Jim is an executive candidate who has 6 wonderful references. He also has 2 terrible references and one that is mediocre. I know because we checked them. We learned that Jim does terribly in the wrong environment. In the right company he saves literally millions of dollars for the bottom line. That means we also send him out only to the right kind of companies.
You need to find out what kind of references you have. Then you have to adjust your job search accordingly. The temptation is to get mad at the bad or mediocre references. You don’t learn by getting mad. Your bad references have a reason for saying what they do. Find out what it is and adjust your job search. Of course, you should also adjust your reference list.
Great references can absolutely put you at the top of the candidate list. Bad ones can sink you. Are your sure what your references are saying?
I was going to give specific hints on how to be absolutely sure your references are solid, but I can’t. Any recruiter or company that calls your references will want to protect them. At most your references will only give YOU vague hints that you won’t get an enthusiastic endorsement. Having someone else call has problems all its own. And there are legal problems all along the way for you, the reference, and a recruiter like me.
Something to do today
Call all of your references. Listen for very subtle hints. Which were the best? Use them in the order of their enthusiasm and lack of subtlety.
Later: Audio on your resume