Get Your References Together Now


It’s not surprising to start pulling together a list of references when you’re looking for a job or planning a career move. What isn’t immediately clear to many however is the point in assembling your references when you are gainfully employed and have no career move in your immediate future. Good advice dear reader is to start compiling that list now no matter your situation.

The usual objections to lining up references when a person isn’t actively job searching are that its extra work to do so, and that they don’t want to confuse the people agreeing to be their references; getting them ready for calls that won’t be coming because no employers are being approached for employment. To the first objection I say it takes very little effort. To the second, your references shouldn’t be expecting calls from employers at this stage if you have properly advised them of the situation.

We all hope it doesn’t happen to us, but there are many examples around us where companies suddenly close their doors. In my community, I can think of two businesses which, in the last two weeks just closed up without any notification. One day they were there and the next they were locked; signage removed within a few days. The employees that worked for those organizations had in at least one of the two situations no notice whatsoever that this was about to happen just 24 hours earlier.

Now if your company closes quickly and you’re out of work you want to be equally quickly out of the gate and ahead of your former co-workers in applying for work. It could be a time of confusion, anger, resentment, shock, disbelief; and the last thing you should be doing is trying to pull together your résumé and job references when thinking rationally and being your usual upbeat self is challenged. This is a big case for keeping your resume current and having your references assembled.

Many times I’ve helped someone with their job search and found that they cannot find people who could best vouch for their work because they simply have no way of contacting them. They may not know someone’s last name, don’t have their contact information or simply have no idea where they’ve relocated to. Now is definitely time to pull such information together while you see these people regularly.

You don’t have to give people the impression you’re job searching with earnest and they should be expecting calls. No, that would be misleading, setting them up for calls that don’t materialize and disrespect them by putting them on alert.

A good practice is to approach potential references and seek their permission to get their endorsement of you in the event you wish to take advantage of an opportunity to advance yourself. You’re only requesting their contact information to be proactive and will inform them that should you actively begin a job search, you’ll do them the courtesy of letting them know you’ve put yourself in play, at which point you’ll issue them with your résumé and application information so they are then prepared. At the moment, they need not actually, ‘do’ anything other than agree to the request you’re making of them and supply their contact information.

So now, who to ask? Typically of course you’re after co-workers you feel a strong connection with; ones who value your contributions. You don’t want to start a rumour mill, so of course make it clear you’re simply being proactive. Similarly with your immediate Supervisor or others in Management, best to clearly tell them that they need not start thinking of how to replace you, you’re just being responsible and thinking forward. Reassure those you feel you need to that there is no immediate want or action being taken on your part to part ways. This wouldn’t be a good time to take home the family pictures on your desk for re-framing for example!

Once you have compiled this list of people willing to stand for you and back up your claims of experience and work performance, make sure you have this information available to you outside the workplace. Put it in the Cloud, on your home computer, in a filing cabinet etc. within easy access. The importance of this information will dramatically elevate when you need it and you don’t want to scramble wondering where it is should that time arise.

Look, it doesn’t have to be pulled out when there’s tragedy and loss; it just might be that someone puts a dream job in front of you with a real short timeline for applying. With a current resume you can submit an application on any given day and as for references, you’re doubly ready. Even if you never apply for another job, you’ll be practicing good behaviours and demonstrating to others how prepared and organized you are.

Honestly however, most of you who read this will agree the practice is good in theory but won’t do it for yourselves. This is the nature of such forward-thinking and advanced preparedness. Most people wait until the need arises and scramble to put together their resumes and find references.

Think about how unsettling job searching can be though. You can save yourself a great deal of anxiety and stress in the future by taking a few steps in the here and now.

 

 

Employment References


Recently someone asked me why employers ask for references. I couldn’t help but guess that the person didn’t have any which, as it turned out was true.

“Do they really matter? I mean are they going to talk to them anyhow? What if I just make some up and tell the interviewer that the companies moved and I don’t know where they are? Would that work? What if I just got some friends to pretend I worked for them?”

The short answer to this question is, “No! Don’t do it!”. Employment references are as equally important to an employer as they would be to you if you were looking for a Child Care Centre for your own children, or were hiring a Contractor to remodel your kitchen. The more you know about people, the more confident you are going to be in your decision. You want to increase the odds of ending up with a good experience for your child once in care; be happy with the renovation work done by your Contractor. Fail to ask or check for references and you run a higher risk of making a poor decision and regretting it. Well the same is true when employers are hiring.

Now a very good idea is to think about references long before you actually need them. You might be content at the moment in your present job, not seriously contemplating any change in your employer or looking for a promotion. Now is the very time to get all the contact information on the people you might need in the future. It should be easy enough to get the proper spelling, title, phone extension and email address of your boss and a couple of co-workers without raising suspicions. If something suddenly happens such as a plant closure or they take a leave of absence, you’ve got the information tucked away.

Traditionally, 3 professional (work-related) references are the norm, and possibly 1 personal reference. It raises concerns if you don’t use your most recent employer as a reference, so if things are strained in any way, try to smooth things over now before you actually need them in the future.

References are usually contacted – but not always. There are some employers that like applicants so much, they just don’t bother to contact everyone and trust their own instincts. That’s usually not the norm, but I have to acknowledge it does happen. Don’t bet on it in your own case however. Employers are protecting themselves more than ever these days, and one way they protect themselves is checking into the backgrounds of the people they hire. After all the interviewer only has  your word for all the wonderful things you say you’ve done and are capable of doing. References back up your claims of performance.

No references? Look at things from the other side of the table. You’re in your 30’s or 40’s and you can’t name a single person over the course of your lifetime that can vouch for your work history or your performance in any of your jobs? That’s pretty poor if you look at it objectively.

Say you got fired from your last job and are worried the ex-boss will not be willing to say anything good about you. Just to complicate things further, let’s say you have no contact information on any of your co-workers either; co-workers who just might attest to your work. This becomes a testament of your problem-solving skills. For starters, you should contact the company, leave your name and number and ask them to pass along a request for a return phone call from the people you worked with. When they do call, ask them to be a reference for you. As for the ex-boss; swallow your pride and speak directly with him or her. Tell them you are moving on, looking for other employment and need a reference; not a glowing endorsement, just confirmation of your start and end date. You’ve got nothing to lose and a whole lot to gain.

Some organizations actually don’t give performance references at all to protect the company itself. They have polices that just confirm start and end dates. If this is the policy where you worked, stop sweating and put the contact information for Human Resources down on your references sheet. On the other hand, if the boss is going to roast you alive if someone calls looking for a reference, you can warn an interviewer, briefly explaining the circumstances and what you’ve learned from the experience. The potential employer will appreciate your honesty.

Of course create an online profile through a social media platform such as LinkedIn. It has a section on your profile where you can publicly share recommendations others have made about you and your work performance. By sharing the hyperlink with employers right on your resume, they can look up these recommendations in advance of your first interview, see what others are saying about you, and this can motivate them to have you in over other applicants.

Invest in some volunteer work as another option. Whoever supervises you where you volunteer might be an excellent future reference.

The key is to think about your references now, especially if you are working. Stressing about having no references isn’t something you should be doing as the interview is winding down for a job you really want and need.

Writing A LinkedIn Recommendation


“I can’t thank you enough! I wish there was some way I could thank you.” Well you can and there is. It’s called the LinkedIn personal recommendation.

Perhaps this has happened to you personally where you have received some helpful advice from a colleague through LinkedIn, or you may have worked, (or work presently) with someone who is in your LinkedIn network. If you find yourself in either of these situations you are in an excellent position to share your experiences and describe for the benefit of others how effective your colleague has been or continues to be.

Consider the value in writing a recommendation for the person receiving it. Suppose for example that someone you are aware of is in the process of transitioning from their current job and looking for other opportunities. In this situation, you can assume rather safely that potential employers might receive the person’s employment application and then assign someone to go check out their profile. This is what employers are doing now in most cases before even extending offers of interviews.

So you can imagine how beneficial it would be to your colleague if an employer were looking at their resume, checked their LinkedIn profile, and there was a solid recommendation from you sharing your experience interacting with the person. “Hmmm”, says the employer, “it would appear this candidate has really made an impact. Impressive; I like that.” Now instead of the job applicant saying they are the kind of person who makes an impact, there is third-party evidence that this is in fact the case. It’s like an employer getting an independent reference prior to the invitation for an interview instead of the traditional way of asking for references at the end of one.

The recommendation should not just be saved for people you have personally worked with either. There are people you may be aware of whom you interact with on a fairly regular basis through discussion groups too. You could know of someone in a group who steps up when calls go out for help and advice. Maybe someone you’re aware of who continues to lead a group, regularly contributes to discussions and provides you with ideas to stimulate you yourself to pause and think.

Now let’s look at you personally. Suppose you’ve gone about creating a profile, and not really understanding what it’s all about, you’ve asked everyone and his brother to be a connection. Those 500+ connections are impressive. However with no recommendations, something you may not have intended could become clear; a lot of people know you but no one will back up your work with a recommendation – why is that?

Endorsements are welcomed too but they don’t mean as much or carry as much influence. Sue they are extremely beneficial, but I’ll bet you might have some endorsements from people you don’t know all that well and even you are scratching your head wondering how they know you well enough to endorse you. That never happens with recommendations and that is why they are more valued than endorsements. Endorsements involve a click, while a recommendation takes longer to pen and requires thought.

In my own case, I really value receiving recommendations. They are valuable to me because they legitimize and validate me to others. Recommendations boost my own self-esteem, reinforce my motivation for doing what I do because of the impact I’ve made on someone, and the future may see me at some point wanting or needing such external validation should I find myself looking for new work. I know too that if someone were looking over my profile trying to decide if I could help them out, they’d feel in good hands if I’ve obviously helped people in similar situations to their own.

Another group of people who may look over a profile could be your Recruiters or Head-hunters. If a company employs them to search out talent, they themselves might be impressed with someone who has recommendations and initiate contact with them over someone who has no recommendations in the same line of work. The thinking is that if a person has helped out other people and made a difference, there is a greater likelihood they can repeat that success elsewhere.

Should you ask for recommendations? Why not? If someone were to say to me, “I wish there was a way to properly thank you”, I’d request they write me one. If someone said, “I don’t know how to thank you”, I’d tell them how they could.

Sadly, there are a number of people who only take and don’t give back. They will seek out help from others and once that help is given, the person doing the asking disappears and cuts off contact. Hey it happens. It is professional courtesy to both receive and give, and when you think about it, reciprocating with a recommendation that might take you under ten minutes to write is a far cry from someone who reviews your resume, sends you some advice, or even helps improve your LinkedIn profile!

Unsolicited recommendations are by far the most treasured. Out of the blue you get a notification that a colleague has penned you one for you to read and display if you wish on your profile. Beautiful. All it takes is going to a person’s profile, scrolling to the, “Would you like to write a recommendation for so-and-so?” and clicking yes. You may get one of your own in response!

Yes You Need To Talk To The Person Who Fired You


Okay so you’ve been fired. Let’s call it what it is even though it stings.

If it’s just happened, your feeling shock and now is not the best time to really talk with your ex-employer because you’re probably more emotional than rational. But you do need to talk to the person soon, say after a week or two when the reality of your situation has sunk in.

And the reason for needing to talk to that disgustingly small-minded idiot who doesn’t know anything about how to run a company? WAIT! Okay maybe you need an additional few days before you have a little chat because you just don’t seem quite ready for that yet!

Now that you’re more in control of your words and your behaviour, let’s look at what’s to be gained from talking with your past employer. It’s not to get your old job back, nor is it to defend yourself against their decision or get them to change the reason you are no longer working there on your Record of Employment form so you can collect Employment Insurance or whatever the benefits are called in your country.

One of the things you are looking to do is move on and move ahead with as little damage to your reputation as you can salvage. In the future, you might find yourself in a position to need a reference from the person who directly supervised you in your last job, and it could be this is the person who sacked you. But be warned, companies and employers often want you to just go away and leave them alone. They are cautious about giving you any feedback or even talking to you because you may be launching action against them for wrongful dismissal.

With respect to a reference, of course you aren’t going to get a hearty endorsement. No, if you were fired because of performance issues, what you are really looking for in this respect is confirmation from your employer to a perspective employer of your work history; first day and last day. Yes you really did work there. Some companies actually have this as a policy now whether you left on bad terms or excellent terms. They just protect themselves from action in the future for either referring on a bad apple or a gem who doesn’t work out in their next job but was hired based in part on their recommendation.

The next thing you should find out is how your termination is going to affect you if you plan on continuing to look for work in the same industry and in the same general area. How well-connected is your employer with other companies? If your boss meets bi-weekly with his peers from other companies, you can guess that one of their discussions may get around to you if you are applying to work somewhere else. And while you can’t be there to defend yourself, you can minimize the damage by having a conversation.

So what would you say? Well for starters, you’d want to assure your former boss you aren’t hoping to win back your job, you’re sorry things didn’t work out and you take responsibility for your actions. This may come to them as a pleasant relief, instead of having you rant and rave about how you were entirely blameless. Next you bring up the subject of needing to find employment to support yourself, and then you ask if the person would be willing to confirm your employment dates. You aren’t looking for a glowing reference, but the sooner you find employment the better things will be for both you and the ex-employer, because people will stop calling them for a reference on you.

Note in the last sentence the appeal for the ex-employer. You get a job and people stop calling them about you and you yourself stop calling. They of course just want you in the rear view mirror, and honestly, that will be good advice for your mental health as well.

And here’s the thing. If your employer chuckles and says anything suggesting they’ve got you right where they want you and they’ll do nothing of the sort and bad mouth you to anyone who will listen, you need this information too. Politely indicate you’re sorry they feel that way and end the call. Now armed with that information, you’ll need to carefully compose a good answer to the anticipated interview question, “Why did you leave your last job?” or, “How would your previous boss describe you?”

If you have had good performance reviews in the past and have copies of these documents at home, you have some ammunition to demonstrate your good performance. In an interview, you may have to acknowledge you were terminated in your last job and briefly state why to demonstrate your honesty and integrity. It’s equally important to pass on what you learned from the experience, and not show your anger or bitterness. Turn the answer back to your strengths and skills and don’t dwell overly on your termination. Be in control of your emotions!

Being sacked is tough; talking to your ex-employer may be tougher. But doing it with dignity shows your maturity, wisdom and if you need a boost to your self-esteem, you can demonstrate to yourself and them how you won’t be baited into over-reacting, and can conduct yourself with class in a sensitive and raw time of your life.

Write Me A LinkedIn Recommendation


Think for a moment about the candidate selection process for a job opening in a company. Traditionally, a company advertises, receives applications, creates a short-list to interview, interviews, checks out references, makes an offer to their leading candidate and then hires. Notice how late into the process they get around to checking out references. References are the testimonies that back up what the candidate says they can do. The thinking is that if you performed well for another employer, were a person of integrity, got results etc. for someone else, you should be able to bring those same things here to this employer.

So then, as an employer, wouldn’t it be a tremendous advantage if you could get some independent, third party recommendation on a candidates value early on in the process? That would be advantageous. Not only would this be great for an employer doing some hiring, but if that employer enlisted the services of a Recruiter, the Recruiter in turn would be thrilled to read what people are saying about someone if the Recruiter was thinking of plucking someone out of their job at company A and offering them the chance to work for company B.

Of course not everyone on LinkedIn is job searching. It’s a professional networking site too, where content employees and entrepreneurs mix and mingle equally well with the unemployed, Recruiters, Headhunters, and the like.

What I have found during my own time on LinkedIn, is just as in the traditional networking experience off-line as it were, there are people who are in need and people who provide. Some do both, exchanging help in return for help, some wanting financial compensation for their expertise, others content to give it all away for free. It’s the real world only an ‘E’ version of it!

Now personally, I know that I’ve been asked from time to time to lend a critical eye to a profile here and there, or help re-brand someone via their resume I’ve been sent. With much appreciation for their trust, I’ve thrown myself into the work with enthusiasm, striving to do two immediate things in the process; provide an independent perspective that is meant to advance a person toward their goal and do it in a timely manner. Well that’s nice. I’ll admit that it is gratifying when the person takes the time to actually send a brief note of thanks for the investment of time and energy to give them some valuable feedback. What they actually do with it is their call entirely.

What would be nice in my opinion, is if the person then said, “Anything I can do for you?” This is the question that someone with advanced networking skills asks. Sure a note of thanks is excellent on its own, but networking is about building and nurturing relationships on a two-way or more level. Maybe as a receiver of help, the person is under the impression they have nothing of value to offer in return. Far from it my friend.

One option is to visit the page of the person providing the help in this scenario, and writing them a recommendation. Visit any other persons LinkedIn profile and near the bottom usually, you’ll see a section for Recommendations and you’ll be prompted, “Do you want to recommend so-and-so?”. If you do, you click on a few fields that indicate in what role you know the person and how you know them via the job they hold or held when you are making your recommendation. Then you get to pen or key your thoughts.

Now what happens at the other end when you are done, is that the receiver gets an email notifying them that you have recommended them. They then approve of the recommendation or not, and if so, it shows up on their profile. The advantage of this is that now others networking can see what people are saying about their experiences in dealing with the person. If you had several recommendations on your profile from your colleagues and those for whom you have provided a service, that could be very useful.

So let’s say, I personally am not looking for a new job. Why get recommendations? Well if I was receptive to helping out others and I had testimonials saying I was effective and helpful, it might then catch the eye of others who were seeking similar help. That does many things. First it gets more traffic, more inquiries, legitimizes what I’ve said in my profile, and dang it all just makes me feel swell.

Seriously though, recommendations also could help an Entrepreneur grow their business, attract a Recruiter to contact you and offer you the chance at a better job, and those employers out there DO check profiles. So they do get to read references and recommendations – sometimes before you’ve even been called to come in for an interview.

Do I Kelly Mitchell want recommendations? Of course I do! I’d be lying if I said I didn’t. I like my skills and expertise validated as much as the next person! However the best recommendations are sincere, unprompted by appeal, and given when truly warranted.

So the next time someone does something for you professionally, consider paying them back with a recommendation on LinkedIn. It’s quick, it’s free, and it will be appreciated.

Employment References And How To Get Them


I have always found it somewhat ironic that many employed people give so little thought to cultivating relationships while they are employed, beyond the usual water cooler chit-chat. Then when job searching, they think the only person they should use as a reference was their previous boss.

One day, you too might find yourself seeking a different job either out of necessity or personal development, and you’ll be looking around for people who can attest to the accomplishments you’ve achieved and what it was like to have you around. Why wait until you actually reach that climatic decision and then scramble to find references, possibly after you’ve already cleared out your desk and moved on?

If you are employed at the present time, NOW is the time to start looking at your co-workers, your clients, your Supervisor etc. as people who can help you advance your career by attesting to your acquired skills, your attitude, your personality, the values and beliefs you hold, your stamina etc.

Let’s look at things practically. Suppose you’re one of the lucky few who know exactly what your next career move is going to be, even if that move is years in the future. Okay so have you looked at that job description to identify the desired skills and education required? Have you sat down with someone who occupies that position now and talked about the desired qualities it will take in order to succeed? What traits do people possess who thrive vs. those who just scrape by in the job?

Now what you want to do is nurture those skills where you can in your present job, especially if you find yourself lacking in those desired areas. Sitting down with your current Supervisor and sharing your long-term goal, asking for their support and mentor-ship in putting you in positions to learn and acquire those skills now shows forethought, planning, goal-setting, and determination. The alternative might be to just coast along in your present job and then one day when the job vacancy is posted, learn for the first time what is required and then try to cram or fake your way into the interview. So you can have a steep learning curve or a steadily growing learning curve.

But back to those references. With your co-workers, you should start now to demonstrate your collaboration skills, work with others in a friendly, productive manner and put others in the spotlight when they deserve it. While it’s healthy and good to be a team player for the sake of getting things done and getting along, there’s nothing wrong with also being aware all the time that you are forging a relationship which you may later call upon to speak up and back up your claims of being a great co-worker.

As for your Supervisor, if the job you are eventually going for calls for creativity, leadership, problem-solving skills etc. get your Supervisor on board with your desire to be put into situations now where you can demonstrate and hone those same skills? Is there a project that you could lead, a long-standing challenge for your department or team which you could devote your attention to and come up with practical implementation-ready ideas? Maybe they’d generate more productivity, reduce costs, improve the work atmosphere, or maybe something simple like introduce a recycling program.

Another key to references is to stay connected to them. Suppose someone says they’ll be a reference for you as you get laid-off, but you let six months go by without even so much as a phone call to them or an offer to meet for a coffee. By the time you get around to actually needing them, they may themselves have moved on, changed their phone number, left the company, or the company shut down and you have no contact information. Whose fault is this?

So what do you say to a person who is willing to stand as a reference for you? Well talk with them about your current situation, what you’ve been up to with respect to your job search, some training you’ve taken, whether you’ve switched gears and are looking at a whole new line of work. Hold back on the frustration, the anger, the bitterness and resentment you might be experiencing. Show up looking like you have some personal dignity and pride in your appearance too. References may struggle to say how great you were to work with if the current reality is in conflict with the person they used to know.

References are not only to be ‘used’. Ask about their work, how things are going in their lives, and maybe you can even brainstorm some ideas to solve their problems. So what does that do for you? Well, it shows you aren’t so self-centered that you only care about your own selfish interests. Second of all it gives them a reason to stay connected if they feel you genuinely are interested in them and the relationship you once had continuing.

Of course, by keeping a reference current, you also get thought of much more often when employment opportunities come up in their lives too. That’s when your reference says to their own employer or one of their contacts, “Say, I know somebody who might be just what you’re looking for!”