References are Often an Afterthought
by Stephanie Legatos / Career and Job Coach
You know you need a list of references, and every potential employer expects you to have this. However, many people use – and have used – the same people over and over. I think about references as parallel to 360⁰ assessments: use a variety of people who can support your candidacy from different perspectives. You’re probably already doing the basics – you have a References document, with your name and contact information in the same format as your resume, and you list 3-4 people who know your work pretty well. That’s a great start! But, there’s so much more to think about. So, who are you using – and who can you consider using – as a reference? Although this article focuses on a Reference List, with the exponential expansion of and focus on social media visibility, you can apply these strategies and tips to building, expanding, and creating the best network contacts that align with your goals. The most typical reference is a current/former manager, supervisor, and/or co-worker. Not to diminish their importance – these types of references are critical to your job search. I often hear that people let these connections lapse. If your job search is longer than you anticipated, you might not have kept in touch with these people for a variety of reasons. Or, you may have left the organization on less than the best of circumstances. It is important to reconnect if you can. There are potentially lots of other people who you can use as a reference. Here are some examples you might consider, if you haven’t already.
A manager, supervisor, project manager, or team leader who you reported to cross-functionally on a specific project. They would be able to focus on specific skills, attributes, or ways of working that you contributed to the project’s success – especially if you don’t use these skills on a regular basis in your role.
A customer of the company/organization – someone who you interacted with consistently. An external customer has a unique perspective – not only the quality of your work, but also the quality of the interactions and the relationship. Customers can describe you as a person behind the work – your “soft” skills. By the way, more than 70% of employers still state that they hire for soft skills as other job-related skills can be taught. On the other side, maybe your work with a particular customer helped retain the customer? Or generated referrals and new business? Don’t overlook customers!
A vendor of the company/organization who you placed orders with or identified as a new vendor that represented cost-savings or a higher quality product or service. This is another way you are/were a face of the company to the external world. (And, these people represent potential networking resources!)
A client – someone who you worked with long-term or in-depth who can talk about your skills, your personality, and how what you did impacted their goal attainment and success. We all can relate to, and want to hear, these human stories!
If you work(ed) in a nonprofit organization; city, municipal, state, or federal agency; or a school or in academia – consider asking an employee of a partner organization for a reference. It could be an organization with whom your organization partnered on a grant, an initiative, or a project. Again, they have a unique perspective because they saw your work, how you work, ideas and/or resources you shared, and how you maintained the reputation of the organization you worked for. A client of mine had been facilitating quarterly meetings with community organizations for two years; she never thought of asking a manager or employee from one of those organizations to be a reference.
Volunteer work – You can consider another asking another volunteer, or the person who you supervised your work, someone who can talk about your role and contributions. I recently talked with a client who hadn’t thought about this angle. She was on a fundraising committee at her son’s school. When I asked her what she did that no one else did, she could easily and confidently say, “I came up with a new idea for business contributions and implemented it, raising more money than the school ever raised before through two specific events!” For someone who had a series of short-term jobs in the past four years, the teacher who headed this committee would be an excellent reference.
Watch for Part 2 of this article, focusing on maximizing the value of your references.
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BOSTON.com – Fighting age discrimination in the workplace. Some companies are making the case for the older worker. A report by AARP projects that 35 percent of the U.S. workforce will be 50 or older by 2022.
John Halloran, 67, said his last job search in 2013 was an “eye-opening” experience.
Halloran was a territory manager for digital research database LexisNexis before his position was eliminated as part of a company-wide reorganization.
Halloran began to search for a new job, something he had not done since the 1970s. At first, he said the momentum was moving in his favor. He interviewed with hiring managers over the phone and, after several conversations with one company, he got a sense the people on the other end of the line were excited to hire him.
But the excitement didn’t last. Halloran felt things change once he went for an in-person interview with the company’s chief executive.
“When he greeted me, he wasn’t expecting a person of my age to get off that elevator,” said Halloran. “It was pretty clear the enthusiasm on the phone was not there that day.”
“It’s the last of the big ‘isms’ … First is sexism, then racism, and then ageism.”
Halloran believes his candidacy was doomed once the chief executive saw him in person and realized his age.
“It’s the last of the big ‘isms,’” he continued. “First is sexism, then racism, and then ageism. The first two have been legislated against effectively but the last one has not.”
Working for change
Eventually, the tide turned for Halloran. He connected with Operation A.B.L.E. of Greater Boston, a nonprofit organization that helps “mature job seekers” find employment and training. Through his connections at the organization, he was able to land a job as director of sales for Roxbury Technology Corporation in 2014.
Joan Cirillo, president and CEO of Operation A.B.L.E., says the non-profit works to counteract common misconceptions that can prevent older workers from landing jobs.
“There are many biases that employers hold about job-seekers that are 45 and older,” said Cirillo. “They think they’re not quick on a computer, or they can’t learn as quickly, or you can’t teach an old dog new tricks.”
In fact, Cirillo says older workers can bring a lot of strengths to the table, including dependability, experience, and a willingness to collaborate with younger employees.
“There’s just a tremendous strength of experience older workers bring,” said Cirillo. “[They’re] wonderful mentors to younger employees, wonderful trainers who take pride in showing people how to do something.”
A recent report by the AARP makes the same argument. The report, “A Business Case for Workers Age 50+,” found older employees bring several advantages to companies, including experience, professionalism, knowledge, a strong work ethic, and a low turnover. The report also projected that 35 percent of the U.S. workforce will be 50 or older by 2022.
Kim Castelda, vice president of human resources for Bullhorn, which makes consumer relationship management software, said her company benefits from recruiting older talent because of the stability these employees bring with them.
“Whatever business challenge is thrown at them, they say, ‘I can solve this problem,’” said Castelda. “They won’t be rattled.”
Castelda, 52, said recruiting older workers also helps younger employees learn the ropes.
“When you’re hiring someone young … my perspective is you’re getting what you pay for,” said Castelda. “[You’re getting] someone who needs to be mentored, needs to be helped and grow into a new environment. You need to have experienced people on staff to do that mentoring, to do that coaching, and to help those young people along.”
Misconceptions about technology
Cheryl Delaney, a 68-year-old caregiver, echoed the belief that young people can learn a lot from older generations. “One of my beefs is that I don’t think [employers] use elderly people as much as they should in terms of mentoring.
“[When] most young people come in and start off, they think they’ll climb the corporate ladder in two years,” said Delaney. “A lot get frustrated and leave. You need to have patience and understand different types of people.”
Delaney previously worked for Fidelity as a receptionist before finding a post-retirement job as a caregiver through RetirementJobs.com, a company that tries to connect older professionals with appropriate companies.
Another one of Delaney’s “beefs” is the misconception held by some employers that people in their 50s and 60s are not “up to par on” technology.
“I understand why, especially if you’ve been out of the job market for a few years,” said Delaney. “But I see people in their 90s who are wizzes on a laptop. People can learn these things.”
Delaney said she hopes more employers will reconsider what older workers can bring to the table.
“My hope is that a hiring manager can see the whole person, not just an old face that might not be able to pick up tech skills,” she said. “I wish more employers would look beyond the face and think of the experience and maturity we have and what we can offer.”
Original content found at Boston.com
It helps to have a network to fall back on when you’re trying to re-enter the workforce.
US News & World Report – During the Great Recession, Joan Cirillo, president and CEO of Operation A.B.L.E. of Greater Boston, found herself working with everyone from unskilled/low skilled laborers all the way up to unemployed C-Level executives. And today, the demand for services has not let up. Her agency “focuses like a laser on helping people over 45 get back to work.” In a typical year, Operation A.B.L.E. aids about 1,000 job seekers, and this year the number is likely to top-out closer to 1,200.
Likewise, New Jersey-based John Fugazzie sees no letup in those seeking employment. He travels the country as the founder and head of Neighbors-helping-Neighbors USA, talking about the fact that the overall crisis of long-term unemployment will not abate until the U.S. produces far more jobs. His organization sponsors community-based rather than age-based networking groups in many cities.
Both Cirillo and Fugazzie recently spoke at “The Crisis of Long-Term Unemployment,” an MIT conference for approximately 250 leaders in academia, government, nonprofit support organizations and other employment related professionals. They were interviewed for this article.
While each has their own way of helping people find their way back into the workforce, Cirillo and Fugazzie share a common empathy. Cirillo emphasizes that each candidate needs to figure out what he or she wants, and where the match is likely to occur between his or her interests, skill sets and the marketplace.
Operation A.B.L.E. is funded in large part through grants, and its staff recognizes that one size doesn’t fit all when it comes to helping folks who aren’t ready, either financially or psychologically, to retire. Accordingly, the organization offers a variety of services: coaching, retraining, networking groups, job leads, job fairs for mature workers and more. Among its specialties: Helping people confront rampant age discrimination. The situation determines the best strategy to use.
For example, when a 28-year-old interviews someone age 60 or older, Cirillo might counsel the candidate to say: “I know you are looking at me and maybe thinking that I’m old enough to be your father. But I want to assure you that I have tons of energy and I love working, and I can’t imagine not working. I am very excited about this job opportunity, and I think I can to a terrific job for you.” Cirillo and her staff spend a great deal of time developing networks of employers who will look carefully at well-qualified candidates they recommend and make solid matches.
By contrast, Fugazzie is unemployed, his organization doesn’t have funding and it’s run entirely by volunteers. Nonetheless, he points to considerable success: More than 400 people in his networking groups have landed jobs in a little more than two years. “We educate people as to how the job market has changed, and really the market now is dramatically different than it was five years ago,” he says.
There are many types of networking groups for job seekers. Some are faith-based. Others are conducted by and within local public libraries. Some are for people with the same skill-sets or industry background. Their sizes vary from just a few brunch buddies to large gatherings of people. “We are there to support people,” Fugazzie says. Ideally, his meetings are structured to have 10 to 15 people and last 90 minutes, and include the following elements:
1. Elevator pitch.
“We make people practice their elevator speech so they can say what they are looking for,” he says. “You can’t do the personal touch with larger groups. In a smaller group, people will open up, and if you can’t get someone to open up, you can’t help them. It’s all about peers, because sometimes peers are better coaches than coaches because they are living it today.”
Companies are so inundated by résumés that many have ceased even publishing the jobs that they’re seeking to fill, Fugazzie claims. Companies like people with leadership skills, and he aims to get people to take turns volunteering to lead meetings. “I encourage people to put volunteer leadership experience on their résumé,” he says. “When you are attending meetings, you are helping other people in the group even when you are in pretty rough shape yourself. That shows a pretty good character endorsement.”
According to Fugazzie, many of the people who assumed leadership roles with Neighbors-helping-Neighbors USA have found jobs, and he continually needs to train new leaders.
3. Accountability round.
Every week each attendee is expected to volunteer to answer to the group: “What did you do last week. What are you doing this week?” Fugazzie explains: “It is where they touch base with everybody. It helps on the peer side to get input. People can get feedback. They can ask each other questions like, ‘I called this guy … do you think it is too soon to call him back?’ Or, ‘I’ve been working with this recruiter and I haven’t heard boo. What do you think?’”
4. Open discussion.
Part of each meeting is open-ended brainstorming. People share ideas that may not apply to you directly. “But they get you thinking in a new way, out of the box,” Fugazzie explains.
5. Celebrating success – maintaining hope.
“We keep everybody positive, I think that is a big part of it,” Fugazzie says. “It is easy to be angry when you are going through the process. When somebody lands, we celebrate it – not just for them, but to show everyone else that there is a light at the end of the tunnel. They see the example of others.”
When you’re unemployed, there is a natural impulse to turn inward and assume the problem is with yourself. Both Cirillo’s and Fugazzie’s experiences point to the value of both finding and providing support to others when you’re looking for work. Seek groups like theirs in your community, and if you can’t find one, start one as Fugazzie did.
By joining a group of job hunters, you gain peers and can develop your own leadership skills. With the advice and support you gain, hopefully your success will shine the light at the end of the tunnel for others.
Arnie Fertig, MPA, is passionate about helping his Jobhuntercoach clients advance their careers by transforming frantic “I’ll apply to anything” searches into focused hunts for “great fit” opportunities. He brings to each client the extensive knowledge he gained when working in HR staffing and managing his boutique recruiting firm.
Original content found here.