It’s a dicey time in any offer process—checking references. The WSJ put out a solid article on how to approach your references. Step one, approach them. Take the time to chat with everyone you list, explain the job you are going after and ask that difficult question: ‘what will you say about me?’
References have to be well-rounded. We do want to hear what the challenges and areas of growth are, they have to be consistent and tell the same story, and they have to be positive.
For anyone actively interviewing, you should approach references thoughtfully and not as a transaction. Abstract yourself from the process and think through who is doing the talking, what they are saying and what story is being told. And no family members, please.