Early in your search, long before you are asked for references, make a list of individuals who know your strengths.
These could be former employers, supervisors, co-workers, colleagues, even friends, though generally not relatives, since most employers would not trust their objectivity. If possible, discuss with these people the strengths you identified when reviewing your accomplishments. They may help you discover accomplishments you forgot to list.
The telephone is a primary tool for gathering references. (For tips on successfully using the telephone in your job search, see the section on phone techniques later in this guide.) When you contact your references, let them know that they may be called by prospective employers. Try to get an idea how your references will represent you. Ask them how they will answer questions about your strengths and weaknesses. Not only will this help them prepare responses, but it will help you understand how you are perceived by others.
Contacting potential references can also create excellent networking opportunities. During your conversation, they may inquire about your employment goals. Don’t take this lightly! Present yourself clearly and confidently. Employment contacts are made everyday through this easy step.
You may be surprised to discover that people you initially consider to be your best references prove otherwise. For example, the president of a company you worked for may carry a lot of clout in the business world, but a former co-worker may understand, appreciate, and be able to communicate your abilities much more effectively. Also, make sure your references are articulate and eager to explain how your abilities could contribute to the position.
After talking with several people, choose three to five of them to use as references. List their names, addresses, and phone numbers on a single sheet of paper. (See the example that follows.) Don’t offer references until they are requested. Once requested, contact your references to brief them on who will be calling.
You may want to ask the reference to contact you after the employer’s call. This is an excellent way to get feedback on the selection process, and to get clues about what concerns the employer may have.