impressive". (It totally is impressive, by the way.)

I get the need for references. Getting other people, with reputations of their own, to vouch for a potential employee makes a lot of sense. It keeps them accountable and lets you get a judge of their character. You know it's reliable, because presumably giving untruthful references will hurt the referee's reputation - and since it's not written, it's more likely to be honest, since you're free to give a crap reference not to someone's face. And on the other side it encourages people to seek out and work with the best, most reputable, mentors they possibly can, from whom they can learn a great deal as well as getting a reference. It's a good system. It's just a very frustrating one to be outside of.

I guess I could always try family friends ("Oh, he's a good lad, I remember when he was just a wee bumpkin, ankle high to a dust mite's eyebrow...") or the lady I house-sat for that one time ("Well, he's good with cats, but he did blow up the hot water system..."). But ultimately what I need is just, like, one or two really solid and reputable looking referees, which I can't get without having already had some.

And I get that teachers are busy and underpaid as it is, but it would be really great if everyone could leave school with a reference* - just one, maybe with an expiry date on it. To sort of kick-start your reference stack. Because once you're on it, you're good, but getting that first one is the kicker.

Anyway, there are some thoughts for your brain.

*I mean, they gave us written references, but I'm not even really certain how I'd go about using a written reference. I've never been asked for one. So far everywhere asks for a phone number and position...

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