Professional References are people who can provide objective opinions about your work habits, ethics and skills.  A potential employer will want to speak with your references in order to gain a complete picture of the type of employee they will be getting if they choose to hire you, so good references should be able to instill confidence that you are the best candidate for a particular job.  No matter how honest you are in the interview process, employers have no way of knowing how you might respond in certain work situations or conditions.  Selecting and preparing at least 3 references to speak on your behalf is key in making sure you put your best foot forward when looking for a new opportunity.  

1. Choose wisely.  First and foremost, your references must answer specific questions about your work history.  They should be able to discuss how long they’ve known you; what their working relationship with you was; and what your job duties were.  They will also undoubtedly be asked their opinion of how well you did that work and maybe even what you could have done better.  Choose people with good communication skills who can provide these details in a positive light. 

Whenever possible, employers will prefer to speak with your current or former supervisors and managers.  But if not, former clients and colleagues that you worked directly with are also good resources.  Also, people you’ve had longer relationships with (at least 1 year) are preferable to those that you may have known only a few months. 

2. Get permission.  When a recruiter or hiring manager contacts a reference, nothing looks worse than getting someone that had no idea they were listed as your reference in the first place.  Make it a point to reach out and confirm with these individuals that they’re willing to speak to employers.  Let them know what position(s) you have applied for, and even remind them of specifics tasks or projects you may have worked on in the past that they can refer to when they’re contacted.  It would be a good idea to provide them with an updated copy of your resume so they’re familiar with what you’ve been doing more recently.  Also, verify their contact information and their preferred method of contact.  For each person you should have at least one good phone number, job title, company.  An email or mailing address may be helpful as well.   

4. Utilize social networking.  There may be a number of reasons why you’ve fallen out of touch with former managers, colleagues and clients.  Social networking sites like Facebook and LinkedIn are great tools that can help you to find and reconnect with them, and may also suggest other people you may not have thought of that can provide positive feedback. 

5. When you have no prior work history.  If you are just graduating from school or are brand new to the job market there are other people who can provide useful information about your work habits.  Former professors or teachers are usually more than happy to speak with potential employers.  Also, people with whom you’ve performed any volunteer work with are also good resources.  

In today’s market, a bad or even halfhearted reference could mean the difference between landing the right position and having to fill out more endless job applications.  Making sure you have a power-list of references handy will give you that much more confidence in your job search, and will help you get one step closer to receiving the offer you’ve been waiting for.