Should resumes have references?
Applying & Interviewing

Should resumes have references?

6 min read

Should resumes include references? Probably not! Surprised? We don’t blame you. Reference sections and that overused “references available upon request” line were once resume-building staples.

Professional references are the contacts who will verify the quality of your work to potential employers, but providing them right off the bat actually isn’t the best approach when applying for most jobs. On a one- or two-page resume, devoting even a few lines to your references takes up valuable space where you could be showing off your skills and experience.

Also consider that employers don’t contact references as often as they used to. But there are a few (rare) cases where you should have references available early on in the hiring process.

Not sure what’s best for your resume? Here’s a quick guide to determining whether and how to provide references.

When should you skip references?

A good rule of thumb is that if a job post doesn’t directly ask you to provide references, you shouldn’t include them on your resume or application. If you already have references listed on your resume and the posting doesn’t mention references or specifically says not to include them, take them off!

A few more things to keep in mind if you’re considering adding references to your resume. While including a list of references used to be a pretty standard practice for job seekers in the past, doing so now — especially if they weren’t requested by the job poster — might make you and your resume seem out of date.

Another thing to keep in mind is that employers don’t always expect you to have references from your old jobs available, since many companies have policies against giving out references in order to avoid potential legal problems. Hiring managers may only contact your past employers to confirm basic information on your resume like your job title and length of employment.

There are risks to putting references on your resume. Even a trusted professional contact can drop the ball, either by not responding to your potential employer at all or by mischaracterizing you.

Finally, a reference listed on your resume could have a reputation or history with the job poster that you’re unaware of, damaging your chances just by association! It’s an unlikely predicament, but better safe than sorry when someone who you believed would be a strong reference could unknowingly end up hurting your chances.

Leave “references available upon request” off your resume

So, having your references spelled out on your resume isn’t sounding like the best idea. But what about having a “references available upon request” line, or something to that effect, added right at the end? Again, best to leave it out.

If you’re a strong candidate with the skills and experience that your resume claims, it’s already implied that your employer can request references. You don’t need to take up the limited space on your resume to say so.

When should you include references on your resume?

Now, there are a few rare scenarios in which including references on your resume is the right idea.

For instance, in industries that rely heavily on character references, public personas, or the successes of major past projects (like consultation, brand management, or online influencing) it may be necessary to include the contact information of references who can vouch for your attributes in these areas.

In these cases, unless a job posting specifies otherwise, you also have the option to create a separate document for your references, rather than format them right onto your resume.

Tips for choosing your references

At any point in your career, you should have a list of people ready to endorse you. Consider the following qualities when choosing your references:

Outstanding recommendations only

Always choose references you are sure will give you a positive review. Good people to ask are typically former direct supervisors, professors, professional mentors, or colleagues. Make sure that your references can speak to your job history, strengths and weaknesses, past projects and responsibilities, major achievements, work ethic, and their willingness to work with you again.

Not sure how to ask someone to provide a reference? We’ve got a few tips.

Choose relevant references

Aim to use references who worked with you on a job or project that is similar to the one you’re applying for now. Your references should have a clear idea of the type of position you’re pursuing and be able to relate it to your past experience.

Keep your references recent as possible

References who worked with you recently are the most likely to have a complete knowledge of your professional experience. That said, it never hurts to catch them up on your recent accomplishments before giving their contact info to a potential employer.

Mum’s the word

Your references should be up to date on your recent successes, but you may want to keep your new job search confidential.

Even if you choose a trusted colleague in your current workplace and believe they have your best interests at heart, it’s always safer to avoid asking anyone who works with your current employer for help finding a new job.

How to format your references list

When compiling your list of references, make the following contact information available:

  • Reference’s name
  • Their title
  • Business address
  • City, state, ZIP code
  • Phone number
  • Email address

Hiring managers are busy people and may not contact every reference on your list, so prioritize by placing your best references at the top. While every one of your contacts will give you a positive review, lead with the one you think will endorse you the most effectively for the job in question. This would be the reference who can really make your good qualities shine and successfully relate your past experiences to the job you’re pursuing.

Want more resume and hiring tips like these? Check out some of our recent articles on job searching and networking

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