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Tracking Down Old References Mark Swartz, M.B.A. M.Ed.

About the Author

Mark Swartz, MBA, M.Ed., is Canada's Career Activist. His insights reach millions yearly as the Career Advisor, as author of the best seller "Get Wired, You're Hired," also as a professional speaker and coach on career/work issues. A former Toronto Star careers columnist, Mark's advice is forthright and practical. For Canada's biggest directory of free career articles, and for personalized coaching, please visit

Question: When I go on an interview there is something that worries me. I have been in the marketing business for quite a few years. Unfortunately, the companies I worked with were either bought out by the U.S., or they went bankrupt. Therefore, I have lost track of people I used to work for. Since I do not have the telephone numbers or e-mail addresses, how do I handle not having contact info when it comes to references? Any advice would be appreciated.

Thank you.
Annalisa B., Toronto, Ontario
Dear Annalisa,

Usually I advise people to get in touch with their important contacts, including folks they'd consider calling on in the future to act as a reference, at least once a year. A quick e-mail or phone call to that VIP (Very Important Person) lets you remind them of what you're up to, while you also make sure that your contact list stays current.

However it's easy for time to pass, and have those old bosses and colleagues fade into the dustbin of history, which means as a job seeker you're stuck without phone numbers or e-mail addresses of crucial references - just as you're closing in on snaring that coveted job offer.

What can you do to dig up the info you need? Thanks to the Internet there are a lot of ways to search for people you once worked with in the hopes of finding their current contact info. Here are some suggestions, moving from the simplest to the more involved::

  • Google them - Type the name of the person you're looking for into a couple of search engines and see what comes up. If there are too many results and you're not sure if they apply to the guy or gal you're looking for, add an extra term to your search string, such as the name of the organization you used to work together at, a city they might have lived in (or may be living in now), or anything else that might tip you off in the results that it's the right one. Also, query both the regular and Canadian versions of each search engine, e.g., and then
  • Use Linked-In - Go to, type in the name of the person (or the name of the employer where you worked together), and sort through the listings. You may have to look through a bunch of results before hitting the jackpot. It helps that these results are sorted by name, title, city of residence, current employer and, in many cases, previous employers too. (Hint: use the Advanced Search feature since it allows you to narrow things down by keywords, industry type, personal interests and more).
  • Try ZoomInfo. Head to and once again do a lookup by name or employer. Results are listed by name, title and employer, but you can ''refine'' your search by industry, keywords and location at that point.
  • Check out Plaxo - At, all sorts of people list their current contact information. What's cool about this site is that once you're onboard, you can notify other people in your contact network of your own whereabouts automatically on a regular basis, and your contacts can send you their updated contact info automatically too whenever they change jobs, cities, e-mail addresses, phone numbers, etc. You can search for free. However you do have to sign up first (there's no cost to do so, but quite frankly it spooks me that they ask for your birthday and postal code just to get set up, mind you they do state that you have to be over 13 years of age to play, but still...).

Of course, there's always the trusty phone book (online at Canada411) or an e-mail lookup site like InfoSpace. Then, when you've exhausted these fairly easy (and free) options with no luck, yet you just absolutely, positively MUST find someone, check out a database specialty service like, where for about $40 you get access to public records and all sorts of juicy tidbits on people. A last resort is to hire a Private Investigator (Magnum, P.I., where are you when I need you?). It ain't cheap, but if it means the difference between securing employment or not, it could be worth it in the end. Happy e-hunting!

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