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Helen Oswald

Be ready for job searching: how many references should you have prepared?

Resume & CV's

Be ready for job searching: how many references should you have prepared?

Artwork by: Stas Podgornov

  • How many references do I need?
  • Who should I choose to be my references?
  • How do I approach my references for their help?
  • How many references should I have: how to format your professional references
  • Top five tips for using references in a job search 
  • Key takeaways

Getting ready for a job search? While your resume and cover letter are top priority, it’s also a good thing to be prepared in terms of references. Follow our step-by-step guide to preparing a reference list that will impress the hiring manager and get you ahead of the competition!

Polishing your resume and cover letter are typically the main things you are focused on as you  prepare for your job search. But have you thought about your references? In order to be ready for a job search, how many references do you need?

While your priority should be on delivering a killer resume, it’s also a good idea to get your references prepared and on point. Employers may ask for reference details early on in the hiring process or perhaps just before they are about to make a job offer, so it makes sense to be prepared and have them at your fingertips.. 

So, where to get started! How many references should you contact? Who would be the best option for a reference? What is the best way to provide this information? In this article we explore:

  • How many references do I need?

  • Who should I choose to be my references?

  • How do I approach my references for their help?

  • How to format references

  • Top reference tips for a job search

How many references do I need?

This can vary, to be honest, but the minimum number of references to include with your job application is typically three. There may be situations where you are asked for more references, for example if you are applying for a role with the government where six or seven references may be expected.

Whatever the number, the key is to identify who in your professional network is the most suitable reference in terms of knowing you well and what you have to offer a prospective employer. It’s also vital to give your reference the heads up that they potentially will be contacted to provide a reference. 

Who should I choose to be my references?

Professional references should be individuals who can provide details of your skills, experience, and work ethic. This would exclude family and close friends–who may well provide a great reference–but who won’t be viewed as objective and can’t really speak to your work experience. Here are some examples of potential contacts for your references.

  • Supervisor or manager - Current or previous managers who evaluated your performance can provide a prospective employer with vital information. Hiring managers will be looking to find out how you performed in your previous role as well as verifying information related to employment dates and salary information.

  • Co-worker - Colleagues who have worked closely with you can give a great insight on your skills, experience, and how you operate in the workplace. Recruiters will be interested to see how you will fit into their team and a former coworker is probably the best source for this information.

  • Teacher - If you have a limited amount of work experience then a teacher or college professor could be a good option for a reference. Try to align the choice of teacher with the industry that you are targeting.

  • Clients - Clients are a great source for a reference if you have been working as a freelancer. A current or former client can provide a reference to the hiring manager on your project management and communication skills as well as the quality of your work.

Expert Tip

Always include at least one reference from your current job such as your boss, client, or colleague. Employers will be suspicious as to why you don’t want your future employer contacting them if you don’t include at least one person from your current job.

How do I approach my references for their help?

Preparation is key! Follow these steps to gathering some top-notch references for your job search:

1. Contact them in advance. Ideally call or visit your references to see if they are willing to provide a reference. It’s best to contact them ahead of the game so they don’t get a call out of the blue from a hiring manager and feel blindsided.

Example Reference Request

Do you feel comfortable giving me a reference for my upcoming job search?” or “Do you feel you could give me a positive reference in the next few weeks?

2. Provide information. Give your reference some details of the types of roles that you are applying for along with the key experience and qualities you would like them to highlight. Another option is to send your resume to remind them of your specific experience and achievements. 

Try not to bombard your reference with lots of information, as they will likely be busy at work and won’t appreciate an avalanche of information or requests! 

3. Confirm their contact details. Ensure you have the correct contact information for your references, including their current job title, and find out how they prefer to be contacted by a hiring manager or recruiter.



Call or visit your potential reference in advance to ask them politely if they can provide a referral. Email is less personal and it can take time to get a reply, so initially it’s best to attempt to connect by phone or in-person.

Pressure anyone who seems reluctant to serve as a reference. If they ultimately agree, they will probably provide, at best, a neutral reference which tends to be viewed negatively by recruiters.

How many references should I have: how to format your professional references

There is no specific format to follow when setting out your references. Creating a reference sheet is a great approach, rather than detailing references on your resume. You can include this sheet as a supplementary document when required by the employer.

Your resume needs to focus on why your skills, experience, studies, and achievements make you the perfect person for the role. Including reference information on your resume takes up valuable space, and this information is not usually required in the early application stage.

Your reference sheet should include the following information:

  • Full name of reference, company, and their position

  • Relationship to you

  • Contact details (usually email address and phone number)

Here is an example of a professional reference sheet:

Copyable Example

John Smith

Email: |  Phone: 845-623-4567 

Location: New York, NY |  LinkedIn:


Anne Woodward - Former Manager

Head of Sales, ABC Company

(123) 456-7890 

Anne led my sales team at ABC Company over a three-year period.

James White - Former Colleague

Sales Associate, ABC Company

(123) 456-7890 

James was my colleague for three years and we co-managed four key accounts.

Jenny Michaels - Client

Business Owner, DEF Company

(123) 456-0987 

Jenny was one of my clients while I was a freelance content writer.

David Smith - Voluntary Organization

Volunteer Team Lead, RST Charity

(123) 456 7891 

David oversaw volunteers such as myself at RST Charity where we supported the homeless community.

Top five tips for using references in a job search 

Here are some final top tips to ensure you keep on track in terms of maintaining relationships with your references as you move forward in your job searching.  

1. Be professional. Ensure you maintain positive relationships with current and former colleagues, managers, and clients so that you have a wide pool of potential references. Think about how you are perceived and always be professional, particularly on social media platforms.

2. Submit references as outlined by the employer. Stick to employer guidelines on the method of submitting references. Some may ask for references just before making a job offer, others may require this at an earlier stage. Either way, always follow the employer's instructions and only submit references when they are requested.

3. Send a formal thank-you message. Always thank your references via a letter or email once you have sent your job application to the employer. This just shows that you value their time and will make it more likely that they help you again in the future.

4. Request a general letter of reference. It’s a good idea to ask for a general reference letter from each person. Just ensure that this document includes the reference’s name, job title, and contact information. 

While many employers will still prefer to have a direct conversation with a reference, having this document in hand helps you avoid your reference getting bombarded with requests. You can also use this letter as a testimonial to the amazing skills and experience you’ve acquired while moving forward in your career.

5. Select relevant references for each job opportunity. Make sure the references you provide are pertinent to that specific job opportunity, with a focus on more recent experience. If you are applying for a client-facing role, then a positive reference from a previous client would be a great choice.

Key takeaways

  1. Ensure you choose references that are relevant to your specific job opportunity. In general, three to four references will be needed.

  2. Professional references should be individuals who can provide details of your skills, experience, and work ethic. This includes a manager, colleague, client, or teacher and excludes family or close friends.

  3. Always contact your references in advance to be sure they are willing and able to provide information, and always include at least one person from your current/most recent job.

  4. Follow the employer’s instructions in terms of the requirement/timing to submit references. 

  5. Preparing a reference sheet is preferable to putting this information on your resume, which should be solely focused on your skills, experience, studies, and achievements.

  6. Maintain positive relationships with professionals in your industry, and always thank your references for taking time to help you move forward in your career.

Helen Oswald

Helen is an experienced content writer, with expertise in corporate law, business, sales, marketing and education. Prior to this, she worked in recruitment and human resources, so she has a strong sense of what recruiters are looking for in terms of a potential employee. Helen loves exploring new places, writing blogs of her travel across Europe and enjoying trips to the US, Thailand and the Middle East. She is an avid reader of fiction, poetry, self-help books and factual content and also enjoys creative writing in her spare time, including poetry and children’s fiction.

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