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How to list references on your resume?

How to list references on your resume?

Artwork by: Alexandra Shevchenko

  • What are professional references?
  • Why do employers require references?
  • How to choose professional references?
  • Should you list references on your resume? 
  • Where to list professional references
  • How to use a reference sheet instead of resume references
  • Key takeaways

You are starting your employment search, and just like so many others, you start with your resume. You blow the cobwebs off and begin the task of updating your resume with your most recent jobs, skills, and education. The only thing left to do now is to add your references to the resume. But how do you list references on your resume?

Before you slap on the personal information of people who may not know you are job hunting and use them as a reference on your resume, let me tell you why this is a bad idea. Do not send that resume with references included until you read this article.

Perhaps it has been some time since you last had to submit a resume for a new job opportunity. Maybe you are new to the workforce and do not know much about the best practice of resume writing. No matter the reason, you should not include references on your resume. 

Please understand that I am not saying that references are not important and will not be required, but references are a standalone document and are not included on the resume. At one point in time, adding references to the resume was an acceptable practice, but no longer.

In this article, we will answer the following questions:

  • What are resume references (or more appropriately - professional references)?

  • Why do employers require references?

  • How to choose your references?

  • Why listing references on the resume is no longer the best practice?

Now that you know the answer to the question, how to list references on your resume? Let us dig deeper into the topic of references. Be sure to read until the end of the article and learn how to list your references.

What are professional references?

Before we get too deep into references on resumes, let us examine what is a reference. A reference is someone who can speak to your character and ability to perform. 

You can think of references as your own personal cheerleading squad willing to promote your brand loud and proud. 

When it comes to references, there are various kinds.

  1. Employment references – people who have first-hand knowledge of your skills, work experiences, and accomplishments (i.e., managers, peers, subordinates, and Human Resources). 

  2. Professional references – people who have a business relationship with you (i.e., contractors, clients, and organizational members).

  3. Academic references – these are people who can vouch for your academic status and achievements (i.e., teachers, professors, and counselors).

  4. Personal references – people who may have more intimate knowledge about you (i.e., family and friends).

Why do employers require references?

References are a vital part of the interview process. Candidates spend hours in interviews and some cases, days if brought back for a second or third interview, promoting their skills, education, accomplishments, and past work experiences to the hiring manager. 

Hiring managers will not simply accept your word that you are the perfect candidate for the open position. They want to hear it from others as well, typically three references. The good news is that when the hiring organization begins checking references, which is an indication that the interview process is nearly complete, you will receive a job offer very soon. 

How to choose professional references?

Having quality references that respond quickly when contacted can be the difference in whether you receive a job offer. There are times when a company is ready to hire immediately, and you are one of two qualified candidates; it may come down to references.

It is important to choose your references carefully. 

  • First, choose someone whom you trust will act with urgency when responding to the reference check

  • Second, while this should not need to be said, let us say it anyway. Choose someone who will speak positively about you

  • Third, be sure to choose someone knowledgeable about you and capable of speaking on your behalf using examples

Once you have your list of people you are confident can promote your abilities to the hiring manager, you want their permission to use them as a reference.

Never blindside someone and put them down as a reference without first clearing it with them. Also, you may not want to use a current manager, peer, or subordinate if you are currently working with them. This may not go over too well, so use your best judgment.

  1. Let the person know that you are applying to multiple positions, and they may be contacted more than once.

  2. Provide them with a current copy of your resume.

  3. Send the job description so they know what to expect on the call with the prospective new employer and what questions they may ask, and how they can best help your cause. 

  4. Help them remember some of your past accomplishments by sending them a few bullet points. 

  5. Let them know some of the more pressing questions you faced in the interview as an indicator of what they may be asked.

  6. If the person declines to be a reference or is indifferent toward your request, thank them for their time and do not list them as a reference.

Should you list references on your resume? 

Now that you know all about references – let us jump back to the question: how to list references on a resume? Or more appropriately: should you include them in this document at all?

Best practice dictates that you do not list references on your resume. 

Okay, that was short and sweet. But here is why you do not list references on your resume:

  1. It may show your age: For those of a certain age and generation, listing references on your resume was acceptable and expected. However, around the start of electronic mail (E-Mail), listing references on the resume started to fall out of favor.

  2. Security concerns: Because the information included for references is personal (name, email address, phone number, job title, and business address), you want to protect the security of your references by not posting their personal information online for millions to see.

  3. Resume real estate: Just like how physical real estate is precious, so is your resume real estate. You need every inch of your resume to illustrate that you are the perfect fit for the open position. Do not waste precious resume real estate with content that has nothing to do with the open position you are applying to and that includes adding references to the resume.

  4. References upon request: As we just talked about, the resume real estate is precious and should only be used to illustrate your ability to excel in the open position. In addition to not adding references, do not take away from your ability to pack in as much value as possible by adding the statement, “References upon request.” It is a given that you will provide references upon request, so no need to state the obvious. 

Now, with all that said, there is one exception to the rule of not listing references on your resume. If the job description requests that you add references to the resume, then do so, but this is exceedingly rare.

Where to list professional references

Now that you know not to list references on your resume, the question becomes how and where to list references.

Even though you will not list references on your resume, it is vital to have your list of references ready when the time comes to provide them to the hiring organization. To do this, you will create a References Sheet. Recall there are several types of references – Employment, Professional, Academic, and Personal references.

Once you have identified those who will act as a reference for the specific reference category, you will create a Reference Sheet. This document is separate from the resume and should be considered a part of your employment-seeking documents (resume, cover letter, and thank you letter). These documents are required tools in your toolbox during your employment search.  

How to use a reference sheet instead of resume references

All your employment-seeking documents, including your Reference Sheet, should be consistent in format. Ensure the font type, size, and margins are the same.

The reference sheet should include:

  • The reference’s full name

  • Job title

  • Company name

  • Company address

  • Phone (Best phone number to be reached right away)

  • Email address

  • Brief summary of your relationship with the reference

Key takeaways

You now know that you should never include references on your resume unless specifically instructed by the job description you are applying to, and that is rare. Here are some things to remember:

  1. Submitting references will be a required step near the end of the interview process, making the Reference Sheet a standalone document separate from the resume. 

  2. When submitting your Reference Sheet, remember there are several types of references (Employment, Professional, Academic, and Personal). It is important to know which type is required before submitting your Reference Sheet.

  3. We also talked about how to choose your references and the proper etiquette in requesting their help. Make sure to follow some simple rules when acquiring references.

  4. Here is a little tip, always thank your references once you have learned that the hiring manager has spoken with them. 

  5. Also, once you get the job, send your references a thank you note and perhaps a small token of your appreciation, letting them know they played a part in you getting the job. 

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