When you're in the market for a new job, a killer resume and strong cover letter really can help make the case for hiring you. But if there's one thing you don't want to overlook during your job search, it's the importance of having solid business references -- people who can speak to your work ethic, skills, and drive. In fact, 38% of recruiters say references are important in vetting candidates, according to a new study from Jobvite, while 59% of recruiters claim they speak to references during the hiring process.

If you're having a hard time gathering references, it's imperative that you keep at it rather than give up. Here are some tips for compiling a more robust list of people for prospective employers to contact.

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1. Use your college connections

Maybe you haven't spent all that much time in the working world or only have had a couple of jobs, which you left on the wrong foot. If that's the case, don't discount the value of having former professors serve as professional references -- especially those who can vouch for the fact that you're smart, innovative, and hardworking. It especially pays to list old professors as references if you're a very recent grad who hasn't yet held down a full-time job.

2. Ask your peers

Maybe you didn't exactly get along well with your last couple of bosses and are therefore at a loss for names to include on your list of references. The good news is that you don't necessarily need to look to superiors to serve as references. Rather, you can contact your former colleagues and ask them to talk up your skills and teamwork.

This holds true regardless of whether those peers are still at the company you worked at together or not. You can ask them to vouch for you if they've since moved on to new employers themselves.

3. When all else fails, tap your friends and neighbors

Ideally, your professional references will be people you've worked with at an actual job or interacted with in an educational capacity. But if no such individuals exist and you're somewhat desperate, your fallback option is to ask friends and neighbors to help out. Though these people might not manage to talk about your ability to meet deadlines and get results, they can, at the very least, speak to your character. And that's certainly better than nothing.

Having professional references is a good way to improve your chances of getting hired in the future, so even if you're not currently in the market for a new job, it never hurts to periodically talk to your peers and associates about filling that role should the need arise. At the same time, be sure to understand the reference policy at your current job.

Some companies prohibit employees from serving as references, so if you think you might soon be on the lookout for a new position, know that you can't necessarily bank on your coworkers to fill that need. Rather, you might have no choice but to do some networking to acquire a healthy reference list.

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