The care and feeding of references has taken on greater importance in today's market. As reported in The Wall Street Journal, you'll enhance your chances of getting a job if you go the extra mile when you're preparing them:
"Most job hunters grasp that basic maxim ('Seek references from someone besides the boss who fired you'), yet many still fail to make the most of their references. As unemployment soars and hiring shrivels, you must carefully cultivate your endorsers. Businesses looking to hire are pickier than ever."
I recently spoke with someone who found a job about two months after being laid off. His advice was simple: Think about what you want to get across to potential employers, and prepare your references to tell that story. For example, if a job calls for working across multiple organizations, offer references from multiple organizations. If the boss is a woman, make sure one of your references is a woman.
Know both your strengths and weaknesses and make sure you have references that can address both sides. If you're concerned with a lack of experience in a certain area, find a reference that can show your strengths there. Talk to your references and discuss where you think you are weak and what they can stress to counter that weakness.
Your references should be up on the story you've been trying to demonstrate during the interviewing process. Make sure they're not describing you as a meat-and-potatoes person when you've been talking about yourself as a vegan. As the Journal says, you'll have to prepare your references for tough questions from potential employers. These days, companies are being unusually picky. That's the reality. It's not enough to just let your references know they may be getting a call.