References are often the most overlooked part of a job hunt but are vitally important, says Andrew Sherwood, chairman of Goodrich and Sherwood, a human resources management consulting firm.

Although there are no guarantees that a reference will be entirely laudatory, he concedes, you can help ensure a positive one by asking those you list for permission to do so and informing those you've worked with that they may be called.Sherwood suggests that those you think might be contacted should be sent a brief reference checklist of key facts about you and your experience. Include special skills, strengths, accomplishments, relations with co-workers and reasons for leaving.