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References For Your Job Search

Employment Advice For Persons With Developmental Disabilities

drawing of a person thinking about their career

Artwork provided by an individual supported by Reena.

Dear Joanna,

I have not worked in a long time as I have been dealing with other issues in my life that are related to my disability. I have not had the energy to look for work.  I’m ready now but do not have any references. I know that once I start getting job interviews, the next step could be a request by the interviewer for my references from former employers or volunteer placements.  I don’t want to lose out because I’m not ready with references.  What do you advise in this situation?

Signed: References Revival (RR)

Dear R&R,

References are a difficult challenge for job searchers.  After checking out this question with other job coaches at Reena, and based on my own research, practice and experience I have the following suggestions for you:

  1. Use social media. With today’s access to the internet, it is much easier and acceptable for you to find your old bosses from your former places of employment, and/or where you volunteered or studied. It’s great to know that many employers have told me that they are willing to check references all over the world, using emails as the main form of communication.
  2. Always double-check with the references that they are still available, and willing to provide you with a reference. Make sure you have their up-to-date contact details with a telephone number and voicemail.
  3. The Reference List should be neatly typed on a regular white sheet of 8 ½ by 11 paper. It should have the full name, current job title, position from your days as an employee or volunteer at the company, company name, address, email address, telephone and fax of each of your references.
  4. Keep in mind that the information on your Reference List is private, so DO NOT provide the list to potential employers until they have met with you in person and you are sure that you want them to contact the references. Sometimes the job posting requires three references even before the interview. If it’s a credible and recognized organization (for example universities, hospitals, telecom companies to name a few), then I would include this in my application. Again, I would double check with the references that they are available
  5. Always bring the Reference List to the interview, to present to the employer. But, make sure you provide the list only if the interviewer asks for it!
  6. After giving the Reference List to the potential employer, always make sure that you inform your references that you have given their name. Give them a “heads up” that they might be contacted — tell them about the nature of the job opportunity and the name of the employee who will be checking you out. If you can prepare them in advance, even better, as opposed to waiting until the last minute.
  7. Always keep in touch with your references, even when you don’t have a job interview. Once again, networking is the key and you should keep doing it, even if you are working. You never know when you need the references. Sometimes, they may leave the company where you worked, or volunteered, so you should constantly keep in touch. Using LinkedIn is a great solution; other social media tools are effective too.
  8. Treat your references like gold; stay in touch, send them holiday cards and show appreciation and gratitude.
  9. Speak to your references to discuss how they might answer the more challenging questions that interviewers might ask, such as giving the reasons for your departure from that job.  Although this is difficult, try to ensure that they will say only positive things about you.
  10. Ask your references to contact you after they have been called by the potential employer, to provide you with feedback. Whether or not the employer called the reference and what was discussed will give you a good clue about whether they are seriously considering you for employment.

Regards: Joanna

To submit your questions and comments to this column in confidence, please email Joanna Samuels, Employment Resource Specialist at Reena.