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Legal Department

Springing into Summer Jobs

Dos and don’ts from a lawyer’s perspective

By Barbara Warner

            Please remember when reading my column, I’m only sharing general information. None of what I write should be taken as legal advice, opinion, or an offer to represent you. You should consult with a lawyer if you have legal questions or concerns.

It’s spring: green grass, baseball games and . . . job interviews?
            Summer job season is approaching, whether you’re a high school student with two months on your hands, a college or university student with four months to try to save up money for next year’s tuition and living expenses, or a more experienced adult who wants to pick up some seasonal work.
            So I thought I’d share some dos and don’ts from someone who has been the interviewer, the interviewee and the legal advisor when things have gone a bit awry.
            Do your homework. Check whether you are eligible to apply—is there a minimum age requirement (for serving alcohol, for example)? Is there a need for a driver’s licence? Do you need to be in a particular course or year at school to be eligible? If you’re an international student, does your visa or permission to enter Canada allow you to work at this job?
           Create and maintain an up-to-date resumé. You must be truthful in your resumé if you want to keep the job and protect your reputation. Fabricating or embellishing information on a resumé will hurt you — maybe in the short run, and definitely in the long run.
           Keep a list of references—people that you worked for or with—who are willing to speak highly of you. Do not simply ask, “Can you write a letter of reference?” Ask, “Are you able to write a positive letter of reference for me?” You want only references who will sing your praises.
           Your list of references should include the people’s names, their current contact information (mailing address, email address, telephone number, fax number), and their title or some description of how they know you. Only list people who have given their permission and who will say good things about your work.
           Always include a cover letter. Use that letter to connect the dots to show how your background, current skills, and personality as a worker connect to the requirements of the job, and the needs of that workplace (and their clients, if they provide service to others).
           Prepare in advance for all interviews. Practice with a friend, family member, or in front of a mirror so you know how your responses will sound. And don’t just practice answers to the easy questions, try to think of questions which might stump you. (There are lots of good resources on the Internet for interview preparation—find and use some.)
           Don’t get rattled if you are asked a question which seems out of place or wrong.
           For instance, most employers shouldn’t be asking your age or if you have (or want) children. Employers can ask about your qualifications for the job. But like the rest of us, interviewers are human and may not always ask things properly. Keep your cool when faced with questions which seem wrong, and reply diplomatically. If asked your age, don’t say, “You’re not allowed to ask me that” or “Guess!” Try something vague like, “I’m old enough to handle the responsibilities of the job,” or “I’ve had a full driver’s licence for X years.”
           Always be polite. Show respect for the interviewer’s time and skill by: dressing appropriately (better to err on the side of overdressed than too casual), arriving a few minutes early, greeting the receptionist cheerfully, introducing yourself with a firm handshake and a confident smile, having extra copies of your application, resumé, and three references on hand, and answering questions in a clear way.
           Don’t despair if you get a rejection letter in reply. Instead, contact the interviewer and politely ask if they can provide some feedback on your application and interview. Stress that you are looking to improve your performance at future interviews. Listen carefully to any feedback and take notes. Usually it makes sense and will include advice for next time. But consider getting a legal opinion if their answers include things which seem unfair to you such as discriminating on the basis of your age, your caregiving responsibilities for family members, or a disability.
           If you are lucky enough to get an offer, don’t celebrate quite yet. Take time to confirm the terms of employment. These are the important details like the hours, the pay per hour, what the job requires you to do, and any benefits such as staff discounts or RSP contributions. It’s best if you can get this in writing. If you get only a verbal offer, that’s fine—send an email or letter confirming your understanding of the terms, and that you agree to them.
           Of course, you don’t have to accept. You may wish to have a trusted family member or even a lawyer review your letter of employment or employment agreement before you sign it. (Students: you can sometimes get help from a legal aid clinic at your school, or through your parents’ workplace benefits such as LegalShield.)
           There is usually no harm in making a counter-offer if there’s something you need changed. It’s hard to get more money per hour, but you might be able to get a specific day off or a different start date. But again, employers can’t read your mind. You need to ask, and you need to be prepared for the answer.
           Next month I’ll talk about your first days at work—from both the employer’s and employee’s perspective. For now, I’ll close with this thought: I’d like to think that the days of applicants’ being judged on their appearance, and being asked sexist/racist/homophobic questions are over. But I’d like to hear from you if your interviewing experience proves me wrong.

Barbara Elizabeth Warner is a Barrister & Solicitor at WarnerLaw. You may contact her at 647-918-5387, info@warnerlaw.ca or @WarnerLaw on Twitter. www.warnerlaw.ca

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