We all know to expect the question near the end of the job search:  “Can you give me some references?”  For a few lucky job seekers, that question’s the easy part.  They’ve got great bosses who’ve supported their careers, and they cheerfully email their job references to their prospective employer, knowing that they’ve got good advocates.

For almost everyone else, the Reference List question causes anxiety.

-“What if they want to talk to (x), who was not so easy to work for?”

-“What do I do if I am not still in touch with the people who’d say good things?”

-“How do I prove that I am able to handle (something new) when I didn’t officially have that as part of my job?”

A great blog post on the Harvard Business Review covers how to set up solid job references and mitigate your anxiety.

How to Choose the Right References – October 21, 2014 Rebecca Knight, HBR Blog Network

A few tips for creating your Job References:

1. Take it seriously.  Your job references can seriously torpedo your search if you do not choose wisely.

2. Think broadly.  Although traditionally your job reference list includes your managers, you can also include clients (external or internal clients or partners), coworkers, company peers, industry peers, mentors, former professors (if you haven’t been out of school very long), subordinates or anyone else who can speak to your work.

3. Choose titles carefully.  Employers give a lot of weight to job titles on your job references, so if your former colleague rose from an Analyst when you worked together to a Vice President somewhere, that person might be a good choice.

4.  Prep, prep, prep your references.  Contact them EVERY TIME you send their name along to tell them about the specifics of the role, what the hiring team is looking for, and why you think you’re a fit.  Don’t assume that since they agreed to be a reference a few months ago, they’d actually be a good reference for every single job, without preparation.

5.  Don’t add someone you think will be a negative reference.  Create your list of positive job references, and if the hiring team really wants to talk to your last boss, for example, they can ask you directly.  Hopefully, your list will be strong enough that that won’t happen.  However, the HBR article has a good tip for how to deal with that question should it arise.