Getting job references may be something you already know how to do, but it’s just not something you’re good at.

It seems simple enough: make a list of your former bosses and their contact information and staple it to your job application. But clearly it works better for some than others. What’s the trick?

It’s Who You Know

In reality, the ideal list of references would be a diverse mix of people from all parts of your life. Here are the kinds of people you ought to consider:

Bosses and superiors: This one was probably a given. New employers want to know about you from the perspective of the last person who employed you.

Ideally, these would be people you didn’t just work under, but worked closely with, and who can attest to your work ethic and ingenuity. But these shouldn’t be the only people on your list.

Supervisors and coworkers: Employers want to hear not just from your bosses, but from your peers.

These references would provide a perspective more from someone who saw you as a teammate rather than an underling. Again, this should be someone you worked closely with on important projects

Teachers and Professors: There’s a reason why they always tell you to say, “I’m willing to learn,” in job interviews. They want someone who craves knowledge, so why not send them to someone who taught you that knowledge and can attest to your devotion to self-improvement?

An especially good idea is to list an educator who taught you in a subject related to the field in which you’re looking to begin your career.

Personal References: Maybe don’t list your mom, or any other family for that matter. But anybody else in your life is fair game if they know you well, if they can speak highly of you, and – this is the important part – if you can convince the prospective employer they’re an upstanding member of society.

This can be anyone from a landlord, a community or religious leader, or even medical professionals. You could even list a friend, but not just any friend. Try a friend who is succeeding in their own right and who has worked on some significant endeavor with you, such as a major creative project or volunteer work.

Even if you’re looking for your first job, surely there are some dignified people in your life who can sing your praises. Now that you have an idea of who to list, you need to find out if you can list them.

Asking Can Be the Hardest Part

To reiterate, you really want to make sure your references will give you a glowing review. But how can you be sure they will? Luckily for you, it’s considered common courtesy to ask your potential references that very question.

Before listing your references, you’re expected to ask their permission first. Let them know what kind of work you’re looking for and why you think they would be a good reference.

If you’re having particular trouble finding a job, you may also choose to let them know they might be on the hook as a reference for a while before you find something that sticks. It may be mortifying now, but it will be worth the warning so they aren’t confused if they get a call asking about you several months later.

If you’re choosing your references correctly, they likely will agree to give you a positive referral. However, for a variety of reasons, some may not. While that will be hard to hear, you’ll be glad you called and asked them first.

What You Do After Asking Can Be the Second-Hardest Part

You absolutely want to make sure your references know they’re on your list. Even people who think you’re a downright swell person might not be able to articulate that if they’re caught off-guard by a phone call they weren’t expecting.

For this reason, you’ll want to keep in contact with your references throughout your job search, partially to stay on friendly terms with them, but also to gently inform them you still need their services for a little bit longer.

Similarly, when you finally do land a job, be sure to thank each of your references and let them know they’re relieved of duty. To go the extra mile, keep in touch with them even after you get the job. You never know when you might need to call upon them again.

Other Notes About Using Your References

Let’s get straight to the point. Of course, you don’t want too few references, but you also don’t want too many. A potential employer may find that kind of bombardment more annoying than courteous. The sweet spot is to have 3 to 5 solid references.

Are you currently employed, but you’re looking for another job? You don’t have to list a reference from your current company if you don’t want to. Most businesses understand that sometimes you find yourself not fully content with the spot you’re in and you want to try something new without offending everyone at your current workplace when they receive a surprise phone call asking about your worthiness of employment elsewhere.

You may have heard companies don’t actually check references and they’re just a formality these days. Others will swear they’re more important than ever in a world where anyone can learn anything about you on the Internet.

So, do they check references or not? The answer is an unsatisfying maybe.

Some companies always check, others don’t bother, and still others only check for certain positions, such as jobs involving money or dealing with the public. Typically, you can expect references to be checked for very important high-ranking positions and for very luck-of-the-draw low-ranking positions.

Finding viable references might seem like an antiquated game done for it’s own sake, but as long as they’re something you’re expected to do, they’re something you’ll now be able to do well.