Using references strategically in your job search can improve your chances of obtaining your job of choice.

Ask first.
Confirm with the reference that he/she is comfortable being contacted.   Don’t let them be caught off guard when an employer calls.  Asking someone to be a reference will give them the opportunity to prepare answers to frequently asked questions.

Are they enthusiastic?
Analyze their enthusiasm so you can see how they would portray you to a recruiter.  Be sure that this is the person you want representing you over the phone.  They may think you are great but tone of voice is everything, if they don’t sound too excited over the phone, they might not be the right person to choose.

Help them help you.
Ask them if it would be helpful to have a copy of your resume in front of them as well.  You want them to be prepared.

Make 100% sure that your reference will give detailed info to the person contacting them.  It is very aggravating for a potential employer to be transferred to human resources or be told that only your dates of employment can be confirmed.

Your family members don’t count.
Provide only business references unless you are specifically asked for personal references.  Your potential employer wants to talk with your immediate supervisor and/or peers that have directly seen your work on a daily basis.

Inform them.
Tell your reference about the job for which you are applying and how you think your past experience may be a fit for it.  If you are comfortable enough, ask them what they think.  They’re more than happy to help you – take advantage of their recommendations.