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.




“Proofread My Resume Please?”

If you ask someone to proofread your resume, you have to be open and receptive to the possibility that they will find mistakes. If you’re going to argue and defend your errors instead of correcting them, you’re not only wasting the time of the person doing the proofreading, you’re also risking their willingness to provide you with honesty.

Yesterday I had two very different experiences with two different people in the drop in Employment Resource Centre where I work. The first was with a fellow who was applying for employment with the Province of Ontario; which meant there were very specific instructions on how to submit an application; not only in terms of the resume, but also with respect to his cover letter and how to apply.

This gentleman approached me with his initial resume and to be honest it was extremely poorly constructed. It contained irregular spacing, multiple fonts; the content was weak and didn’t relate to the job he was applying for at all. Had he submitted this version of his resume it wouldn’t even have got more than a glance let alone led to the offer of an interview.

During the course of what was a fairly busy morning for me personally assisting a number of people, he would make revisions based on my suggestions and then approach me again for further feedback. He did this five times, and with every presentation, he was getting closer to a stronger application; not to mention his basic understanding of how to make a resume in general was becoming stronger. It was precisely because he was genuinely appreciative of the feedback that he was offered more and more. In short, he took the advice he sought out and implemented the changes; never getting frustrated but learning from the experience and implementing the ideas he received.

Now I contrast his experience with another person who approached me much later in the day. This woman approached me and said she was applying for a job and would I like to read over her cover letter, resume and list of references. I looked at the cover letter first only because it was on top of the resume. The initial sentence began, “I am submitting my Resume…”

I stopped reading and pointed out that the capital letter ‘R’ in the word resume should be lower case not a capital, and she said to me, “Well I’m not going to change it now. I’ve gone back to this cover letter that worked for me years ago so we’ll see.” I stopped proofreading the cover letter right there and looked at the resume.

The resume wasn’t a disaster at first glance, but it was missing the most recent two years on it. When I asked about that she said, “Oh this is a resume from two years ago, I’m just sending it the way it is.” I shuffled the papers and moved to the list of references. Now this document looked fine. It only contained three names instead of a standard four, but there were titles and contact information so it looked appropriate. However, just as I was about to say it was fine, she voluntarily said, “The first guy is dead but I’m leaving him on there.”

I put all three sheets down and said, “You’re intentionally leaving a dead person on your list of references instead of replacing him with someone else who can actually be contacted and speak to your experience?” She told me that she was indeed, because – and you guessed it – it worked years ago so she was using it again.

So what’s the point of asking someone for their feedback if you aren’t open to hearing what they’ve got to say, or are going to actually implement any of the changes they recommend? I told her in summing things up that there were problems with all three documents and that she really should make some changes to them if she wanted to improve her odds of getting an interview. I added however that it didn’t appear she was ready to make any changes at this time, so I wasn’t going to get into identifying all the corrections needed.

Now ironically, the woman might get further with her resume than the fellow. There is the possibility that because he is applying for a government position, the competition will be fierce and others extremely qualified. Sheer numbers could keep him from advancing to the interview stage. The woman may get an interview as she’s applying for a job through a mutual friend. The scrutiny that each application is going under is very different. While the employer may look over her resume and have her in for an interview as a favour to her friend, the fellow has no such connection, and if he gets an interview, he earned it entirely.

Look, the bottom line is that it’s wise to ask for others to proofread your work, and both get full marks for asking. However, it’s equally essential that you stay open to the help you get and consider the advice of people who are doing you a favour. Otherwise you are wasting your time and theirs; showing little respect for the time and opinions of others.

Can you get an interview with flawed documents full of grammar and spelling errors? Sure you can; it is possible. Is it likely? No. Act on advice and improve your odds.

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!

Great Customer Service Creates Jobs

As it’s mid-December, there are large numbers of people world-wide that are making the trek into stores and shops to browse and make purchases for Christmas gifts in addition to the regular shopping they do. This is therefore a time when all shop and business owners would do well to remind their staff about the importance of providing an exceptional shopping experience.

It’s overly simple actually and in an employees own self-interests to excel. Ensure that customers get personalized, attentive service and they’ll come back as well as spread the good word. This in turns means increased sales, more revenue for the employer, and hopefully more hours of work for the employees. And those seasonal employee’s that they took on for the higher crowds might make themselves invaluable to the employer in the process and find themselves hired beyond Christmas only.

The flip side is equally true; stores that don’t rely on great customer service and leave a shopper to find things on their own may find customers leave empty-handed, they then pass on negative experiences to their friends and don’t return themselves. Those seasonal employees don’t generate income for the store, and the store owner dismisses them after the holidays as per their contracts and moves on.

Do some shop owners and large businesses take the increased profits and terminate all the seasonal help anyhow after December? Sure some do. However, if you are an employee trying to catch on, on a more permanent basis, you only improve your odds of being hired longer if you are friendly, customer-focused, complete sales and make additional sales of merchandise.

As an employee, you are also generating a positive reference, putting current experience on your resume and filling in any developing gap when you take a seasonal job. Think of things this way; even if you are looking for a job in a field outside retail, this short-term position is still developing transferable skills you’ll use in the future and providing you with a number of possible answers to those interview questions in your future.

Think about it. You’re dealing with people and that means possible problem-solving experience, dealing with challenging situations, working on your sales pitches and how to sell a product. You’re also getting first-hand experience that could apply to the ‘teamwork’ question. So this short-term job you’ve got could be the current experience you need to demonstrate you have relevant skills to an employer in another field; the one in which your preferred job is found.

Right from the start in some seasonal job, you’d also be wise to think about the last few days you are employed in December. You’re going to probably want to ask your Supervisor to be a positive reference for you aren’t you? So now is the time to work to impress yourself upon them. Being friendly, helpful, willing to do the little things that are asked of you outside the job you were hired to do, and contribute to the stores financial well-being, that could really solidify your value to the Supervisor, and in turn help you when your future employer calls to check up on your performance. Think ahead!

Now on the other hand, there are people who will get hired for Christmas help and go through the motions. They only look as far ahead as the end of their shift, put in minimal effort for minimum pay, and feel that if the employer wants to make huge profits off of them, they should be compensated more than minimum wage. If you feel this way, you probably will have a less enjoyable experience working, and it will show. Don’t appear shocked and hurt in the future if you ask for a good reference and the Supervisor is reluctant or just gives you an average one. It has to start with you.

So it’s not too late being in the middle of the month. You’ve got time to put in a stellar effort and turn things around. Each day you get a choice to do your best or not. And more than each day, you get a chance to change your attitude and increase your performance and therefore value to an employer throughout the day in any given moment. If it doesn’t come naturally to you to be overly friendly and helpful, try it out on the next customer. Interacting with a single customer will only take a few moments; ten at the most I’d reckon. Can you ‘fake it until you make it’ for that short period of time? If you can, duplicate it with the next person, and so on.

Rather than being jealous of other salespeople who have awesome customer service skills, think about watching and learning from them. Even going up to someone and complimenting them on their abilities and asking for their help in developing your own people skills is good advice. We all learn from each other, so why not learn from people who do things better than us?

Be attentive, be friendly, welcome people to the store, thank them for coming in, ask if you could assist them. Tell people about any specials you have and if they want to be left alone, tell them you’ll be happy to help them and all they need do is ask when they are ready. Leave your cellphone in the backroom and focus on your job.

May you have a good seasonal employment experience!

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.