I have a story to tell you. Have you ever referenced a person?
As a university student, we try avoiding procrastination. But overall, some of us have to learn this lesson the hard way. I wrote a paper in one night. I was focused on the task at hand, but I did not get any sleep for almost 60 hours. Tired eyes, sore body and could not think. One thing is for sure, I was not expecting a cold call reference on the Skytrain the next day.
Cold Call Reference
My definition of a cold call reference is when a person does not warn you that a potential employer of his/hers will be calling you. Two words to describe when someone provides cold call references to a potential employer: RED FLAG.
First, the relationship you built with your references can easily be strained. Why risk this bond? What I would do is communicate with your reference, either by phone, email, social media, or coffee dates. In addition, you are risking future opportunities for getting future references due to the strain in the relationship. References don’t only reflect you, but also the person who is giving the reference. I’m not saying you should become best friends with your reference, but at least be courteous. Remember, both of you are human.
Secondly, if the hiring person calls the reference, you have no idea what your reference will say. Depending on the mood of the day, your reference could give you a good or bad reference. Based on this conversation, it can make the difference between you getting the job.
Your Reference Sheet
Interviewers may (read: usually) ask you to bring a document of your references. But do you know 100% who the hiring person will call on your list? Obviously, if you have one or two references on the sheet, chances they will be called are quite high. Let’s say you have six references, but two of them are your strongest. Should you put them closer to the top of the sheet?
Honestly, I believe it does not matter. Employers care about the person they are potentially about to hire. What matters is what you can offer to the employer, what your industry background is and most importantly, you. The employer cares about who you are as a person.
What I believe matters most on a reference sheet is what isn’t on the reference sheet. Yes, I could tell you what should be on a reference sheet, but I feel like I would be lecturing you (We all love sitting very still in a 4-hour lecture, right?). I believe the bond you create with your reference is more valuable than the sheet itself. All the sheets have are two main components: the name and contact information. What the sheet doesn’t have is a person speaking about you. Finally, someone who can support you in your future endeavours! But how you establish (or reestablish) the relationship is up to you.
No, I’m not here to tell you who I have as a reference (though unless you are reading the article, and you are a reference of mine… Hello, and thank you). I just wanted to tell you about the references I have chosen.
Asking for a reference is one thing, but asking for a meaningful reference can last you a lifetime. Throughout the years, you may lose being in regular contact with your reference (and you have opportunities to reestablish the relationship), but the memories of the relationship will still be there. Here is what I do to choose references:
Talk to your co-workers, including your supervisors and boss. I’m not saying you should be idolizing these people (I would go insane if I were to do this), but establish a relationship with them. Like I said above, we are all human. Getting to know the lives of people establishes great friendships, both in and out of the work environment.
Work Hard and Have Fun: Yes, this is a given. Having a great work ethic is an important factor when working under someone or yourself. In addition to this, while working, have some fun in the workplace and get to know your co-workers. They are kind of like another family because you are working with them for an average of 6-8 hours per day. Also, understand your co-workers’ strengths and weaknesses, and you will become a more cohesive team when working on specific tasks. By having great co-workers and getting to know them on a personal level, you can have a better idea of who you want to ask for a reference.
Finally, pick, choose and ask the person. Based on what you have observed, set up a coffee date. This is not like taking a person out on a date to go ice-skating, but just establishing a relationship. Let the person know right away that you are applying to new positions, and ask if they are comfortable being a reference for you. This is a GREEN FLAG!
Asking for references is a skill that helps career development. Back to the story above about giving a reference on the Skytrain, I gave this person a good reference based on the information I observed, although I had just recovered from pulling an all-nighter. Did I learn a lesson? Yes. Did my friend learn a lesson? I believe so. After all, we are all humans.