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  3. References on a resume: a complete guide with examples
References on a resume: a complete guide with examples

References on a resume: a complete guide with examples

  • What do you put down for references on a resume?
  • Who should you use as a reference?
  • Who you should not ask for a reference
  • Example reference list
  • 3 Things to do when asking someone for a reference
  • 1. Compile your list
  • 2. Make contact with your reference
  • 3. Keep your reference informed
  • Example of how to ask someone to be a reference
  • Key takeaways

Having a viable list of references is an important part of your job search. But should you list your references on your resume? We’ll walk you through how to choose your references and how to provide them to a potential employer.

Resume real estate is valuable and you want to maximize your limited space. But what about references? You'll need them at some point, so shouldn't you just put them on your resume to save time? The answer might surprise you. We'll look at how to utilize your references effectively and get your resume noticed.

In this article, we’ll discuss:

  • What do I put for references on a resume?

  • Who should you use as a reference?

  • Who should not be a reference on a resume?

  • Is it okay to put “references upon request” on a resume?

  • Are references required for a job?

  • What are 3 things to do when asking someone to be a reference?

  • 2 examples of how to ask someone to be a reference

  • Example of a resume reference list

What do you put down for references on a resume?

These days, your references shouldn’t be on your resume unless it's specifically asked for in the job description. Although it used to be standard practice to include them, that’s no longer true. Recruiters and hiring managers are busy people, often dealing with hundreds of resumes at a time. They won’t check those references until they’re ready to make you an offer, so you’re better off using that space for other purposes.

A better option is to have a list of references in a separate document formatted similarly to your resume and cover letter. This way, when they ask you for your references, you have your list ready to go.

Expert Tip

Is it okay to put "references upon request" on a resume? 

While it’s likely not a deal breaker for hiring managers, you’ll want to leave this phrase off your resume. Checking references is a standard hiring practice, so if and when they need them, they’ll ask you for them.

Who should you use as a reference?

When potential employers check your references, they’re interested in how you function in a professional setting. For that reason, your references should be work-related, and the people on your list should be able to speak to your skills, background, and work ethic. The best people to have as references are:

  • Current or past co-workers

  • Former managers or supervisors

  • Clients you’ve worked with directly

  • Colleagues at an internship (if it’s very recent)

  • Professors or instructors (if you’re a fresh grad)

Who you should not ask for a reference

There are a few people you shouldn’t ask for a professional reference, under any circumstances. They include your family, friends, any supervisor who gave you a poor performance evaluation (or fired you), anyone you haven’t asked to be a reference, and celebrities. Also, under no circumstances should you pull a “George Costanza” (from “Seinfeld”) and create a fake reference. This never works out well, and could cost you the job when the recruiter realizes that there is no “Art Vandelay.” 

Expert Tip

Are references required for a job?

While it's possible to get a job without them, it's a good idea to have references as they can give a potential employer insight into your skills and background. If you're new to the workforce and don't have any professional references, consider asking former professors, community leaders (if you know them), or a job coach. If you have absolutely no one you can ask, don’t despair—consider asking a potential employer for a “trial period” where you can demonstrate your stated skills and abilities on the job.

Example reference list

Once you’ve contacted your potential references (and they’ve agreed), it’s time to compile your list. It should have the same format as your resume and cover letter and should contain the following information:

  1. Their name

  2. Current job title

  3. Where they work

  4. Their email address

  5. Work Phone number

  6. A one-sentence description of your professional relationship.

Example of a reference list

Ms. Samantha Preston VP of Human Resources Screen Designs, Inc. [email protected] (555) 234-5687

Ms. Preston was my direct supervisor for three years, 2017-2020

Mr. Seth Finley Sales DirectorABC, Inc. [email protected] (555) 123-4567

Mr. Finley was my colleague and teammate for five years, from 2012-2017

Dr. Tina Massoni Professor of Business Administration Chicago University [email protected] (555) 567-8910

Dr. Massoni was my graduate advisor from 2009 – 2012.

3 Things to do when asking someone for a reference

Yes, you have to ask someone to be your reference ahead of time. You want them to have something prepared so that when the hiring manager calls, they’re not caught off guard. Don’t just list someone and think, “Oh, they won’t mind.” Trust us: they will mind. And you don’t want to risk getting a less-than-stellar reference because you didn’t take the time to ask them first. To get ready to acquire a list of references, consider the following three steps.

1. Compile your list

Creating a list of references might take some time, so you’ll want to do this in advance so you’re not scrambling around at the last minute. A hiring manager probably won’t ask for more than two or three at a time, but, just like tailoring your resume, it’s good to have a few more names handy as they might be more able to speak to particular skill sets for the job you’re applying for. 

2. Make contact with your reference

You can send an email, but a phone call is the best way to ask someone for a reference. If you haven’t spoken in a while, remind them who you are and how you know each other. When you’re asking, do just that—ask. Frame your question politely and directly, such as, “I’m beginning to look for a new job—would you be comfortable being a reference?" or "Do you have time in the next few weeks to act as a professional reference?" Always give them an “out,” especially if they seem reticent. A lukewarm reference isn’t much better than no reference, so if they don’t seem like they’re on board, don’t put them on your list.

3. Keep your reference informed

It’s also important to keep your reference “in the loop” as it applies to your progress. You don’t have to provide every single detail of your job search, but if you’ve given their name to a hiring manager, give your reference a “heads up” to let them know they’ll be getting a call or email. Make sure they have a copy of your current resume and the job description so that they can tailor their answers appropriately. And don't forget to thank them for their efforts—a personal note is always appreciated.

Statistical Insight

Employers really do check references. In fact, according to a survey by the Society for Human Resources Management (SHRM), 87 percent of employers will perform a reference check on potential new hires.

Example of how to ask someone to be a reference

If you’re planning on asking a professional colleague to act as a reference via email or letter, here is an easily adjustable example you can use to write your letter.

Reference request

Julie Waterson 123 Any Street Medium City, IL 01234 555-555-5555 [email protected]

May 11, 2024

Stephanie Anders Director of Accounts Sunshine Advertising 222 Corporate St. Big City, IL 56789

Dear Stephanie,

I saw on LinkedIn that you recently won the Jerome Award for your campaign for Sunshine Foods. Congratulations!

The reason I’m reaching out is that I'm currently looking for a new job in marketing, and I was wondering if I could call on your help with my job search.  Would you feel comfortable acting as a reference and vouching for my skills, talents, and work history? I would, of course, let you know when I have provided a hiring manager with your name and contact information, so you have a timeframe in which to expect a call. Please let me know if you have the time and can provide a reference for me.

I’d also be happy to take advantage of your extensive experience and hear any guidance you might have about the job search process. And if you hear of any open positions that I might be qualified for, I would appreciate that information. 

So that you know what I’ve been up to professionally, I have attached my most recent resume. Please let me know if you need any other information or have any questions.

Thank you in advance for your help and support. I really appreciate it.

Sincerely, Your Signature (if it’s a hard copy) Julie Waterson

If you’re starting your job search, consider utilizing Career.io’s Job Tracker tool, which will allow you to apply, save, and track jobs, all in one convenient dashboard.

Key takeaways

  1. Your references shouldn't be on your resume unless it's specifically asked for in the job description. 

  2. A better option than putting references on your resume is to have a separate reference document, which can be submitted if requested by the employer. 

  3. There’s no need to put “references available on request.” If the hiring manager needs them, he or she will ask for them.

  4. Potential professional references include current or past co-workers, former managers or supervisors, clients you’ve worked with directly, and professors or instructors (if you’re a fresh grad).

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