Today, more than ever, employers are relying on job references when making a hiring decision.

Plan ahead and get your references in order, before you need them. Keep in mind that good references can help you clinch a job offer, so, be sure to have a strong list of references who are willing to attest to your capabilities.

Do not use someone for a reference unless you have their permission. The best way to approach this is to ask the reference if they would mind if you used them as a reference. Provide the reference with details about the positions you are looking for so they can tailor their reference to fit your circumstances.

Former bosses, co-workers, customers, vendors, and colleagues all make good references. So do college professors, if you are just starting out in the workforce.

Be aware that some employers will not provide references. Due to concerns about litigation, they will only provide job title, dates of employment, and salary history. If that is the case, be creative and try to find alternative references who are willing to speak about your qualifications.

Create a document listing your references. The list of references should not be included in your resume. Have it ready to give to employers when you interview. Include three or four references, along with their job title, employer, and contact information.

Many employers won’t be interested in reference letters, though it’s still a good idea to ask for a reference letter from your supervisor or co-worker every time you change employment. Employers will want to speak to your references so they can ask specific questions about your role and past experience.

Let your references know the status of your job search. Tell them who might be calling for a reference and when you get a new job, don’t forget to send a thank you note.

A prospective employer should ask your permission before contacting your references. This is especially important if you are employed — you don’t want to surprise your current employer with a phone call checking your references. It is perfectly acceptable to say that you are not comfortable with your current employer being contacted at the present time. However, do have a list of alternative references available.