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Dear Working Wise:
The jobs that I’m applying for are asking for three references. Is there anything I should know before I give them a list? Signed Careful Career Seeker

Dear Careful:

Picking your work references may seem to some like the simplest part of your job search, but it’s not.

Employers usually want at least three good references and so it pays to invest some time building the best list you can.

Consider Credibility—Immediate supervisors make great references, because they are most familiar with you and your work. A higher-ranking manager may seem more impressive, but if they can’t talk about your work, they will not be as persuasive.

Get references from people who can talk about your experience, skills, accomplishments and work ethic. They should also be able to clearly express their opinions over the phone and in writing.

Build your list—Make a list of potential references, with name, position, company, phone number, email and how they prefer to be contacted. You may also want to include a few words about how they know you.

Ask Permission—Contact your choices to ask if they are okay with being listed as references. Listen for any hesitation—it may imply they won’t give you a great review.

One useful strategy is to ask them in a way that gives them an easy “out” if they are hesitant. For example, ask, “Do you think you know me and my work well enough to be comfortable giving me a reference?”

If they say yes, ask how they prefer to be contacted and confirm that they will give you a positive review.

You may have trouble developing a list of references if you are new the job market, new to the country, your references have retired or relocated or if you don’t want your current employer to know you’re looking for a new job.

Try asking customers, clients, supervisors in other departments, teachers, people from your volunteer organizations—anyone who is familiar with your skills and how you work. Ask your retired references if they are willing to be contacted at home?

You can also provide copies of your past performance evaluations, letters of recognition, awards, customer comments, and other documents that demonstrate your value.

For more tips on overcoming a lack of references, read the Unavailable or problem references article on the alis website at

Ensure they give a good review—Give your references a few days’ notice about being contacted. This will give them time to prepare what they want to say.

Provide your references with an updated resumé or profile as a reminder of your background and what you achieved at their company.

Offer them a description of the position you’re competing for. Include a brief list of the necessary skills, so they can speak to those.

Tips for maintaining your references:
• Ask for a letter of recommendation every time you leave a position
• Keep in touch and stay on good terms with past employers/references
• Build a portfolio of awards, thank yous, testimonials, performance reviews

Good luck!

Charles Strachey is a manager with Alberta Community and Social Services. This column is provided for general information.

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Dear Working Wise:
I may need to take some time away from work to care for a family member and I’m wondering if the changes to Alberta’s Employment Standards might make it easier for me? Signed Doting Daughter

Dear Doting:

The Government of Alberta has updated the Employment Standards Code to support family-friendly workplaces and align the minimum employment standards with the rest of Canada.

Our workplaces have changed a lot since the code was last updated in 1988. Government decided on these changes after consulting with employers, labour organizations and nearly 5,000 Albertans.

You can read a summary of changes that took effect Jan. 1, 2018 at

These changes include adding new types of unpaid leaves and expanding eligibility for leaves.

Employees are eligible for leaves after 90 days, rather than one year (excluding Reservist leave).

New unpaid job-protected leaves:
• Personal and Family Responsibility Leave – up to five days per year for personal sickness or short-term care of an immediate family member, including personal emergencies and caregiving of children. No medical certificate will be required.
• Long-Term Illness and Injury Leave – up to 16 weeks per year for long-term personal sickness or injury. A medical certificate will be required.
• Bereavement Leave – up to three days per year for bereavement of a family member.
• Domestic Violence Leave – up to 10 days per year for employees addressing a situation of domestic violence.
• Citizenship Ceremony Leave – up to a half-day for employees attending their own citizenship ceremony.
• Critical Illness of an Adult – up to 16 weeks. A certificate will be required.
• Critical Illness of a Child – up to 36 weeks for parents of critically ill or injured children. A medical certificate will be required.
• Death or Disappearance of a Child – up to 52 weeks for an employee whose child disappeared as a result of a crime, or up to 104 weeks if their child died as a result of a crime.

Compassionate Care Leave changes:
• Have been extended from eight weeks to 27 weeks.
• Employees no longer have to be the primary caregiver to access the leave.
• Leave is available for multiple weekly installments instead of just two.
• Employees only have to provide one week of notice of their planned return to work date instead of two weeks.

Maternity/parental leave
• Is extended from 15 to 16 weeks to account for the mandatory one-week waiting period for federal Employment Insurance benefits.
• An employee may only be terminated during the notice/entitlement period if the business is closed or suspended.
• An employee whose pregnancy terminates within 16 weeks of the due date will still be eligible for unpaid maternity leave.
• Parental leave has been increased to 62 weeks to align with recent changes to federal Employment Insurance benefits.

For a complete list of changes to Alberta’s Employment Standards Code that took effect January 1, 2018, click

Charles Strachey is a manager with Alberta Community and Social Services. This column is provided for general information.

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Dear Working Wise:
Do you have any tips on staying warm while you work outside in the winter? We’ve already had a cold snap and I know that it’s going to get worse. Signed, Chilled

Dear Chilled:

Working in the cold can be uncomfortable and even dangerous. Cold weather is a workplace hazard. Employers must have a plan to control or eliminate the dangers of working in the cold.

Your employer should be monitoring the outside temperature and is responsible for taking steps to protect you.

What employers can do
• use a work/warm-up schedule;
• provide/recommend insulated clothing;
• provide an on-site heater or heated shelter;
• schedule work during warmer daylight hours;
• allow workers to take warm-up extra breaks if needed;
• use a buddy system so workers don’t work alone in the cold;
• educate workers on weather hazards and plans to protect them; and
• give workers time to adjust before assigning a full work schedule in the cold;

Workers also have a role to play in protecting themselves and their coworkers, because they are more likely to first notice problems like frostbite, hypothermia or dehydration.

What you can do
• Dress in layers—Layers allow you to adjust your protection, preventing you from getting too hot and sweating. Damp clothing wicks away body heat and causes you to feel colder faster.
• Stay out of the wind—a mild 20 km/h wind can make -20 C feel like -30 C. If you can’t work inside, try building a wind break.
• Take frequent breaks—schedule regular rest breaks, based on the conditions, so you don’t forget to warm up.
• Limit your exposure—get your tools and materials ready before you go outside. Work on small projects inside and then carry them outside for installation. Work outside during the warmer hours of the day.
• Drink warm liquids to help you warm up. Alternate with water or a sports drink.
• Cover your head and hands—be careful, scarves and gloves can get caught in moving equipment.
• Use enclosures and heating systems when possible, but be sure the area is well ventilated to prevent the buildup of carbon monoxide.
• Know the signs of frostbite—a tingling sensation or skin that looks pale and waxy are the first signs of frostbite. Your hands, face and feet are at the greatest risk.
• Know the signs of hypothermia—severe shivering is an early sign of hypothermia.
• Watch out for hazards—snow can hide tripping hazards like extension cords or even icy surfaces. Wear proper footwear and mark or remove hazards.
• Ask your co-workers—check out what they wear and ask them what they recommend to stay warm.

If you are concerned your workplace is not safe due to the cold weather to call the OHS Contact Centre at 1-866-415-8690 to discuss the situation.

For more information and tips, visit

Do you have a work-related question? Send your questions to Working Wise, at Charles Strachey is a manager with Community and Social Services. This column is provided for general information.
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Dear Frustrated:

Albertans with a post-secondary education tend to earn more and are more likely to be employed than those without a diploma or degree.

Nearly 70 per cent of high-school graduates were employed in Alberta in 2015 compared to 76 per cent of those with a post-secondary certificate or diploma. More than 81 per cent of Albertans with a degree were employed according to Alberta Labour’s Employment and Wages for Alberta Workers with Post-Secondary Education report.

And according to that same report, the average Alberta high-school graduate earned $24.42 per hour compared to $30.79 for those with a post-secondary certificate or diploma. Those with a degree earned $34.16 per hour on average.

The difference may not seem all that significant, but multiplied over a 40 year career a worker with a degree will earn nearly $1 million more on average than a worker with a high school diploma.

Alberta’s Occupational Demand and Supply Outlook 2015-2025 compares the anticipated supply and demand for hundreds of different occupations. Top growth occupations include: construction and transportation managers, computer and information systems professionals, nurses, medical technologists and technicians, sales and service supervisors, childcare and home support workers, and others.

Nearly all of these in-demand occupations require post-secondary training.

Young Albertans have an opportunity to make the most of their future by ensuring that they have the skills that employers need.

However, not everyone is ready to attend a post-secondary program straight out of high school.

Young people can learn a lot about the world of work by spending a year in the workforce. It can give them time to gather some career ideas, start an apprenticeship, start their own business, or develop an appreciation for the value of an education.

Encourage your daughter to explore her career options on the alis web site

Alis is full of helpful career planning tools, including:
• CAREERinsite career planning tool;
• Occupational profiles on more than 500 careers; and
• Video profiles of more than 200 careers.

The alis occupational profiles (OccInfo) include typical wages, expected hiring demand, common duties, working environment, and required training for each occupation.

She can also call the Career Information Hotline, toll-free at 1-800-661-3753, and speak to a career advisor.

She may discover the perfect career or program, like the skilled trades, where you spend 80 per cent of your time learning, and getting paid, while on the job.

Good luck!

Do you have a work-related question? Send your questions to Working Wise, at Charles Strachey is a manager with Alberta Community and Social Services. This column is provided for general information.

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Dear Working Wise:
It’s time to start applying to post-secondary schools and my son still isn’t sure what he wants to study. How can I encourage him to find a path and follow it? Signed, Concerned

Dear Concerned:

The huge variety of career options, combined with unfamiliarity with the workplace and the weight of choosing the right career, can be overwhelming for some.

Fortunately, there are a number of resources available to help young Albertans explore career opportunities and pursue success in the workplace.

Start your son’s journey off right with these six steps.

Step 1—Self-discovery is the foundation of solid career planning. Getting to know yourself can be tricky, though. The alis web site offers a free self-directed career-planning tool called CAREERinsite, which he may find helpful. Or, he may prefer to use the This Is Your Life workbook, which is available in the publications section of the ALIS web site.

Step 2—Explore careers that fit your list of wants and interests. This may be just the thing to get you excited about post-secondary education. The OCCinfo section of the ALIS web site houses a wealth of information on career options including detailed profiles of more than 500 occupations, including typical wages, duties, work environments, and educational requirements.

Step 3—Narrow down your choices. Try interviewing people who work in the careers that interest you. Informational interviews can give you a real-world view of the job plus they might open up other exciting opportunities. Job-shadowing, volunteering, and part-time jobs are fantastic ways for students to pick up valuable work experience and try out careers before they spend years in post-secondary. You should also factor in what the future demand is likely to be for your target career by checking out Alberta’s Occupational Demand and Supply Outlook at

Step 4—Choose a program and then a school. The EdInfo section of the ALIS website is a searchable database of nearly 2,800 different education programs available in Alberta.

Step 5—Apply. The ApplyAlberta website has made it easier for students to apply to one or more post-secondary institutions, authorize transcript transfers, and avoid having to fill out the same information over and over. Check out the ApplyAlberta web site at

Step 6—Alis offers a number of articles on paying for your education. Your son can also learn about scholarships, bursaries and student loans, and apply for loans, on the Student Aid Alberta website

Finally, if you would like any more tips to help you work with your son, check out the Career Coaching Your Teens: A Guide for Parents publication on the alis website.

Good luck to you both.

Do you have a work-related question? Send your questions to Working Wise, at Charles Strachey is a manager with Alberta Community and Social Services. This column is provided for general information.
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Dear Working Wise:
I heard that new Employment Standards changes are taking effect in the New Year. What’s changing? Signed Curious Cabinetmaker

Dear Curious:

Alberta’s workplaces have evolved since the Employment Standards Code was last updated in 1988.

The Government of Alberta consulted with employers, labour organizations and collected nearly 5,000 survey responses from the public regarding the legislation. That input was used to modernize the Code and align our standards with the rest of Canada.

You can read a summary of the Employment Standards Code changes taking effect January 1, 2018 at

Here are some of the more interesting changes.

Breaks—Employees will be entitled to at least one 30-minute break—paid or unpaid—within every five consecutive hours of work.

Compressed work weeks—now called Hours of Work Averaging Agreements—allow employees to average work hours over a period of 1 to 12 weeks for the purpose of determining overtime eligibility. Work weeks may also be compressed as part of these agreements.

Flexible Average Agreements—allow for hour-for-hour time off when employees work extra hours within certain restrictions.

Deductions—the Code will be clarified to explicitly prohibit paycheque deductions for faulty workmanship and cash shortages like dine-and-dashes and gas-and-dashes.

Overtime Agreements—will allow time to be banked for six months rather than three. Overtime banking must be calculated at 1.5 hours for each overtime hour worked.

General Holidays—the requirement to have worked for 30 days in the 12 months before the holiday will be removed. The distinction between regular and non-regular days of work will be eliminated. General Holiday pay will be calculated as five per cent of wages, general holiday pay, and vacation pay earned in the four weeks immediately preceding the holiday.

Vacations—half-day vacation increments will be allowed, up from a minimum of one day.

Termination and Temporary Layoffs—Employers will be prohibited from forcing employees to use vacation or overtime entitlements during a termination notice period. Termination pay will be calculated based on the previous 13 weeks of work.

Leaves—a number of new unpaid job-protected leaves are being added, including short and long-term illness, critical illness of an adult or a child, bereavement and others. In addition, the eligibility period for work leaves is being reduced.

Penalty system—a new administrative penalty system is being implemented for employers found to be contravening the Code.

Youth—youth under age 13 will only be allowed to work artistic endeavors, e.g., theatre production, with a permit. Youth aged 13-15 will be restricted to “light work”. Teens 16-17 years old will be allowed to do “Hazardous Work” with a permit, proper training, and supervision. Permits are not needed if the youth is registered in a work experience program. These changes will not take effect until light work and hazardous work are defined in early 2018. Until that time, the current rules for youth employment remain.

These changes will not affect youth activities such as babysitting, 4-H or branding parties, and won’t stop friends and neighbours from helping each other as they have done for generations.

If you are subject to a collective agreement, there may be a transition period before the new rules come into effect for you. To learn more, visit

Do you have a work-related question? Send your questions to Working Wise, at Charles Strachey is a manager with Alberta Community and Social Services. This column is provided for general information.

Photo Credit: Government of Alberta
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Virtual Job Interviews

Dear Working Wise:
I have a job interview coming up for a position in another city, but the interview is going to be via videoconference. Do you have any tips? Signed Eager Job Seeker

Dear Eager:

More Employers are turning to telephone and video interviews to screen and recruit candidates located outside their communities.

These interview methods are quite different from each other, and offer unique opportunities and challenges.

You can’t see or be seen by the interviewer during telephone interviews. This means you can use notes to help you summarize your most relevant skills, but you only have your words and tone of voice to market yourself to the interviewers.

In video interviews, you can see and been seen plus you have some control over what the interviewers see. You can use facial expressions to help make a connection with the interviewers, but it may be difficult to use prepared notes and still maintain eye contact with the interviewers.

Virtual interviews can seem more causal than in-person interviews, but it’s important that you take them as seriously as you would if you were sitting in the employer’s office.

Telephone interviews:
• Practice - Ask a friend to role play the interview with you. Rehearse your answers to help keep them brief and clear.
• Confirm the time of the interview and the telephone number you want the employer to use.
• Plan to have the interview in a quiet room away from distractions and noise.
• Use a land line instead of a cell phone to reduce the likelihood of technical issues and turn call waiting off.
• Keep your resumé, a list of your accomplishments, and a pen nearby for taking notes.
• Give the interviewer your full attention. Don't drink, smoke or eat.
• Dress as you would for an in-person interview. It will make you feel more confident.
• Smile. it will help you relax and help boost your confidence.

Video interviews:
• Choose the best technology for the job. Pick the one you trust and are comfortable with. Interviews are stressful enough without worrying about technical bugs.
• Consider what the interviewer will see. They should be able to see you from about the waist up. They should not be able to see anything messy, personal or unusual that could distract their attention from what an excellent candidate you are for the job.
• Choose a room that is clean and uncluttered, preferably with a plain wall as your backdrop. Use ample soft lighting so they can see you and not any harsh glares or shadows.
• Test the equipment an hour before the start time to make sure it’s working.
• Turn off any apps, notifications, screen savers or software that could interrupt the interview.
• Maintain eye contact. Look directly at the camera instead of your screen or your notes.
• Pause before speaking. A weak connection can cause a minor time delay. Make sure the interviewer is completely finished speaking before you start.

For more tips, read the How to Shine in a Virtual Interview article on the alis website at

Do you have a work-related question? Send your questions to Working Wise, at Charles Strachey is a manager with Alberta Community and Social Services. This column is provided for general information.

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Dear Working Wise:
I noticed some construction workers the other day working quite high up without any ropes. Shouldn’t they be using safety equipment in case they slip? Signed Wondering

Dear Wondering:

Anyone working at a height of three metres or more is required to use fall protection equipment.

Falls from any height are a common cause of serious injury and even death in the workplace. Around 20 per cent of the workplace incidents reported to Alberta Occupational Health and Safety since January 2012 involve falls.

Workers must be equipped with a full-body harness attached to an anchor point if a worker might fall a vertical distance of three metres or more.

Fall protection is also required over an unusually dangerous surface, such as uncapped rebar or other construction materials. Guardrails must be installed if a worker might fall a vertical distance of more than 1.2 metres and less than three metres.

The three-metre fall distance is measured from the point from which a worker may fall. The distance the worker would fall must be less than the distance to the nearest object/surface below the worker. The vertical height that a worker may roll or slide down the sloped roof before they lose contact with the roof is not considered to be part of the "fall distance." If the worker is working close to the gable end of a roof (in residential construction) then that height is included.

It is the employer's responsibility to ensure their workers are protected as much as possible. That includes having the proper equipment on site and ensuring all employees are trained in its use. Employers should ensure only competent, trained workers are up on the roof or other structure.

OHS actively patrols worksites to ensure all workers and employers are being safe. For some who aren’t working safe, it could mean a $200 to $500 ticket.

In fact, OHS officers issued 1,605 orders from April 2015 to April 2016 and more than half of them were related to fall protection.

If you come across a worksite where workers are up high and clearly not protected, you can call Occupational Health and Safety at 1-866-415-8690. You can also file a complaint online at

For more information on fall protection or any other workplace health and safety issues, go to

Do you have a work-related question? Send your questions to Working Wise, at Charles Strachey is a manager with Alberta Community and Social Services. This column is provided for general information.

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Dear Working Wise:
Do I have to talk about my disability with my future employer? I don’t want to hurt my chances of getting hired. Signed, Unsure

Dear Unsure:

The decision to talk about your disability is complex—what is right for one person may not be right for another, and what works in one situation may not in another.

If people can see your disability, or if you will need the employer to make accommodations, it may make sense to discuss it with the employer.

You don’t need to disclose your personal medical information or how you acquired the disability. Just talk about any challenges that your disability might create and how you typically work around these challenges and get the job done.

When deciding whether to talk about your disability, consider:
• How do most people react when they notice or learn about your disability?
• In the past, when have you felt most comfortable talking about your disability?
• Would not talking about your disability put anyone’s safety at risk?
• Will the employer think you’ve been dishonest if you don’t talk about your disability until after you’re hired?
• Do you need any accommodations to do your work? If so, you might want to talk about it.
• What do you know about the employer’s policies about people with disabilities?

If you decide to talk about your disability, here are some helpful tips:
• Practice. Try practicing the conversation with someone you trust like a supportive friend or family member.
• Be positive. Present your education, skills and experience as strengths. Talk about how you will be able to do the job. Focus on what you can do instead of what you can’t do.
• Anticipate. Think about questions the employer might ask and how you will answer them. Give examples. For instance, if you tell the employer you have difficulty hearing, they may ask how you will cope during meetings. Explain your solution and give an example of how you’ve handled similar situations before.
• Know what you need to be successful in the workplace. This includes equipment that you might need.

One concern employers may have is the cost of any workplace accommodations that you might need. You can reassure them by knowing what you will need and how much it might cost.

You can also explain that the Alberta Government’s Disability Related Employment Supports (DRES) can be used to help offset some of the costs of worksite modifications or assistive technology. To learn more, visit

The decision of how and when to talk about your disability will become easier as you move through your career and become more experienced with the workplace.

For more tips for job seekers with disabilities, visit the alis website at

International Day of Persons with Disabilities is December 3, 2017. A number of events are being held to mark the day. You can check out the calendar of events at
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Dear Working Wise:
I can’t stand the company that I work for anymore. I want to switch to a competitor, but I don’t know anyone there and I’m not sure if it’s any better there. Is there any way to find out what it’s like to work there before I take the plunge? Signed Ready to go

Dear Ready:

There are a number of ways you can find out about a company’s culture, management and compensation before you seek a new job.

As you mentioned, the best and easiest way is to ask someone you know who works there.

Another option is asking someone you are connected to on LinkedIn. Just type in the company’s name in the search box and LinkedIn will show you anyone you are connected to who has worked there.

You could try calling the company’s human resources department to ask for an informational interview. This isn’t a job interview; it’s just an opportunity for you to ask questions.

If you are looking for a more impartial opinion, check out Canada’s Top 100 employers Employers are evaluated on eight criteria that contribute to employee satisfaction. New winners are announced every November.

Another fantastic option is to attend a job fair where the employer is recruiting. Job fairs give you the opportunity to ask the questions you want to ask with relative anonymity. A calendar of upcoming Alberta job fairs is available at

If you want more than one person’s opinion, there are also a number of web sites that host employee reviews of employers.

Indeed offers employer reviews and ratings, including: compensation, advancement opportunities, job security, management, and culture.

Glassdoor offers job postings, employer reviews, salaries, and even reviews of job interviews at each company. They also offer an annual 50 Best Places to Work list—including a list of the top 25 best places to work in Canada.

One caution with these sites is that unhappy employees tend to be over represented—happy employees are less likely to post a review. If you choose to read these sites, you might want to treat the reviews as supplementary information, or as a way to scan for recurring concerns, instead of relying solely on the ratings.

If you would like more tips on informational interviews and researching potential employers, visit the alis web site and read the Advanced Techniques for Work Search booklet available on the site.

Alis also offers a helpful article called Research Employers.

Good luck!


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