10 tips for creating a top-notch reference list

“References available upon request” is a statement that can make or break a job offer. A person serving as a reference talks favorably about your skills and abilities regarding job performance. Make sure your references can confirm your potential to a prospective employer.

Here are 10 tips for assembling a successful reference list.

1. Don’t assume someone wants to be a reference. Ask. Some people aren’t comfortable talking to strangers in this context. Others may feel their schedule is too busy. Get an honest answer. Neutral is the same as negative, so make sure the person you’re considering can give you a positive recommendation.

2. Use professional references.  Don’t list friends or family. Good sources include previous supervisors, co-workers, professors, or advisors.  Think outside the box:  If you volunteered to coordinate an organization’s fundraiser, the organization’s supervisor could be a great reference.  It doesn’t matter that you weren’t paid. An exception to this tip is if you were employed in a family business. But reiterate to your reference the importance of focusing on you as an employee, not a family member.

3. Avoid name dropping.  A reference’s name or job title is insignificant compared to the information he or she provides regarding your strengths and weaknesses.  CEO may be a loftier title than supervisor; however, who can talk best about your abilities?

4. Provide references with the appropriate tools.  Give references a copy of your resume so they know your background.  Provide a description of the job to which you’re applying.  Knowing the duties and responsibilities ahead of time prepares references for questions and help them relate your experience to the job.

5. Alert references to potential phone calls from employers. If you believe your references may be contacted by an employer, let them know. Tell them the name of the company and the position for which you interviewed. If you know the name of the person who will check your references offer that information, too.

6. Keep references informed. Were you offered the job? Did you accept? When will you start?

7. Thank your references. When you accept a job, take time to write each of your references a thank-you note. They played a valuable part in you receiving an offer.

8. Keep in touch. Don’t end contact with your references. Send an e-mail, call, or meet for lunch on occasion. You never know if and when you may need to contact them in the future.

9. Update your list. Reference lists become outdated like resumes do. As your career builds, keep your reference list up-to-date.

10. Return the favor. Your references may have been the deciding factor in your job offer. When you are asked to be a reference for someone else, say yes.