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Question
I'm hoping you can assist me. I've been a stay at home mom for the last 8 years.

Prior to that, my work experience is as follows: 2003 - 2005 as an underwriting assistant, 2001-2003 as an administrative assistant/receptionist in various places through a temp agency, 2000-2001 as a seasonal employee in a department store, and 1999-2000 as an HR Assistant/Admin Asst.

Also, I've been volunteering clerical assistance with my aunt's law practice in Pennsylvania off and on since I've been at home.

Now, I'm trying to re-enter the work force. I don't particularly want to work in insurance. I have financial reasons (debt to school) why I haven't gone back to college to finish my bachelors, but if I could, it would be in Health Informatics. So, I thought it would be a good idea to try to get my feet wet, so to speak, with an entry level patient access rep type job in a hospital or medical office to get the industry experience and perhaps some tuition assistance and go on from there.

The problem I'm encountering is that I have the qualifications, (not all positions I've seen require certification)but what they do require (at least the hospitals that have the best advancement opportunities) is 3-4 supervisory references. No exceptions. My aunt that I volunteered for is obviously a relative, so I can't use her.

Aside from the gap in my employment history, my last employer apparently has a policy where they are not allowed to give references for liability reasons. Kelly services will also not give references. Even if I could remember the numerous managers I had when I was temping with the agency, it's likely they have moved on and are unreachable. The temp agency doesn't give references either. I don't remember my manager at the now-defunct department store and the place where I was an HR assistant, all managers have moved on. I can't seem to get a name to use as an official supervisory reference from any previous employer.

Is there any way around this?

Answer
Hi Lauren,

This is an issue that a lot of people like you are encountering.  One of the things that you might try is to see if there are co-workers who were in a position a notch above you who might be able to help.  They may not have been your "supervisor" but they could attest to your work ethic and qualifications.

A lot of employers that are hiring in today's market are refusing to even consider someone who has been out of work for even six months.  So, your absence of eight years is an issue that many of them will simply pounce on as a reason to reject your application.  Unfortunately for you, there is an over-supply of workers who are either recent college grads or have very recent work experience.  When that kind of situation occurs in an economy, it is always more difficult for people in your situation.

I would also say that you may want to rethink rejecting your aunt's reference.  I hesitate to encourage anyone to be deceitful in a job application, but unless the employer asks if there is any familial relationship, you have no obligation to volunteer the information.  In addition, are there people at your aunt's law practice who could write on your behalf even though they, again, are not direct supervisors?  If you can get together some strong references from co-workers who were a level above you, that may work for you.

If you take this route, be absolutely certain that you talk to each of the people involved so they know exactly what you need from them and what the situation is.  You can't ask them to lie for you, but, on the other hand, you don't want anyone saying that "Oh, she was just in the cubicle next to mine" either.  This is a situation that takes a good bit of finesse and delicate handling.

I wish there was more of a "magic bullet" solution for you here, but without a completed degree, any supervisory references, and being out of the workforce for eight years, you have a difficult trio of obstacles to overcome and it will take some creative thinking to get past them.

I hope this helps and I wish you the best in your efforts.

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Ralph D. Converse, Ph.D.

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I can answer questions about general job searches, resume construction, crafting an effective cover letter, and how to prepare for, and conduct, a winning interview. My speciality is the field of education, but I also have extensive background in business and administration. I know what works and what doesn't work and I can make your application package stand out from the rest ... because that is what you have to do.

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