How to Do Your References On Resume: Is It Important?

Published on: 5 February 2021 Last updated: 5 February 2021

“References available upon request.”

Heard of this one?

The trite, superfluous phrase was all the rage decades ago. Nowadays, you’d barely find anyone that recommends it.

But what about actual references on resumes?

“Should I put references on my resume?” is a common question you may have even asked yourself at one point in your career.

At Enhancv, we strive to give you job search advice that gets results. We want your resume to cut through the noise and land you interviews.

Excited?

Awesome! We’ll guide you through the perils of references on a resume.

In this article, we’ll answer everything you need to know:

  • Do you need to include references on your resume or not?
  • How employer use references
  • How to ask for a reference
  • What if you have no references for a resume?
  • How many references on your resume are good?
  • How to send your reference list
  • How to list references on a resume
  • How to format references on a resume with Enhancv
  • Key takeaways

If you’re wondering how to go about listing references on your resume, we got you covered.

Let’s dive in.

If you want to skip the entire article, you can browse proven resume examples for your job title by clicking below. You can see how it’s gotten professionals in your industry results and use it for your own job application!

 

 

Do You Need to Include References On Resumes Or Not?

You’re probably thinking: should I list references on my resume or not?

The general answer is no.

The truth is, you shouldn’t list them. “References” constitutes an obsolete resume section, for the most part. In other words, if you’ve written your resume sections correctly, they should answer the things the hiring manager would be looking for in your resume references in the first place.

The main purpose an employer uses references on a resume is to prove your resume isn’t a farce (we’ll look at this in more detail in the section).

Unless the job description explicitly requires you to do so, then you should be putting references on your resume. And, usually, that happens if you’re applying for legal or federal jobs.

Other than that, it’s a waste of valuable space.

Often, it’s better to leave references off your resume and let your prospective employer ask for them.

Why?

You’ll be in control of your reference list. That means you can choose the most relevant referees, determine their order on the list, and give them a heads-up.

Here’s the deal:

Your resume is your most powerful personal marketing tool. If your job search was an NBA team, your resume would be the MVP.

You should treat it as such.

When putting references on a resume, they’re normally placed near the end of the hiring process.

The majority of job ads don’t request references. Neither do hiring managers expect to see them during initial applications.

So, when are references appropriate?

Let’s see how it’s like on the other side.

How employers use references

Do employers even call your references?

According to a 2019 survey by HR.com, 96% of employers perform at least one type of background check. Referees vouch for your competence and character.

So, chances are they’re going to call one of yours, at a minimum.

Don’t fret, though, it’s a good sign if they do.

See, the bulk of employers do contact references on a resume (or a separate document) when you make the shortlist. It’s a common thing that happens when they’re about to send you an offer.

What do they ask your referees?

Mainly, employers are interested in making sure you’re the awesome candidate you seemed on paper and during the interview. They’ll want to know about things like your employment dates, performance on the job, work ethics, and why you left your previous employer.

It’s clear you need to choose your referees carefully.

And that leads up to…

How to Ask For A Reference

Navigating the recruitment funnel is a bit like playing chess.

You must be a few moves ahead to have any chance of getting an offer. This goes for resume references too.

So, how do you go about requesting references for your resume?

Well, you need to:

  • Determine who should be a reference on your resume;
  • Follow reference-request etiquette.

Both steps are crucial to put the odds in your favor when applying for jobs.

1. Determine who should be a reference on your resume

How do you decide? Well, it depends on the circumstances.

Do you currently have a job? Maybe you’re interested in finding a more rewarding position or just seeing what’s out there.

In this case, don’t list your boss as a reference.

Doing so might put you at risk.

Although potential employers should request permission beforehand, you don’t want to take the chance of your employer knowing about your plans.

Are you in between jobs?

Then it’s fine if you list a previous employer as a reference. Only if you’re certain they’ll give you a glowing testimonial, though.

Either way, pick referees that put you in the best light possible.

For example, If you’re not on good terms with a previous supervisor, pick a coworker that would speak highly of you.

Avoid personal references as their opinions of you are biased. Go for professional references such as your current or former managers, colleagues, professors, and even customers. List the most recent, relevant references.

Normally, the hiring managers aren’t interested in referees you’ve worked with 15 years ago.

2. Follow reference-request etiquette

Okay, you know the who. But, what about the how?

What your referees say about you should closely match or improve upon what’s in your resume.

Naturally, this means being mindful of who’s on your reference list. You should have them on deck prior to sending job applications.

Here’s how you choose your references on a resume:

  • Start with a big pool of potential references (managers, supervisors, colleagues, etc.)
  • Narrow down the list to the most relevant and recent referees
  • Whittle it down further to people you’re on good terms with
  • Now pick the ones with a positive opinion of you
  • Always go with the most eloquent referees

Done? Great!

Now, here’s how you ask someone to be your reference:

  • Contact them well before applying for jobs so they can be prepared
  • Touch base and tell them about your current situation
  • Ask if they feel comfortable being your referee
  • Let them take their time to get back to you

If they say no, thank them for their time, and move on to the next person.

If they say yes, though, show gratitude. Paint a clear picture of what they should expect as your references.

Send them your resume, the job you’re applying for, and any helpful details. Tell your referees that they may get a call, receive an email, or be asked to write a recommendation letter within a month or two.

Now, you know how to select referees and request references, which leaves us with another piece of the jigsaw.

What if you have no references for a resume?

That’s rare, like really rare.

It would be unfortunate, but don’t despair.

Most people you’ve worked or done business with make decent references. This doesn’t just apply to the professional work environment, it also works if you’re a student or a new college graduate.

(Side note: if this is your first time writing a job resume, you might find our separate guide here useful!)

As a quick recap, this includes:

  • Clients
  • Business contacts
  • Suppliers
  • Family
  • Friends
  • Classmates
  • Teachers
  • Professors

If you can’t get one professional reference, personal references work too.

These are people who can vouch for your character, which is becoming more important in the workforce today.

Can’t do that either?

Suggest a probation period or freelance work so you can prove yourself. This can be effective because you’re offering potentially great performance at minimal risk to the employer.

Whatever you do, don’t pay for someone to pose as your reference.

How many references on your resume are good?

If possible, five. However, three references are the minimum.

Most jobs require one to three for a resume. But, it’s better if you had five to seven references, especially if you’re after executive or senior roles.

Whichever the number, the list of your references need to be in the order of relevance.

How to send your reference list

When deciding how to send your reference list, you can do so by either:

  • Including a references section on the second page of your resume
  • Create a separate document for your reference list – when asked, send it as an attachment in reply
  • Use LinkedIn recommendations – the goal of references is credibility so, by including references along with testimonials, you give employers exactly what they want without having to compromise space on your resume

When putting references on a resume, make sure you don’t cramp or force things in. The reality is, resume references aren’t compulsory.

In fact, if you have a one-page resume, you’re better off leaving it out.

After all, it’s precious space. As we mentioned earlier, if your employers want to see references, make it clear by directly asking you to include them.

How to List References On Resume

Your resume references aren’t the deciding factor for whether or not you land your next job position. That being said, there are right and wrong ways for listing your references on a resume.

In the case you want to include references, they should only be on the second page of your resume. Otherwise, as mentioned, completely omit them from your application in the first place.

So, what should the resume references section look like?

Basic References Template For Your Resume

Going with a separate list? Here’s how you put it together.

Reference name

Professional title

Company name

Street address

City, State, Zipcode

Phone number

Email address

Description

The address is your referee’s, not their company’s. Make sure that every detail is current.

What to say in the description? Write a couple of lines stating your relationship with the person.

A little unsure? Here’s an example of a reference list in action:

Elon Musk

CEO

SpaceX

1 Rocket Road

Hawthorne, California, 90250

(213) 555-5555

Elon@spacex.com

“Elon was my boss during my stint at SpaceX from 2007 to 2011. I was part of the team that launched the first privately funded, liquid-fueled rocket to reach orbit.”

Such a lucky break having Elon as your reference, right?

Things can be a lot less favorable…

The only disadvantage of using the same old resume template for references like this is that it’s generic. Since it’s traditional and the hiring managers are used to seeing it thousands of times, you won’t be making a strong impression.

Instead, we’ll show you a stronger alternative.

How to Format References On Resume With Enhancv

First, browse through Enhancv’s resume examples and grab a proven template for your job position.

Enhancv How to Do Your References On Resume: Is It Important?

Next, you’ll be taken to a page that guides you through how to create a resume for your specific industry. When you land on this page, click on the “use this example” button:

Enhancv How to Do Your References On Resume: Is It Important?

Great!

Now you have access to a proven resume template for your job position that’s gotten candidates like you hired. You’ll be inside Enhancv’s editor app which should look like this:

Enhancv How to Do Your References On Resume: Is It Important?

Once you’ve made it this far, you’re free to rephrase and change the information with your own details. Building a resume like this is much easier than starting on a blank canvas. To create a resume references section, you simply change the resume section heading to “references” and include them.

Here’s how this can look:

Enhancv How to Do Your References On Resume: Is It Important?

It’s really simple – just add their contact details. You’re free to add a short description but I don’t recommend it because space is sacred.

Besides, the information will be shown any through the relevant resume sections e.g. work experience if they’re done correctly.

When you highlight key details by using color, it improves the resume format since it’s easier to skim through. Not only do you save the hiring manager time by helping them find what they’re looking for, but they’ll notice the key details first.

Since references on a resume aren’t compulsory and they’re only really needed if the hiring managers ask for it, you should replace this section with something else.

One that’s more meaningful and leaves a stronger impression on your recruiter…

Let’s look at one custom resume section Sebastian has used from Enhancv on our business data analyst resume example:

Enhancv How to Do Your References On Resume: Is It Important?

Whilst your work experience section covers the results of your contribution, your achievements can also be used for emphasis.

For the record, achievements are only one of many other resume sections out there which you can use to showcase your skills or qualifications. You can change the heading to certifications or accomplishments – those work too.

Either way, this makes your success more significant.

On top of that, it’ll be a new type of resume for a recruiter to see. When employers see an applicant with a different type of application that’s modern and creative, it won’t be easy to forget who you are.

This is one reason why Enhancv’s modern resume templates excel at getting candidates hired in competitive job openings.

If employers want proof, that’s when they’ll ask you for a reference.

When this happens, you can rest assured you made better use of the space rather than including references.

This isn’t another plain, black and white, boring resume hiring managers see every day.

It’s different.

And, if you’re looking to stand out and get hired then I suggest you give this a try. Building a resume with Enhancv is easy and above all, it’s free.

What have you got to lose?

Key Takeaways

DO: include your references on your resume if it’s a clear job application requirement made by the hiring manager

DON’T: sacrifice space on your resume for a references section when it’s not necessary

Remember, it’s your resume application that gets your foot in the door. Not the one section based on your references – that’s not the deciding factor.

Your references on a resume is a treacherous path that looks deceivingly easy to transverse.

But, you need to know the who, when, how, and where to come up with a good reference list. And, as you’d expect it all starts with who your references are.

So, be sure to choose your references wisely.

***

Have you learned anything new from our guide? If you have any questions or anything you want to add, do let us know in the comments below!

Kal Dimitrov

Kal has 10 years of experience as a marketer and lecturer in youth leader organisations, with a focus on career and job skills enhancement. He has written and edited over 100 resume creation guides for different jobs. Kal is also a co-founder of a career accelerator hub that helps students and recent graduates excel at job interviews and get the job of their dreams.

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