If someone offered you a job tomorrow and asked for a couple of references, would you be ready?
Do you have a handful of people who have not only worked with you but are willing to verify that you are, in fact, pretty good at what you do?
It does not matter whether you graduated a year ago or 20 years ago, you need to maintain relationships with enough colleagues and managers who will step up and be willing to answer a few questions.
References are more tricky than they used to be. Many companies will not officially provide references anymore. They might verify your employment dates and title but not much more.
Frankly, that’s not really what a hiring manger wants to know. They want some comfort that the good things they see in you are really there. They want to know that you are consistent, helpful and generally a solid person to add to their team.
Most employers are pretty comfortable sussing out technical skills. They can recognize when someone is trying to bullshit their way into a positon.
Most of the time, you will need to provide two or three references and at least one should be a manager. You can use people who have left the company, or people at a company where you used to work. You can also use someone who has worked with you in a volunteer capacity.
You cannot use friends, relatives or neighbours. Not ever.
So stay in touch with folks. Use LinkedIn to keep track of people. Support people who have been outplaced. Make sure to shake hands and reconnect at conferences.
Keep those relationships warm – you never know when you might need them.