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
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
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
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.