Getting a job with no references or experience

If you’ve been unemployed for a long time, you might not have any references or previous work experience. This can seem like a major barrier. The good news is that there are things you can do to overcome this hurdle.

Here’s our top tips for finding a job if you’re unemployed with no references or previous experience:

1. Work out what type of job you would like to do

Do you know what kind of job you would like to do? If you do that is great but if you are unsure then you might like to spend some time thinking about the kind of job that would suit you best. This is important because it may influence on the barriers you might face and how you go about removing those barriers. There are several quizzes online that can help you to narrow down what type of job or career might suit you best. These include quizzes from the National Careers Service and Prospects.

Remember, you are not defined by the results these tools provide, but they may help you gain some clarity. Think about the subjects you enjoyed at school – is there a career that would interest you in those areas? Or think about what you are best at and what roles might utilise your abilities effectively?

2. Look at job adverts in your chosen area of work

By looking at job adverts in your chosen area of work you can get a clear idea about what employers are generally looking for in that industry. Doing this can help you to identify the specifics required to be a strong candidate for that kind of roles.

If you identify that there are areas which you are lacking the relevant qualities, then this becomes your “development plan” and gaining the relevant experience, skills or training becomes your clear focus.

3. Consider volunteering

Voluntary work is a great way to gain relevant work-related experience and a reference all in one go! It may be the case that you can’t get relevant volunteering experience in your chosen area – for example, nobody is going to have a volunteer solely responsible for critical operations. But it may be possible to gain experience in other ways under supervision.

Voluntary work enables you to have something current and work related on your CV. It also shows that you are motivated to use your time productively and effectively. If working in a charity is something you might like to do then starting as a volunteer can sometimes lead to the offer of a paid role further down the line.

Check out our article with tips on how to find volunteering opportunities.

4. Try an internship

Internships are similar to volunteering and usually over a longer term than work experience but is often more intensive and aimed at helping younger people get experience of working in a company or department. They can offer the opportunity to try someone out to see if they fit in the workplace. Sometimes an internship may lead to a paid job with that employer.

5. Look for relevant training courses

Undertaking training in your chosen field of work shows an interest in your professional development and a clear motivation to gain an understanding of the industry. Always check that any qualification you are hoping to achieve is recognised by employers. It may be of limited value if it is not accredited.

6. Find out if there are apprenticeships you are interested in

Apprenticeships are another great way to get training and practical experience in the real workplace. Good quality apprenticeships are a combination of paid work on the job and training with a qualification at the end of it. You get the benefit of earning while you learn!

Be careful – as someone employers may call an experience an ‘apprenticeship’ but it could just be unpaid work experience with no prospect of progression.

There is a myth that apprenticeships are only for younger people. Apprenticeships are available for all ages.

Read our article with more information on how to find an apprenticeship.

7. Anything is better than nothing – start simple and work your way up

If you have never worked before then you might like to consider taking on any job you can get that you feel you can do. It is often the case then when you are out of work it is harder to find work, but as soon as you are employed, finding a job becomes easier.

Think about taking on a job that you can secure without too much stress. This could be bar work, casual work, leafletting, being an extra on a film set, part-time work or short-term temporary jobs via an agency which may be unattractive to people seeking something longer term. This will enable you to get things started and help you build the work history which you need to gain experience and populate your CV.

Still have questions and need further help?  Check if you’re eligible for employment support from Work Well.

Chris Finch - Vocational Specialist

Picture of Chris

My name is Chris and I have been involved with the Work Well network since the start of 2007. I currently work for the CORE team in Croydon as a Vocational Specialist. I have worked before in Southwark and Croydon in both community mental health teams and with IAPT services. Before this I enjoyed a long work history in mental health support, having started in 1988 in a hospital setting in South West London. In my career I have worked for the NHS, Local Authority Adult Social Care and Mental Health Charities which has given me a lot of insights and experience. I have been employed in other jobs including retail, labouring, motorcycle courier and working as a refuse collector. I have also volunteered in my spare time using my many other skills, most recently with a local environmental charity. I enjoy bicycles and repair them for neighbours, people my local community and as a volunteer. I have two old classic motorcycles which I maintain and take for a spin whenever the weather is decent. I also enjoy growing healthy food on my lovely allotment.