A recent "tough situations" entry about a job seeker who lacked references provoked several interesting emails from readers. One focused on employers who have a policy of only providing employment dates -- increasingly common. When you've worked for employers with this policy, how do you get references?
Great question! In fact, if you manage your references well, the policy in question isn't an issue. Generic reference calls to HR departments are just one type of reference call, and they don't need to produce more than employment dates. (Although, be aware that some employers will volunteer additional information, such as salary history and possibly comments on performance.)
The best references come from people you've interacted professionally with: bosses, peers, vendors, perhaps consultants you've worked with. Even employees who have reported to you, if they can attest to your professional skills (as well as managerial talents).
Help ensure good references from these people by keeping in touch with them. Ask them if they are willing to provide a good reference for you. Let them know when you're facing active employment opportunities, and they may get phone calls. In fact, let them know about the job opportunity in question, so they know what to focus on if they get a reference check phone call.
If you ask someone (especially a past boss) if they are willing to provide a reference, and they say that their company policy allows them to only share employment dates, you can ask if they are willing to "provide a personal reference." But don't push -- what they may very well be reluctant to say is, they wouldn't provide a good reference for you anyway.
Getting hired without excellent references rarely happens these days. And excellent references don't just happen. Make sure you're prepared by managing your network!