To include references on your resume or not? That is the question

At some point in your job search, an employer, recruiter, or HR professional is likely to ask you for a list of resume references. Many people will include a list of references right on their resume, or at least allude to the fact that references are available. The big question is… should you do either of these things?

If you're at the point of your job search where you need to know how to list references on your resume (or whether you should include them at all), you've come to the right place. In this article, we'll cover the following topics:

  • Whether you're supposed to put references on a resume

  • Why you should (or shouldn't) include resume references 

  • Where your references belong – and how to write them up

  • Who qualifies as a good resume reference

Let's get started!

Are you supposed to put references on a resume?

No, you are not supposed to put references on a resume

Instead, focus on providing the details that will convince a recruiter or hiring manager to contact you for an interview. Remember, your cover letter and resume are designed to get you the interview. The details you highlight on the resume during the job search should support this goal.

While it varies from company to company, most employers won't ask for your resume references until they're ready to reach out to them. This typically doesn't happen until you've made it through the initial interview rounds and are among the final candidates for a job. If, for any reason, an employer wants your references earlier in the process, rest assured they'll give you a chance to provide them. There's no need to place references on your resume when they won't be used until you're one of the final candidates.

That said, you should brainstorm a list of potential resume references as soon as you start submitting job applications, so you're ready when a prospective employer has specifically requested your professional references.

Why not include references on a resume?

Including references on a resume is simply a waste of space

Resume real estate is valuable and, as you know, when it comes to writing your resume, you only get so many pages to work with. Don't waste that space by putting a resume references section or adding the phrase “References available upon request.” 

Many employers usually won't ask for this information until you're further along in the interview process - and they know you'll provide references if they request them. Additionally, adding references to your resume can cause your application to get hung up in the applicant tracking system, or ATS, the software the company uses to manage candidates.

ATS can be programmed to automatically email references when they're found in the scanning process. If your reference doesn't respond to the automated message sent out by the ATS, your application could get caught in a pending status.

Where do you put references, if not on a resume?

Rather than putting references on your resume, type them up on a separate document

On a separate reference page, include the person's first name and last name, current job title and company name, email address, and phone number. Be sure to check with each of your professional references ahead of time, to confirm that the person is willing to be your reference and to verify which phone number and email address they'd like you to share with employers.

It's also helpful to add a line that explains to the reader how you've come to know this reference. For example,

  • It could be as simple as mentioning that you “worked together in Company XYZ's marketing department from July 2015 to November 2017,” or 

  • That your professional reference was your “direct supervisor at ABC Institute between 2018 and 2019.” 

You don't have to write a paragraph explaining your relationship to a reference, but it's nice to provide the employer or hiring manager with a little context.

When you type up your best resume references, consider using the same header information and font style that was used for your resume, so that the documents appear to be part of one overall package - even if they're not attached to one another. 

Resume references example: how to write your references

For example, if we were writing up resume references to accompany Alexa Campbell's resume, they might look something like this: 

An example of how to list professional references on your resume. The example shows references from throughout a professional's career history. Each reference includes the person's name, current title, cell phone number, email, and a note on the relationship.

Who should you ask to be a reference?

When choosing your professional references, select three to five people who have insight into your hard and soft skills and who you trust to say good things about you and your job performance. 

A good rule of thumb is to have at least three professional references – five if you're applying for an executive position. 

EXPERT TIP: If you opt to have more than three to five professional references, then the extras can be personal references. 

As you approach each person you want to have as a reference, give them an idea of the position you're applying for and how your skills match the role. This will help them know what to say when they're contacted. 

For the professional references

Try to find professional references who know about your skills and can talk about your career achievements in a way that aligns with what the job wants. Most of the time, your professional references will be talking about your hard skills – the things you know how to do from education and experience. 

Professional resume references examples include:

  • Teachers

  • Former supervisors or managers

  • Colleagues

  • A leader at a place you volunteer

For the personal references

It is okay to have personal references, but you should never provide personal references INSTEAD OF professional references. Always, always give professional references first and then personal ones. You'd list the same details about your personal references as you do the professional references – Name, Title (who they are to you), phone, and email. Adding a couple of personal references can help boost your candidacy, as these folks will probably talk a lot about your soft skills, which employers value. 

Personal resume references examples include (note that not a single personal reference in the following list is a relative – your mom and grandma should not appear on your reference list!):

  • Academic Advisors

  • Sports Coach

  • Members of your network

  • Mentors

Maximize resume space to improve job search impact

Having a good set of resume references to lean on while you search for a job is great, as they can help you get from interview to job offer. However, because of the limited space on your resume, you should create a separate document that contains just your references.

Remember, the goal of your resume is to get an interview. Before you sit down to speak with the hiring manager or recruiter, your references aren't going to help you. As such, you should aim to include only those details on your resume that will win an interview. 

When it's time to give your references to a hiring manager, make sure that you have a carefully curated list of contacts that can confidently speak to your abilities and how your skills match up with what the company is hiring for. 

Is your resume not getting results? Request a free review to find out how your resume is falling short.

This article was originally written by Amanda Augustine and has been updated by Marsha Hebert. 

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