It’s important to provide the best references. Figure out the best for what, who and when.
References are of two kinds: professional or personal. Professional references are related to your work experiences and past employers. They usually come from bosses or a higher authority within the work environment: The higher the level, the higher the value that others ascribe to it. A good reference from a president is usually “worth more” than a good reference from a manager in the same organization.
Always ask the reference giver first, if willing to provide a reference. Do not put a referenced person in the awkward position of a surprise telephone call from a potential employer about you without their knowledge.
Personal references are only used or useful if you have no professional references. Personal references are not work related and have little value to a potential employer. All a personal reference can say in so many words is, “This is a nice person”. One exception is if the reference giver is known by or somehow connected to the hiring manager. Then it would have much more weight to it.
Timing: Depending upon whether your search is open or quiet may determine the timing of providing a reference. If it’s an open search that everyone knows about, then references can be provided at almost any time. Just be careful that multiple companies aren’t contacting your references at the same time. It could prove confusing and awkward.
If you’re conducting a quiet search, however, wait until the last minute to provide references for obvious reasons. References can provide substance to your past experiences and should match as closely as possible the function for which you are applying. Contact potential references you’d like to use before you provide their names to a hiring organization. Ask if it’s OK for them to serve as a reference.
Tell the reference giver what you’re interviewing for and why so they have some background. Provide them with the key functions of the new job and how your prior work with them ties directly to the work you are seeking. Suggest that they may want to use that information as an example when contacted. Offer to write up a brief list of talking points and results you achieved that will link to the job you are pursuing. In that way, the information that is provided are “talking points” and will be more powerful. This kind of information can advance your candidacy if it’s done the right way by the right person.
One other consideration: When hired, employers will usually contact prior companies to check out your documented compensation, dates of hire and separation and any other information they can get. So don’t fabricate information on your resume or interviews. Some companies will Google your name on the web or go into your social media sites to see what’s there. Be forewarned.