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June 10, 2004
 Student View


Point of reference

Katie Norman
Katie Norman
Life is filled with opportunities and the pursuit of those opportunities. It seems that any time an opportunity arises it is necessary to draw on others’ opinions of you to ensure that you get to partake in the particular situation. Jobs, scholarship forms and graduate school applications are some of the most pertinent times a student needs to find a person who supports their initiative and can say a good word about their work ethic and character. Everyone needs a “reference” at some point in their life; it just seems that as a university student every where you look someone is asking you for a “reference” before they will take a chance on you. Needless to say gone are the days when “references available upon request” will suffice.

References tend to be categorized into three types: academic, professional and personal. An academic reference refers to a professor or teacher who can speak on behalf of your study skills, ability to analyze and your competence in their subject area. A professional reference refers to an employer who can talk about your strengths in the work environment, your efficiency and your effectiveness. A personal reference refers to someone (not a family member) who knows you from your volunteer work or some other community event you partake in. This type of reference can talk about your positive personality, your goals and achievements outside of work and school. It is a good idea to know which type each of your references fall into.

Academic references always seem easier to find in high school. High school is more intimate than university and many students have more one-on-one contact with their teacher than they have with all of their university professors combined. Often a quick glance over your most recent report card will highlight which teacher to ask to be a reference for you. If you excel in their subject then they likely know you and would be willing to vouch for your skills and abilities. There isn’t necessarily such a connection between students and professors in university. Often large classes and limited instruction time, not to mention the lack of professor interaction found in extra-curricular activities which is found on high school sports teams and drama troupes, overshadow the relationships built in high school. This means that the student needs to work to establish a relationship with a professor. Naturally this may seem easier if you’re doing well in the subject and enjoy the professor’s teaching style. The best way to establish a relationship is to make yourself known through answering and asking questions in class. Once the professor begins to recognize your face, visiting them during office hours should be less nerve-wracking. I once spoke to a professor about the difficulties of writing references for students who they barely know. All they have to go on then is your marks, this of course is assuming that they will speak on behalf of you without knowing you very well. It cannot be emphasized enough about the importance of establishing relationships with professors. This not only helps with networking but will also likely help your grades as well.

Professional references are comprised of a pool of employers from summer jobs, part-time employment and co-op placements. The important thing to remember while you are working is that the people around you can all possibly vouch for you in the future. Building strong relationships now with your managers and co-workers is important. It makes the days at work go shorter, too. Applying yourself at work, no matter how meaningless you think flipping burgers is, shows that you’re hardworking, something that every employer wants to see. They also want to see an effective communicator and someone who is willing to learn new things. This doesn’t mean that you have to portray someone that you’re not while at work. However, thinking about behaving positively makes you conscious of your actions and the way others perceive you.

Personal references allow you to show a side of yourself that other reference may not fully see. Those few afternoons a week you spend at the animal shelter or volunteering with a Beaver group allow your supervisor to see what is really important to you. Anyone who has made a resumé with Microsoft’s Resumé Wizard knows that the template leave spots for interests and hobbies. The personal reference should be able to vouch for those items.

Finding references is not as cut and dried as it seems. If you plan on working or continuing with your education, applying for a scholarship or landing an internship, there is likely a paperwork component before the commencement of your goal. References are likely a part of this paperwork. Thinking about references is important. It’s responsible and just as much a part of the process as the resumé and the education. Some people assume that any previous employer can be listed as a reference without calling to ensure that this if okay first. This is a bad practice. While the employer may not mind, the person contacting them to ask questions about you may notice that your employer seems off guard about the call. This can make you seem unprepared. After all, whom you select as your reference speaks a lot about yourself.


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Next issue: June 30, 2004

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