The ABCs of Resume References

"References available upon request" is the statement that has become a standard resume sign off. Surprisingly enough, there are still job seekers who keep the tradition of placing this cliché at the end of a resume. The truth of the matter is that this sign off does nothing but takes valuable space on the document. Alternatively, some job seekers put extra effort and list the references along with their contact details. However, in most cases, it is not a good idea. Does it mean job seekers can just ignore resume references today? Absolutely not. References remain to be one of the effective job search tools that can help candidates have the edge over other applicants.

At Prime-resume, we process hundreds of free resume review requests weekly. Our career experts have noted that the majority of the resumes we receive contain mistakes in the reference section. Therefore, we decided to shed some light on resume references and help job seekers avoid the most common mistakes related to the subject.

Should I Ever Add References on a Resume?

The rule of a thumb is to avoid listing references on a resume. While it was very common to have a reference list at the end of the document back in the 1990s or even 2000s, today it is not needed anymore (besides, it can affect the length of your resume). Does that mean that references simply don’t belong on a resume? Not quite. In certain circumstances, you may want to add references, for example, when a prospective employer directly asks you to do so. Such instances are rare so you will know for sure when to include them. If neither hiring manager asked you to include references on a resume nor have you read such a requirement in the job ad, then don’t incorporate references in your resumes.

How to Include References on a Resume?

If you have been requested to include references on your resume then you should know how to organize them on the document. First of all, resume references are to be provided at the very end of your resume. No need to show off your references in the middle or let alone at the beginning of your main marketing document. Secondly, you have to know what kind of information employers expect to see. Usually, the hiring managers prefer the following format of professional references on a resume:

  • First and Last Name
  • Position/Title
  • Employer (Company Name)
  • Employer’s Address
  • City, State, and Zip Code
  • Contact Phone Number
  • Email Address

Use this format for both adding the list to your resume or making a separate reference page. Additionally, you can use LinkedIn to check the job titles of your references. Make sure you don’t add anything extra to the list (unless instructed otherwise by the prospective employer). There are two ways you can add the references – either make it a separate page or add it to the last page of your resume. Either way is fine if you are 100% sure that this is what the employer wants. 

Resume Reference Page Example

If you decided to have a separate reference page, make sure it is formatting correctly. Below you can check the resume reference page sample.

Do I Need to Create a List of References Even Though I Wasn’t Asked to?

In most cases, the employers don’t require a list of references up front. That doesn’t mean that you don’t need to have one ready because it may well be that at some point, the hiring managers will request it. Some job seekers send such a list along with a resume even though they are not asked to do so. Bad idea! When it comes to initial stages of application, no hiring manager want to see references. Checking the references of every applicant will take forever, therefore we don’t recommend doing that right away. Besides, you may want to adjust the list as you learn more about the employer in the course of the interviewing and hiring process. That said, you better have your references ready but hold off sending them unless requested otherwise. 

How to Choose Professional Resume References?

Now that we established that you need to have a list of references, the question is how to make one. More specifically, how to choose references in order to increase your chances of getting hired (essentially, that’s what references are meant to do). 

Good references are not just your friends who can say you are a great professional. It’s not about having someone praise you regardless of who is contacting them. A good reference is a working professional related to your target industry. For example, it can be a former colleague, supervisor, mentor, partner, etc. In other words, those who have first-hand knowledge of your professional skills should be your first choice. If you don’t have work experience, you can choose a teacher, professor, coach or advisor as a professional reference. Regardless of the status and job title of your references, it is your job to select those people who can say something positive about your skills, attitude, and work experience. Keep in mind that friends and relatives are not great options. They often don’t hold any weight in the eyes of hiring managers.

Before you add some names to the list, don't forget to ask their permission. First and foremost, it is polite to do so. Secondly, it will give your references a chance to prepare their responses. Lastly, it will allow you to make sure you have their contact information up-to-date.

Target Your Resume References

Usually, employers request no more than 3-5 references. This means that it is not about the number. Don't try to impress the employer by adding 10-20 people to the list. The hiring authorities have no intention of calling dozens of your references. Therefore, you have to choose wisely. Just like targeting your resume and cover letter is important for your job search outcome so is targeting your reference page.

When selecting your references, think about those people who would be most relevant to the job you are applying for. Ideally, they should work in the industry within which you try to land your next job. More importantly, think about those who would do best in highlighting relevant skills (those that are required by the prospective employers). Keep in mind that your job search efforts should revolve around the employer needs. So think about what the hiring managers would want to hear from your references and select those people who will be able to provide that information. Offering a tailored list of references will maximize your chances of getting a job offer. 

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