Once you have built your reference list and whittled it down to the people you want as references, you need to contact them and request their permission to be listed. Second, you need to assess whether the reference is not reluctant, but eager to serve. Keep in mind that, just because you ask someone to be a reference does not mean that you must list that person if you have any hesitation after discussing the matter.
The conversation should bring them up to date on your career history, strengths, and accomplishments. Advise them that you will send them a current résumé and a “Contacts Road Map” (see Employment Opportunity Profile #3) detailing what you want to do, where it could be done, and the logic of doing it, i.e., why you are qualified for it.
If you feel confident about your references’ enthusiasm for you, ask them if you could also send them a list of talking points to use when contacted by a prospective employer. Vary the talking points for each reference so that the employer does not hear exactly the same thing from each one. As with your résumé, specific examples are superior to subjective statements about how wonderful you are. Possible talking points might include:
How long the reference has known you, and in what capacity.
Reminders of projects you worked on together or under the reference’s supervision.
The quality of your work.
Your admirable personal characteristics.
Your ability to work both independently and as part of a team.
Your flexibility, initiative, and ability to learn and apply new knowledge.
Your personal integrity.
All of these points should be accompanied by examples, if possible. Keep any negatives out of the conversation. Whining or complaining about your current job or the travails of job searching will get you nowhere. Instead, “infect” your references with your enthusiasm and excitement about the opportunity your job search/career change represents. People like and gravitate to optimists. Finally, ask your references how they might respond to questions about you.