Elyssa Duncan
Community Specialist
Posted June 17, 2021

How to list professional references on your resume

Get to know why professional references matter, when is it appropriate to include a references page along with your resume, and how to list your job references properly.
Elyssa Duncan
Community Specialist
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How to list professional references on your resume
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Having a good resume is essential when it comes to tackling the job market. Your resume and cover letter are how prospective employers get a snapshot of your skills, experience, and job preferences without actually meeting you. Your references page is a way for them to understand your working capabilities through your previous employers, teachers, or associates.

However, providing references isn’t as simple as listing them on your resume or a reference sheet. Adding resume references incorrectly can actually do more harm than good for your job application. Let’s take a look at how to correctly list professional references.

Should you add resume references?

For most cases, no, you shouldn’t add references to your resume or send a references page when applying to a job listing for the first time. Writing “references available on request” is also considered a big no.

Think of your professional resume as prime real estate. It's an extremely valuable space that you want to use to highlight your skills and past employment. It’s recommended to add resume references only if and when specifically asked for.

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Job posters get many applications from many job seekers throughout the day, and going through all those resumes is quite a task in itself. Their priority is to initially shortlist the best-suited applicants based on the skill-sets listed in their resumes.

Recruiters will usually ask for resume references during the hiring process if you’ve been selected. This usually happens after a job interview, but your potential employer can sometimes ask for references before an interview, too.

Waiting to add references until asked for will also help you decide which references to include. Rather than listing all your former employers, carefully select the best references to provide positive feedback on you and your work ethics.

How to give your references to a potential employer

Here are two tips for preparing your references and compiling them to give to a hiring manager or recruiter.

Choose your references wisely and ask them in a professional manner

First, start by selecting the references you want to add to your list. It’s important to pick references that are relevant to the job you’re applying for. The ideal number of references is between three and five; anything more would be unnecessary.

If you go through the job description posted by the recruiter, you will be able to see whether they ask for references or not. If they are specifically mentioned in the job description, then go ahead and list your references. However, if there is no mention of references anywhere, it’s best to exclude them completely until asked.

Reference writing also has its own etiquette that you should follow.

  • Make sure always to ask someone if they would mind being included in your reference list. It’s best to either call them directly or email them to ask their permission.
  • If they agree, tell them about the job you’re applying for, send your updated resume, and inform them that a hiring manager may be contacting them.
  • If they decline, then politely thank them and move on to your next reference choice.

Who are good references for resumes?

There is a difference between personal and professional references.

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Personal references attest to your character and behavior, usually given by a teacher, advisor, or mentor. Professional references, however, define your skills and work experience and are provided by your former manager, supervisor, or co-worker.

Most employers will look for professional references to understand more about your work experience, skill-set, how well you work with others, and other questions related to your work history.

Your professional reference doesn’t need to be a direct supervisor. It can be anyone who has worked closely with you, can elaborate on your working capabilities, and vouch for you. This can be a former colleague, a team member, a client, or a business partner.

If you have no prior work experience, don’t worry. Your personal references will be just as good. To get a personal reference, you can reach out to your teacher, coach, mentor, academic advisor, or a group or club leader. Pick individuals who have known you for at least a year and can positively vouch for your character, integrity, and goals. Here, you want to avoid picking a family member, spouse, or friend, as recruiters know they can be biased.

Creating your references page

When creating your list of references, it’s always best to write them up on a separate page.

Your references page should be formatted in the same style as that of your professional resume and cover letter.

  • Begin by putting your name right at the top and your current or previous job title (if any) underneath.

  • The next step is to add your contact information in the following lines; this includes your current address, phone number, and email address. Leave a space after your details and add the title of “References” or “Professional References.”

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  • Under this title, list each reference with their full name, designation, current place of employment, company address, the reference’s phone number, and email address.

  • You can leave out the company address if you wish, as these days, hiring managers are more likely to email your reference than send them a letter. You should also add a one-line description of your relationship with the reference after their details.

FAQs about creating your reference list

Here are four frequently asked questions and answers about creating your resume references:

  • What to do if you have no references?

    You can ask a former teacher or coach to give you a reference.

    A mentor, academic advisor, group or club leader, community leader, neighbor, volunteer coordinator, or extracurricular instructor are also suitable options.

  • What if your old employer doesn’t want to give you a reference?

    If your direct manager doesn’t want to provide a reference, consider selecting someone else you worked with, like a supervisor or co-worker.

    If you have a short list of references, to begin with, and either all or some old employers refuse to give a reference, ask if you can get a “basic reference.”

    A basic reference is just a confirmation of how long you worked at your previous job and in what capacity.

  • What if you don’t include references?

    This is absolutely okay. Unless the job posting specifically asks for references, it’s better not to include them in your initial application.

  • Should you write “references available on request”?

    Writing “references available on request” is a mistake. Not only does it take up valuable space on your resume, but it is understood that if the recruiter needs references, they will certainly ask for them.

Here’s a professional reference template you can use

Consistency in formatting your references is critical, and there is a specific order that you will need to follow when listing them all.

Take a look at this professional reference template that will help you list references correctly:

Your Name
Street Address
City, State, ZIP
Telephone
Email

References:

Reference Name
Title
Company Name
Telephone
Email
Relationship

Reference Name
Title
Company Name
Telephone
Email
Relationship

Save space on your references page by shortening the contact information, specifically by removing the reference address. It’s more likely for a hiring manager to reach out to your references through email, text, or call.

Time to get started on your references

How you present yourself through your job application matters a lot, and something as seemingly simple as a list of references can hold a lot of importance. Who you decide to include in your references can be even more vital.

Here are a few key points to keep in mind when creating your references list:

  • Only give references if asked

  • Pick just 3-5 references

  • Always ask for permission from the reference before listing them and thank them afterward

  • Make sure to list references with correct formatting

  • Use the given template to create resume references


For more tips and advice on your job searches, visit the Jobcase Getting Hired Resource Center.

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