Gathering References for an Interview

Reference Letters

Asked for references? If you find yourself lacking in this department, take initiative and gather a few letters of recommendation before your next big interview. Although it can feel uncomfortable asking this of someone, it may make the difference between getting the job and losing the opportunity. With that said, let’s take a look at some reference basics below.

Who to Ask for a Reference?

Typically, new employers check three references for each prospect employee, meaning you must put your best three forward. The people you choose may be professional acquaintances, old professors, customers, members of an organization, or previous supervisors/managers. Of these people, they need to confirm who you are, where you worked, and your relationship to them, among many other minute details. Keep in mind that the investigation often does not end with a letter and employers may contact these individuals over the phone. Always inform them of the job you have applied to and the qualifications the employer seeks.

How to Ask for a Reference

When you leave a job, you should never do so in a manner that “burns bridges” — that is, leave in a fashion that eliminates the chance of getting a positive referral. Other than this, recommendations are now easier to obtain thanks to professional social media websites like LinkedIn. Simply view a professional’s profile and request a recommendation. Know that employers may check the ratio of references to connections as well as the connection history between you and your referrers, so pick those you know well.

Anatomy of a Good Reference

Most reference letters pass through the following stages:

  1. Introduction — Name, Position, Relationship
  2. Context — Who the reference is for, relationship to individual, and other relevant details
  3. Judgement — Assessment of skills, qualifications, and/or past performances
  4. Examples — Concrete workplace examples such as projects, sales experiences, challenges, and successes
  5. Call-to-action — Clear and persuasive referral statement that allows for further discussion

Edit your references for comments that may hurt your credibility as well as for anything that reads too informally. If you pick a colleague, ensure that the information pertains to your career and not your lifestyle. Lastly, just like your resume, check for spelling and grammar.

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Things That Do Not Belong on a Resume

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A resume should only span one or two pages, meaning space is limited and there is no room for nonessential information. A resume should prove to an employer that you are the perfect candidate for the job and nothing else. Before editing your resume for the items below, also ensure that it is organized, inviting, and grammatical. Keep in mind the differences between a cover letter, resume, and LinkedIn profile — each are unique and require different forms of writing.

  • Skip the title “Resume” or the sign-off “References Available upon Your Request.” Chances are the employer knows what a resume looks like already, and if they like you, they will ask for references anyway.
  • Leave out sensitive information (i.e. SIN or criminal record) and personal profiling (i.e. age, age, race, sex, political and religious preferences, etc.). Along these lines, do not attach a photo unless the job ad says otherwise.
  • List post-secondary educational achievements, but forgo the mediocre GPA. Similarly, high school graduation is often assumed, so take this off.
  • Include recent and related work experience only, unless lacking in this respect. Always demonstrate why these positions qualify you for the job. As well, do not describe your salary history.
  • Save space by removing your hobbies. During the interview, you may have the chance to bring these up and talk about yourself more personally, but on a resume it just consumes space.
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The Highest Paying IT Positions

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Based on numerous market projections, we’ve wrangled up the top five highest paying IT positions in North America. Bear in mind that the income levels outlined are only medians, meaning jobs exist both above and below. Salary often boils down to location, company, experience, and demand. Knowing the average, however, does help when negotiating finances (See: “Let’s Talk Money” from Jan. 31, 2014).

In addition to the list below, Robert Half Technology suggests those with three or more years of SEO experience often land jobs with starting salaries of $75,000+. Tied to some of the positions below, professionals can earn north of $120,000.

  • Data Architect ($100,717 per year) — Also known as a Data Modeler, the key responsibility of this position is to construct archives and improve data transfer efficiency between storage systems.
  • Applications System Analyst ($96,207) — These professionals regulate all network activity and troubleshoot advanced technical errors.
  • Database Administrator ($87,330) — Not only must database administrator cull and refine data, but they must also ensure its security and accessibility.
  • Web Applications Developer ($78,568) — Often working with designers, web app developers manipulate a variety of coding languages to create websites and mobile apps.
  • Security Administrator ($69,797) — As implied in the title, security administrators oversee all server/network operations and configure/install protocols to boost corporate protection online.

In particular to the Greater Toronto Area, today’s market sits ahead of other Canadian cities for “best compensation levels,” rivaling only Calgary, Vancouver, Ottawa, and Montreal. With this in mind, take a look at the averages specific to our region (Chart from Yahoo Finance):

JOBS

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Role Reversals: How to Ask an Interviewer Questions

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When preparing for your next interview, draft a few questions of your own. Posing unique, well-informed questions demonstrates your initiative, competency, and ability to think critically. Often, a few thought-provoking questions have the power to influence an interviewer’s overall impression. This is because good questions reflect research, dedication, and creativity, while bad questions illustrate a lack of interest and/or a general ignorance.

Note: Most of the sample questions below are open-ended. Avoid overly tough, inappropriate, or controversial topics and try to relate your own unmentioned skills to the interviewer’s response. As well, implement some of the company’s accepted terminology (jargon) into your questions. Those listed below are merely examples, so shape them according to your research.

  • The job description clearly defines the position’s responsibilities and expectations, but could you describe a typical week here in the office?
  • What successes have previous employees experienced in this position?
  • How many others work in this department? Could you please outline the management structure in-place?
  • Are there opportunities for growth and advancement in the workplace?
  • Are there any other questions that I can answer for you, or any responses you would like me to elaborate further?
  • How does this department fit into the organization’s five-year plan?
  • In the past, how have major corporate decisions been handled?
  • What are the various ways employees communicate with one another?
  • What is the company’s policy on seminars, workshops, and training?
  • What equipment am I expected to use (i.e. computer software)?
  • How frequently do you conduct formal and informal reviews?
  • How does the company plan to keep an edge on its competition?

Post your own questions below:

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Surviving the First Week

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Many employment contracts include a probation period, where a worker may be fired without cause for the first few weeks. While most office climates welcome and encourage new team members, every workplace has dynamics to unravel. Unfortunately, competency is not the only thing employers assess during this trial period, so finding a place among colleagues is vital to your job security. Here are two tips to help you get started in a new position:

Make Friendly Introductions

Get to know everyone, including those outside of your department. Bridging communication generates fresh ideas, promotes inclusivity, and makes you an asset. Similarly, find a colleague who’s been around for a while and befriend him or her. This person may provide you with excellent advice. Take the time to introduce yourself to all managers as well. This demonstrates your comfort with authority and initiative in the workplace.

Display Your Skills

Unlike some strategy games, don’t leave your best move for last. Show employers why they hired you right from the first day. It’s okay to start small so long as you put your skills to the test. Some workers may feel more ambitious once they have organized their work-space; it helps them settle in. Forming good habits on day one also says a lot about an employee — it shows drive and dedication. Lastly, scope out the common areas, especially the kitchen and coffee room. These will become great places to mingle and interact with other employees.

Share your experiences below:

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How Companies Scare Away Talent

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Often, we think of candidates as job-seekers. But what happens when roles are reversed and a business must seek the perfect worker? Believe it or not, this is more common than most would think. Unfortunately, some companies end up scaring talent away in their pursuit. Let’s pinpoint the common mistakes to avoid:

Applications

Online applications save time — but only for the company. Most online applications are too long, especially when they reiterate the same question over and over. This frustrates prospect employees and often filters out some great candidates. Automated questionnaire assessments leave no room for contextualization or elaboration either. For this reason, in-house applications are best; they expose candidates to the business’ environment and require some form of interaction.

Expectation

Salary

Many businesses like to discuss salary only once a candidate has been selected. While there are various reasons to do so, this places a lot of pressure on the candidate, especially when the question of money is posed to them. When a business and candidate are on two separate pages about salary, the situation grows awkward and hard to move past.

Description

Lengthy, ambiguous job descriptions reveal nothing about the company or the position. Avoid skills like “outgoing,” “dynamic,” “responsible,” and other generic personality traits. Instead, focus on concrete skills and requirements so candidates can determine if they qualify for the job. Similarly, capture the essence of the company’s culture because roles and responsibilities are only part of a career. By overlooking these details, companies represent themselves poorly to the candidate.

Follow-Up

Maybe not for every resume, but at least after every interview, contact candidates regardless if the they got the job or not. This is a common courtesy that affects a company’s image as an employer.

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Where to Next: The Workforce or Classroom?

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Last year’s Global Workmonitor Survey (Randstad) discovered 84% of Canadians believe experience plays a bigger role in finding employment than education. Similarly, 82% of Canadians view temporary work positively. So when faced with the decision of returning to school or entering the workforce on a contract-to-contract basis, which should you choose?

Temporary work can offer invaluable opportunities that college and university classrooms cannot. Hands-on work within the industry is a great way to network, develop skills, and acquire new interests — all factors that will inevitably place you in a great job. Returning to school for a post-graduate degree or certificate, however, deprives skilled workers of such experiences. While the benefits of education cannot be denied, those who have already spent years formally refining their skills may feel disadvantaged by having postponed their careers.

If it’s a matter of expanding, updating, or diversifying skills, even irrelevant jobs can accomplish this. Temporary work is about meeting people, gathering information, and learning about workplace dynamics, challenges, and conditions. These are the environments that teach various soft skills like initiative and flexibility — two qualities employers find attractive. By focusing too much on education and not enough on experience (or vice versa), it will be difficult to progress in the workplace at first. As well, some companies give their employees the chance to return to school later in their careers, so maybe the decision is not one or the other, but rather which comes first.

This has been an ongoing debate and both sides have valid arguments. What are your thoughts? Should graduates and returning professionals go back to school or jump right in?

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