WHEN looking for a new job, you may focus on impressing your interviewers with your experience, credentials and eloquence.

But do not underestimate the importance of the reference stage of the recruitment process and how it can influence your prospects and ultimate success in obtaining the post.

Two types

Formal references: These are people whose names the hiring manager will request from you. They are usually those whom you have worked with previously, such as your former boss, subordinate (if you are applying for a people management role), customer or business partner.

Peers or colleagues are often seen as the "weakest" form of reference because hiring managers know you can pick people whom you can get along with or those who are likely to be kind with their comments.

Informal references: These are people whom the hiring manager knows and who are part of the same network of industry contacts as you. He can make inquiries informally about your work performance or character.

Of course, there are some risks in consulting informal references as they may jeopardise your current position at work, hence they are not recommended.

Their validity as referees should also be questioned. An unsuitable referee may have limited work experience with you and can only offer a perspective or an impression that may be skewed or is inaccurate.

Right choice

Pick someone who worked with you fairly recently (not more than five years ago) and, ideally, for more than two years in the categories mentioned earlier - former boss, subordinate, customer or business partner. The person should:

* Be able to clearly articulate his working experience with you, as well as highlight incidents during that time that have left an impression on him. A good referee can share examples of how you overcame a difficult situation or how you achieved your work objectives.

* Be willing to provide such information and be given ample notice on who will be calling and for what purpose. This means that the referee must be a trusted source who can keep this call confidential.

* Be able to give a constructive, objective view of your strengths and areas of development required to handle the job. A good referee can also contribute information on how to bring out the best in you.

How to find them

Write down the names of three people and see if they fulfil the above criteria. If they do, keep these contacts warm. They will come in very handy when you need them.

If a job candidate cannot furnish any proper references apart from workplace peers or friends, it speaks volumes about his people skills and his work performance.

This is excusable only for someone who has not worked for long, is in a junior position and therefore has limited credible referees, or someone who has worked with only one company and asking a current boss to be a referee is sensitive.

Always be professional at work and form relationships that will go a long way. Keep track of these colleagues when they move on, so you know how to contact them when you need them as referees.

Don't burn your bridges when you move to your next job - this will only alienate your former colleagues. Make sure you leave them on the best possible terms.

Ensure you have referees to call upon. When you have decided on someone to be your referee, do not simply tell him via SMS.

Call him to ask for permission, offering information on the person who will be contacting him later, and the type of role you are applying for in the hiring company.

You do not need to reveal specifics if you feel uncomfortable.

Lastly, agree on a time that the hiring manager can call the referee.

If your referee is hard to contact because he travels often, try to provide the hiring manager with both an office number and mobile number, and an appointed time agreed with your referee so that no time is lost in tracking him down.