Job seekers continue to ask if they should list references on their resume.
While some employers require you to submit resume references, other employers and hiring managers won’t request that list until after the final in-person interview.
So, if you reach this point in the hiring process and they ask you to provide a list of references, what’s the best way to present them?
We asked experts to share their insights.
Table of Contents
- Do not put references in private sector resumes
- At the end of the resume
- You should never put your references on your resume
- Consider leaving them off the resume
- References don’t generally belong on your resume
- Do not list them
- We often ask candidates to remove references from their resume
- You can send it on per case basis
- Frequently Asked Questions
Dawn D. Boyer, Ph.D.
Resume Writer | Career Consultant | Small Business & HR Consultant | CEO, D. Boyer Consulting
Do not put references in private sector resumes
The simple answer is: do not put references in private sector resumes!
- References may not want to have their names and contact information exposed all over the world inside resume databases.
- There are recruiters who (especially potentially outside the USA – eastern Asian mass recruiters) have no compunction about picking up the phone and calling the references before even speaking to the job candidates. This is ‘unethical’ – recruiters inside the USA are more likely to ask for written signature authorizations to contact the references for information.
- One exception: Government Service (GS) resumes that are submitted to the USAJobs.gov resume database for job applications to work in the federal government (agencies) are required to have references at the bottom of the resume.
Related: How to Get a Government Job
The best formatting for listing these are as follows:
Contact Phone: (XXX) XXX-XXXX
Type of reference: Professional
CEO, HR Search Pros, Inc.
At the end of the resume
When I work with candidates who have references on their resume, there are three things I recommend:
(1) Where they list the reference on the resume: the best place is at the end of the resume
(2) What references to use:
- At least one, and preferably two, people who the candidate directly reported into. The candidate’s most recent or current boss is best, but sometimes it is not possible to list their current boss as the candidate doesn’t want them to know they are looking for a new role. But, if your current boss is aware you are leaving, for whatever reason, it is great to list them. This reference needs to speak about your work ethic, your ability to work with or without supervision, the ability to meet deadlines, knowledge of whatever work that you do, etc.
- A current or previous direct report – this person needs to be able to speak to the candidate’s leadership style and how they supported them. It is also helpful if they can speak to how the candidate interacted with his/her boss.
- A peer – they can give some unique insight on the candidate as they have not reported into the candidate, nor have they been the candidate’s boss. They can share details on how the candidate interacted with them as well as others.
- A friend – they can speak to how the candidate is outside of work (i.e., their personality, how they are in public, etc.)
(3) How they list the reference:
- Include the person’s full name
- Current title
- Current company
- Phone number (preferably their cell number)
- Email address
- A brief comment about their relationship with the candidate
Here would be some examples of what the references should look like:
VP of HR
Acme Brick Company
I reported directly into Samuel for 3 years while I was at Acme Brick, and I have known him for 5 years.
(2) Direct Report:
Acme Brick Company
Sarah reported to me for 2 years at Acme Brick, and I have known her for 2 years.
VP of Sales
Toys for All
James and I were peers for 2 years while we worked together at Toys for All, and I have known him for 7 years.
Caleb is a close friend, and I have known him for 7 plus years.
Founder & Executive Director of Professionals In Transition
You should never put your references on your resume
The last thing you want to do is give complete strangers control of your references while they review your resume. Once you give control away, you have no idea who or when a potential employer may call your references. It’s not fair to you or references either. You need to control the flow of information at all times.
Never provide your references until you are at the point of an offer being made. When checking references, all an employer wants is good news. You control that, by sending your references an email letting them know the:
- person who will be contacting them.
- five points that you want them to discuss about you.
This provides a uniform presentation of who you are and keeps you in control of the information flow at all times.
Talent Acquisition Consultant, strategic HR inc.
Consider leaving them off the resume
Worst way possible:
This isn’t ideal, because it assumes that the candidate has reached out to their reference and they are expecting a call. Some people leave these references on a resume for years. These people often say, “I didn’t know so and so was looking for a job.”
They’re not prepared to give a reference, they don’t have the candidate’s best qualities top of mind, and might be very difficult to get ahold of. Even if you include them on your resume, we’re still likely to ask you for a list of references because of these very situations.
Better: Short and Sweet
At the end of the resume: **References available upon request**
This is an obvious statement for 99% of candidates out looking for a new job. It doesn’t hurt, but it certainly doesn’t add much value. We’re definitely going to have to ask you for references at some point. Save that extra white space and text for something relevant to your skills or job history.
Best approach: Consider leaving them off the resume!
During the initial interview, ask when references would be needed in the process. It shouldn’t be a surprise that potential employers will ask for references. By asking this early, it shows that you’re thinking ahead and you’re prepared, even if you’re not a perfect fit for this position.
Caitlin Elizabeth Proctor
Career Expert | Marketing Manager, Zipjob
References don’t generally belong on your resume
Instead, your resume should focus on your own accomplishments and skills. The employer will ask you for references later on in the hiring process–so there is no need to say you have “references available upon request” either!
The one exception is if a job application specifically asks for references to be included on your resume. In this case, list three or four strong references toward the bottom of your resume.
Tip: While you want the section to be organized, try to make it concise. You still want the majority of your resume to be about you!
Here’s the information you want to include:
It’s also helpful to include a short statement about the nature of your relationship: mentor, client, supervisor, etc. at XYZ company or a certain point in your career.
Matthew Warzel, CPRW
Certified Professional Resume Writer | Certified Internet Recruiter | President, MJW Careers, LLC
Do not list them
I always say do not list them! Not only for privacy issues, but online identity theft, and fraud. Listing former managers or friends’ information is also frowned upon now in the resume writing process.
We prefer to list them in a separate document and send it to recruiters/hiring managers upon request and through a secure email server. Those are the interested parties requiring that information anyways.
Day-to-day recruiters may never even contact you because you may not be a fit, so why allow them to see other individual’s personal information if it’s of no use to them? Use that space for listing additional accomplishments, achievements or keywords.
President, Gateway Staffing and Search
We often ask candidates to remove references from their resume
References can be a challenge to present on a resume. I once heard them described as the last known intelligence test as you’re asking the candidate to find three people who will say something good about them.
It’s important to remember that they are asking a person to act as a referee as a favor, and as such, they really need to protect that person’s contact information until the very end of the process.
We only ask for references once we get to the offer pending references stage so that the referee is contacted just the once (hopefully, but see my earlier comment about the last known intelligence test).
We will very often ask candidates to remove references from their resume in order that they protect their relationship with their reference.
Robyn L. Coburn
Author | Founder, Robyn Coburn Resume Review
The correct answer – at least as far as the USA is concerned – is that you don’t.
Your references go on a separate document, ideally using the exact same letterhead for elegant consistency. The proper way to write them is:
Name, Job Title
You need not label the phone number or email address – that is old fashioned. Keep the company mailing address in your own files in case it is needed for an online job application form.
Most online job applications will require you to manually enter this information in the relevant boxes on that page of the application, usually towards the end. Having it on the resume just confuses the algorithm, especially if it auto-populates, as it will try to write that information under the job duties section. This means that you will have to take the time to reconfigure that part, as well as enter it manually.
References are changing. HR departments are increasingly moving to a bare-bones reference only confirming the fact of employment and dates, but offering no qualitative remarks. Even department heads are being increasingly enjoined to not discuss a person’s work, qualities or flaws, which can make it harder to get a recommendation from an old boss.
There are new online services where job seekers can store letters of recommendation and point potential hirers to their profiles.
Account Manager | Senior IT Recruiter, Kovasys IT Recruitment Inc.
You can send it on per case basis
We usually do not advise our IT candidates to put references on a resume as it can come off a bit unprofessional and a bit of forthcoming. You can still list references on a resume and send it on per case basis if a hiring manager, for example, asks you for one. Or if it says so on the application or job description.
We usually recommend listing 3 references and providing names of your managers or supervisors and not your colleagues. We would list it like this:
- First and Last Name
- Their Professional Title at the time
- Company name
- Phone #
We always advise listing phone # and email as some are better answering emails while others only answer phone calls. So something like this would be great:
Talha Yup; Manager; Canada Rencai; Toronto, Canada; 6474313218, email@example.com
Wilson Jameson; Manager, AT&T, Montreal, Canada, 5149403322, wilson@gmail..com
Alex Stinson; Lead Team, AT&T, Toronto, Canada, 4164440322, firstname.lastname@example.org
Co-Founder & CEO of SoftwarePundit
My perspective on how to properly list references on a resume is based upon my experience as an executive at fast-growing internet businesses over the past 10 years.
In general, it’s not necessary to list references on your resume unless specifically asked by the company you are interested in.
If the company asks, and you choose to include references, the most important thing is that the resume (with references) works as a standalone document. In other words, the hiring manager should not need to ask you any questions prior to conducting the reference calls. There are three pieces of information you should include for each reference:
- Any instructions about when it is okay for the company to contact the reference
- The context of how you know the reference
- The characteristics, knowledge, and skills that the reference can speak to based on your experiences together
Frequently Asked Questions
What are references in a resume?
References are people who can vouch for your character, work ethic, and qualifications to a potential employer. When you include references on your resume, you show the employer that you have a network of people who can support your candidacy for a job. References typically include professional colleagues, supervisors, or mentors who have worked closely with you in the past.
How many references should I include on my resume?
The number of references you should include on your resume depends on the position and the employer’s requirements. In general, it’s recommended that you include three to five references on your resume. Ensure that your references represent a diverse group of individuals who can speak to your skills and experience differently.
Can I use the same references for every job I apply for?
While using the same references for every application is tempting, it’s best to tailor your references to the specific job and employer you’re applying for.
Consider selecting references who can provide information about the skills and qualifications required for the job and who have worked with you before in a similar capacity.
Also, ensure that your references are aware of the job you’re applying for and the skills and qualifications required so they can comment meaningfully on your application.
Can I use references from a previous job if I was terminated or had a negative experience?
If you were terminated or had a negative experience, it’s generally not recommended to use references from a previous job, as they may not be able to speak positively about your qualifications and potential.
Instead, focus on selecting references who can speak positively and knowledgeably about your skills and experience and who are familiar with your recent work and accomplishments.
Also, be prepared to explain gaps in your work history or negative experiences in interviews or other parts of the application process.
What if a potential employer doesn’t contact my references?
If a potential employer doesn’t contact your references, don’t worry. Employers often receive a large number of resumes and may not have the time or resources to contact all applicants’ references.
Also, some employers may not require references as part of the application process. Focus on demonstrating your qualifications and potential through your resume, cover letter, and interview, and don’t worry if your references aren’t contacted.
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