References Available Upon Request

I no longer provide references on generic job applications. Even if the application is a form I have to fill out that specifically asks for one to three professional references, I simply write “Available Upon Request” in every blank until it lets me move on. Is it costing me job opportunities? Maybe. But my new “references available upon request” policy saves me heartache and humiliation, and credit must go to a local business.

I have been looking for a part-time job since I left the brewery taproom at the end of 2018. I need something to supplement the teaching and writing that pays steadily but doesn’t keep me out all hours of the night. Beertending was great money and a lot of fun, but it had slowly begun to take over the parts of my life that matter more. I needed to carve out more time for books and reading, so I started looking at returning to a bookstore environment. I have a fair amount of experience and have even written a master’s thesis that explores the industry. I am, in a word, qualified, yet have not been able to get a job in this particular field–stateside–since 2006.

It is possible that I am overqualified. The local chain store has rejected my application multiple times over the past ten years, the famous one in the closest big city has been doing it for even longer, and two new! local! independent! bookstores have rejected me more recently. In fact, this summer, after a five-page application (not including the personal essay I wrote for the “Get creative!” attachment), an hour-long interview that had to be rescheduled when the interviewees could not get organized (that should have been a red flag), and a solid month of wondering, I got rejected from yet another bookstore. (The other did not even acknowledge my application).

This is nothing new, but what makes me extremely angry is that they called at least two of my references. I know, for a fact, that these two references gave me positive referrals during what have been reported as quite lengthy conversations that took place before I had even been asked to come in for an interview. Yet I got to be the one to explain, when these references naturally inquired, that I did not get the job. I have been a hiring manager and never wasted someone’s time with references until I was ready to hire someone. Now, I am making sure that it never again happens in my name.

Most of us have learned that dream jobs do not arrive in the form of fillable PDFs. I finally read Designing Your Life during this summer of self-improvement, after hearing about it for years and unexpectedly meeting the authors at a conference last October. Bill Burnett and Dave Evans write: “Most great jobs–those that fall into the dream job category–are never publicly listed…Using the Internet as your only job-finding method is nothing short of masochistic.” Accurate.

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