A reader writes:
I retired early from my last job, because of the new technology and, therefore, they were doing a reduction in force. I took several years off to update my skills and to do some renovating of my home myself. Now I feel qualified to work as a administrative assistant but the company where I worked for the last 18 years does not give references. They only will answer three questions: when I started, when I left and would they re-hire me again. This company doesn't even list an HR phone number. Do you have any advice? I am not getting hired by anybody...not even the temp agencies. Help!
Some big companies do have this policy, but you should be able to get around it by using your direct supervisor as a reference, not simply "HR." It's usually HR types who adhere to the letter of these policies; individual supervisors are usually willing to give more detailed references, particularly if you explain that your job offer hinges on it. (Contact this supervisor directly and make sure he or she is able to give you a good reference first though.) You can also offer up former coworkers, clients, and others who can speak to your work, or -- if all other wells run dry -- explain the company's policy and offer old copies of performance reviews if you have them (they're good to keep for this reason).
That said, I wonder if this is the reason you're not getting hired. Normally if a company is running into a wall when trying to get a reference, they'll tell you that (because often a candidate is able to push references to talk). Unless you have evidence to believe the reference issue is the problem, I'm more inclined to think the problem is something else -- the fact that you took several years off from the work force, or the way you're marketing yourself, or something along those lines. If you're not having any luck with the temp agencies, I'd try asking them for feedback on what you could do to make yourself more hireable; they're likely to be pretty candid with you. Good luck!