I'm sitting in SFU's Campus Security office with this middle-aged man firing questions at me. The door of our tiny room is closed, the overhead light is hot, and I feel sweat starting to bead on my forehead.
You're wondering, of course, what did I do? Well, I agreed to be a reference for a student who had volunteered for me.
The man was from CSIS (Canada's version of spy central) and was hiring said student for a Co-op position. After twenty minutes of being battered with questions like, "is she a loyal Canadian?" and "tell me about her use of illegal substances", it made me reconsider agreeing to be her reference.
Since then, I've tried to demand some respect for the role of references, and share some advice with students from the reference point of view:
You're Asking Someone to Promote You
Although you might be scrambling to find three people, take the time to consider who can really do the job of promoting you. I've had students write me down as a reference without asking me and another young man accuse me of losing him a job because I talked about one of his weaknesses.
Make it Simple for References to Speak Well About You
Highlight key strengths and weaknesses that would be okay to discuss
Remind them of experiences you had working with them that might be relevant to talk about
Provide a copy of your resume, cover letter and the job description
You're Taking Someone's Valuable Time
Usually the people you're asking to be your reference run pretty busy lives. Consider their schedule when making requests, and if someone says they are too busy, move on to your next potential. The last thing you want is someone who feels irritated by you speaking on your behalf.
Give References Ample Notice
Contact them whenever you plan to give out their name so they have a head's up
Provide a few weeks if you need a reference letter so they can schedule a block of time to write it
You Need Them to Play a Critical Role in Your Career
If someone takes the time and energy to be your reference, they probably care about you and your career. Many people don't realize the reference relationship is one that needs to be fostered, as you may need to call on a good reference for a long-time.
Respect the Reference Relationship
Pop references an e-mail or drop by in person to let them know the outcome of your job search.
Chocolates, gift cards, or a simple thank you note go a long way to showing appreciation.
Check in regularly with updates and show interest in their lives as well.
And if you're wondering about that student I did the CSIS reference for? Well, I never heard from her. I found out from someone else that she got the job, but she never bothered to thank me. You can bet I won't be helping her out again.
Article orginally published on Women's Post.