Referees and references should be considered as vital a part of your CV as your CV content and layout after all its little point in going to the trouble of producing a wonderfully laid out CV without having consideration of the reliability and effectiveness of your references.
One should always be assured that the referees you choose are happy to give you a reference to begin with as generally -in particular with large multinationals, they may have a policy of not providing more than a factual reference; ie the person worked here between said dates as a “fill in Job Title”
These references serve to provide little support for an applicant and can in some instances appear to be suspiciously vague or reserved as if the former employer is anxious not to incriminate themselves-which in some instances may be the case given that candidates are entitled to check references obtained or stored under the data protection act.
As a professional, it is in your interest to obtain reliable references- ideally in advance of departure from a current employer as your referee may move on-in which case your reference is lost or may lose its veracity as a person who worked indirectly with you may only be able to provide a standard rather than glowing reference. With this in mind it is worth your while to keep in contact with your referees. Professional Social Networks such as LinkedIn can be ideal for this as members will voluntarily update their own records and are easily found on this excellent website.
Written references are another form of reference insurance because at least you have a hard copy from your referee who may not be available when you require them due to holidays or work commitments that make them unavailable for immediate comment but will at least buy you time.
At the end of the day, references are a general assessment but the ultimate decision lies with the employer to decide to take on the candidate but if the reference concurs with the assessing employers opinions their decision making process will be moderately more assured than if they have to rely on dated, inaccurate or vague references which do more harm than good to your application.
Do your homework in advance and do not leave it until the job offer to look for your references- even if you think they will be easy to get. That may be so, but you should treat your references with as much consideration as your passport. Ensure you have a minimum of two; but better still three references, that you can call on or contact via e-mail or phone contact as you never know when you may need them and if you have them in advance your application has a far greater chance of success. Remember your references are up to you.