What people say about you can make or kill a job offer, yet many job seekers don’t invest the time to ensure effective references.  Some blow it entirely.

Case in point:  I was surprised to receive a call last week from a company seeking a reference for a former co-worker.  The applicant had not advised me that I might be contacted for a reference.  Since I’m a fan of the applicant, I agreed to answer questions about her although I didn’t know anything about the company or position.

Here are my five tips that will avoid a reference-checking faux pas:

Seek Permission.  Before providing names, always ask people if they will serve as a reference.  Don’t take it for granted, even if you’re friends.  This asking process ensures a stronger reference.

Get Full 411.  Verify full name, title and contact information before passing along to a prospective employer.  (The above job seeker used an old title and email address since we hadn’t been in touch with each other for over a year).

Recap Career.  Don’t assume a reference recalls all details of your career.  Provide him/her with a few bullet points that summarize your career–emphasizing accomplishments, not just job titles.  Keep it short and simple.

Talking Points.  Briefly describe opportunity to reference and provide two or three bullet points about why you would be perfect for the job.  Anticipate questions that might be asked of your references, including the proverbial question about your strengths and weaknesses.  It’s possible to turn potential negatives into positives.  For instance, you became a better writer after taking a writing course or you have sought out special training to improve other skills.  This demonstrates awareness and  initiative to improve.

Follow Up.  Once you hear about the job, follow up with your references–win or lose.  I didn’t hear back from the above candidate until I learned from one of her co-workers that she, indeed, landed the job.  A thank-you note is essential for closing the loop, plus it helps keep the reference enthusiastic about you and your career.  That’s especially important when you need a reference in the future.