Would you walk into an interview blindsided – not knowing what the employer does or what’s involved in the role you are applying for? For those who want to succeed and be effective in an interview the answer is “No.” You should always go into an interview prepared with key messages in mind to help you demonstrate why you are the best fit for the company and position. This same rule should apply for your references.

To ensure you present excellent references to a potential employer, you need to prepare your contacts. It’s not simply about seeking permission from your contacts to serve as a reference, but sharing information with them so that they are aware of the company and position you are applying for. This information will inform your contacts of subjects they can focus on when contacted. The message they leave behind should complement the highlights you’ve presented in your resume and during the interview.

Here are some tips to managing your references:

1. Direct each reference to focus on a different important aspect.
Let’s say you are applying for a job as a journalist. While it’s great that all your references can confirm your strengths in writing, you leave an employer more impressed when you have references that can speak to other aspects that are important on the job. Encourage one reference to hone in on your writing capabilities, another to focus on your organizational skills and commitment to deadlines, and a third reference to speak of your strong research and interviewing skills. A potential employer will see how well-rounded a candidate you are for the job.

2. Debrief your reference on the type of position and company you are applying to.
When checking in with your contacts about serving as a reference for you, fill them in about the company and position. There’s no need to keep this a mystery. References typically want to help but they do not always know how best to do so. Inform them. Give information on the company and position and help them understand the important areas of focus for the position.

This is also a time for you to mention particular projects and points you referenced in the interview. It helps to remind your reference about the work you were involved in with him or her specifically. If you haven’t worked together recently, your specific contributions may not be top of mind to your reference. In this approach, you are not telling your references what to say, but rather you are guiding the direction of their communication and reminding them of your specific contributions while employed together.

3. Give your references a heads up on when to expect a call from the employer.
Just as you should be prepared to answer the phone professionally in case the call is from a potential employer, giving your references a heads up will allow them to do the same. You also want to make sure your contacts will be available to respond. Don’t have a potential employer follow up with a reference if you know that contact will not be available, whether it is due to travel or if your contact is on deadline and doesn’t have the time during that particular week.

4. Audit your references.
Your contact’s willingness to serve as your reference does not guarantee you will get a “positive” reference. Conduct an audit by having a friend contact your references to ask questions typically posed by employers. There are also services available, such as Checkster, to help you gather feedback on your past performance from references. This will allow you to evaluate if you should reconsider who you have on your list.

References are a critical component to the job hunt. If an employer makes a suggestion to proceed with checking your references, it generally means you are under serious consideration for a job offer. And, if it’s down to you and another candidate, your references can help you through the tie breaker. Or, it can cause damage if they are not properly managed.

Author's Bio: 

Don Goodman, President of About Jobs (www.GotTheJob.com) is a nationally recognized Expert Resume Writer, Certified Career Management Coach and Job Search Strategist. A graduate of the Wharton School of Business and Stanford University's Executive Program, Don has helped thousands of people secure their next job. Get a Free Resume Evaluation, read his blog at www.GotTheJob.com/blog/ or contact him at 800-909-0109 or by e-mail at DGoodman@GotTheJob.com.