Three Creative Ways to Use References
The One-liner Reference Technique
Instead of just supplying a standard reference sheet, add a "one-liner" summary or highlight from each reference, a quotation that either provides a summary of your qualifications or a particular skill. It should be a one-line quote which gives personal insight into an element of your background that normally would not surface in the impersonal form of the standard resume/cover letter/references-type materials. You might be able to pull the quotation from a letter of reference or from a conversation with the person. If you are quoting verbal conversation, make sure you quote accurately and confirm the quote with the person—no paraphrasing allowed unless the person approves the changes.
Following are some examples, which can be placed immediately after the reference's name:
"I am confident Julie will be an outstanding Accountant."
"Tom is the brightest student I have ever known."
"I could always count on Anne for our toughest projects."
The Live Reference Technique
A unique yet effective spin on the standard reference is to actually record (either audio or video) your references talking about you. It requires some time, effort, and a level of technical proficiency to put together, but when developed professionally (especially for use in any of the creative arts fields) it can supply a key differentiating factor in distinguishing you from your competition. A broadcast communications major used this technique and edited the references into a master compilation of short clips, which was provided to interested potential employers. It not only delivered his references live, but also gave an indication of his professional editing capabilities.
Use caution when attempting this technique. Don't just do raw cuts from your smartphone. Make sure you take the time to have it done in a professional manner. If you lack the necessary technical skills, you might be able to encourage a more proficient friend or classmate to take on the task. As a by-product, they can potentially use this experience as a project listing on their resume. Or maybe even a sideline business.
An additional caution: like any technique that varies from accepted standards, use only as appropriate. While it will almost always work in any of the communications and creative arts fields, it might be considered too far outside the box for a conservative insurance company.
The Post-it Note Technique
If you have a strong advocate among your references, you may want to consider this resume-enhancing technique. Have your reference fill out a series of Post-it Notes (3" x 3" size works best) with the following handwritten note:
Excellent Candidate—Definitely Interview
They then sign their name (and title, if appropriate). Although it can only be used with a paper resume, this will help support your resume in the internal paper shuffle, which still exists, even in the digital age. This technique works because of the internal paper pushing network at most companies which is supported by the Post-it Note-and-pass-along method of delegation. Managers often receive memos and other notes from bosses with similar directions attached via Post-it Note.
This technique works best when the resume is being sent to a contact who knows your reference. But it can be used virtually anytime you want an extra impact with the "instant recommendation."
An alternative would be to have your reference write: "Highly Recommended—Definitely Interview" on their business card which then is attached to your resume. Either way, it sends the very unconventional message that more people think highly of you than just you. Remember that the words others say about you will almost always carry more weight than your words alone.