References: The Document
You should have your list of references ready to bring to every interview or to include to prospective employers should they make the request. Use people that you have known for more than a year and ensure your references are prepared for phone calls. The document containing your list of references should be visually coordinated with your resume and cover letter. Select three to five references and be sure you include their name, title, company name, full mailing address, telephone number, and email address.
References: The Selection
Most importantly, be sure your references have agreed to be your reference! Use people that you have known for more than a year, ask their permission, and make sure your references are prepared for phone calls (give them copies of your resume, your job application, the job description, and list of what you would like them to highlight about you). It is perfectly acceptable to coach and inform your references on your career highlights, remind them of how long they have known you, or review key accomplishments.
Who you select as your references is pretty important because what they reveal about you can make or break the hiring decision. What kind of reference do you want? Someone who is going to have only positive things to say about you and your work and who will make the strongest recommendations for hiring you. Former supervisors do not have to be your references. Sometimes former coworkers or managers from other divisions who know your accomplishments make the best choices for reference selection. Former vendors, business acquaintances, or customers can make excellent references as well.
There are several firms that for a fee will actually conduct a reference check for you. I have not utilized these services before so I cannot vouch for them, but I thought they were well worth listing just the same. Find out what references will say about you before you begin your job hunt!