References are an important part of any job seeker’s strategy, but there is a lot more to it than simply listing "references available upon request" at the bottom of your resume. First of all, you should NEVER list "references available upon request" at the bottom of your resume. Simply put, this is a waste of space because potential employers will EXPECT you to have a set of references ready when you come in for an interview, so including this empty phrase on your resume adds nothing to the document.
When compiling your list of references there are a few important factors to consider.
1. Presentation matters.
Create a completely separate reference sheet using the same font and format as your resume. Do this at the same time that you are writing your resume, so you will not have to scramble at the last minute to find the email address or phone number for your supervisor from 5 years ago. You don’t need to list everyone you’ve ever met or done business with on your reference sheet. Keep it to 3–5 individuals who can (and are willing to) attest to your work ethic, problem solving abilities, customer service skills, etc. and stay consistent with the way each is presented on your reference sheet:
Consider how you would like to order your references. The best strategy is to place them in hierarchical order with the most important/helpful reference listed first. Also, make sure you know the reference policy for your previous employers; you never want to list someone as a reference just to have them tell a potential employer "Company policy prohibits us from divulging anything other than job title and dates of employment."
2. Not all references are created equal.
It goes without saying that your previous supervisor will carry more weight on your reference sheet than your boyfriend, but it is important to consider the type of references that you want to present to a potential employer. For instance, reference/recommendation letters are great to have, but a generic paper reference will not replace a person and many employers aren’t interested in letters, they want to speak with a person and ask specific questions about your background, temperament, qualifications, technical skills, crisis management abilities, and accomplishments – just to name a few of the common topics that are discussed when HR staff follow up with references.
Some employers specifically request personal/character references, so make sure to have friends, teachers, and other contacts outside of work at your disposal to speak on your behalf. Also, make sure that you know what references will say about you when they receive a call from a potential employer. If you are the least bit unsure about how a reference will respond when asked about you then consider asking someone else. References are designed to help the job seeker, so make sure that you choose people who can, and want, to help you.
3. Keep in touch with your references.
Make sure to contact each of your references BEFORE you list them on your reference sheet and begin handing it out to potential employers. You never want HR staff to contact a reference without them being prepared to answer questions on your behalf. Additionally, you must be certain that all the information you have on your references is current. It goes without saying that a hiring manager being told "that person was fired 6 months ago" when trying to contact one of your references will reflect poorly on you. Finally, if you stay in touch with your references, they may be able to help you even further in your job search by suggesting companies to apply to or utilizing their network to investigate possible opportunities you may be interested in. Help your references help you!
4. Follow up.
A lot of job seekers consider references as more of an afterthought and don’t prepare this information until they are asked for it. Don’t make this mistake. By compiling a list of reliable references at the beginning of your job search and keeping them up to date on the progress of your job search, you will make certain that you have the best group of co-workers, supervisors, subordinates, and clients to speak on your behalf.