Asking for and receiving references is a normal part of a Canadian job search. Usually an employer will interview you, then make three calls to people who you say will vouch for you. Even though it’s a really common practice, every positive reference you receive is a gift. Whenever you receive one, it’s a reason to be very, very grateful. Here’s what that best-of-presents should look like.
1) Your reference says he or she knows you well.
Ideally, he or she has worked with you for at least a year and will remember your name when a prospective employer calls for a chat. This is occasionally a problem with professors, who are asked by oodles of students to give references. Similarly, volunteer coordinators may be swamped by reference-giving. To avoid the problem of your reference not recalling your name when asked about you, phone him or her or send an email to let them know your interviewer will be calling. Of course, you should always ask before offering anyone’s name as a reference. But if he or she said, awhile ago, “No problem, use my name any time,” they may actually have forgotten you. Call, leave voice mail or send an email to alert them that a reference may be needed soon.
2) Your reference says he or she likes you.
So, maybe you think it seemed like he liked you; he acted like he liked you, but did he really like you? There’s only one sure way to predict. Do you still have a relationship of sorts? Do you call to keep in touch or drop in at your former office? Is he or she happy to see you? How your reference behaves after you leave the job will be a strong indicator of how he or she feels.
3) Your reference will talk positively about you in a way that matches the job you want.
A conversation between a new employer and your reference might take 15 to 30 minutes. Here is where you hope your reference will use some complimentary adjectives to describe you and your work. Here is where you hope your reference will talk about how you’ve grown in your career. And here is where you trust your reference to match you to your current opportunity. If a past employer, volunteer work supervisor, or professor says yes to being your reference, this is what you can expect.
Normally, Canadian employers don’t ask for or check references until after an interview. By that time, you have a strong feeling for whether you are likely to get the job. Any insights you can give your references after an interview will be helpful. Comments like, “the interview had a lot of questions about safety issues; I think the company is very concerned about on-the-job injuries,” or “I was asked a lot about video editing,” can be helpful for your reference to know in advance of talking to your new company.
Be careful not to overburden a reference with information. At the same time, give any guidance you can. Your reference is about to give you an incredible gift that will move you to the next step of your career.
About the Author: Gwen Pawlikowski is a freelance writer and entrepreneur who has also worked as an ISSofBC employment counsellor with newcomers. She lives in New Westminster and loves the diversity of the Lower Mainland. Please click here for information on ISSofBC’s career services.