Q&A: Should You Put References in a CV?

By Indeed Editorial Team

February 22, 2021

When you apply for jobs, employers may request a CV as a summary of your professional and academic abilities and achievements. One way to provide additional details about yourself to potential employers is by including a list of references in your CV. Employers may use your references to assess whether you are a good fit for the job, so it's important to decide if including references would benefit you and improve your chances of being hired.

In this article, we discuss when it's appropriate to include references in a CV and how you should format your reference list.

What is a curriculum vitae (CV)?

A curriculum vitae, or CV for short, is a document that provides details that highlight your academic and professional experience. Typically, a CV describes information related to your work experience, academic achievements, awards, grants, scholarships, coursework, research and publication projects that you have taken part in throughout your career. Unlike resumes, CVs are generally longer and focus more on academic training, research and other projects you're involved with.

Read more: What Is a CV? Curriculum Vitae Definition and Examples

Should I include references in my CV?

If you include references in your CV, they should be professionals who can vouch for your skills, character and work performance. If you know three to five individuals who can provide relevant information about you, you may choose to include them in a reference list in your CV to make your qualifications stand out to employers. However, whether you include references can depend on the type of job you're applying for, the industry and what the employer requests within your application.

When adding references in your CV, include individuals who are professionals and who have an unbiased opinion of your work performance. Similarly, you must have a prior working relationship with the people you include as references. Here are several specific individuals who would make good references for your CV:

  • Previous and current employers

  • Managers and team leaders

  • Colleagues and business partners

  • Coaches and trainers

  • Professors and teachers

  • Academic supervisors

When should I include references in a CV?

Typically, including a reference list in your CV isn't a necessity, but it can be effective for impressing employers and adding credibility to your qualifications and experience. Here are several reasons why you should include references in your CV:

  • The employer requests your references

  • The job description instructs you to include them

  • If you received accolades from a reference

  • If you have additional space for a reference list

The employer requests your references

Always include a reference list in your CV if the employer asks you to. For instance, an employer may request a reference list for leadership positions, highly technical roles (like an IT technician) and jobs where professional references may be necessary to provide additional information about your work ethic, such as for human resources positions.

The job description instructs you to include them

If the job description provides explicit instructions to send your CV and references, you must include them. In this scenario, create a list of references with short details about each individual's relationship to you that you can include at the end of your CV.

If you received accolades from a reference

If you received recognition for a job well done, such as a promotion at work or a superior assignment grade in college, this can be the perfect opportunity to use the professional who gave you the award as a reference. You can also include professional references for situations like participating in a research project with an instructor or supervisor, co-authoring a publication with a colleague or achieving another recognizable accomplishment that you want to highlight in your job application.

Essentially, including professionals who are familiar with your accomplishments and worked closely with you can give an employer additional information regarding any accolades you listed in other sections of your CV, which can impress them and increase your chances of receiving an interview.

If you have additional space for a reference list

Generally, you should use any free space you have left in your CV to list additional accomplishments, awards or skills you haven't mentioned previously. However, if you still have a significant amount of blank space remaining after including all of your relevant details, you can use this space for your references.

Related: Q&A: Should You Include References on a Resume?

When shouldn't I include references in a CV?

There are several situations where you should leave a reference list out of your CV, including:

  • The job description instructs you to leave them out

  • You have only one or two appropriate references

  • If they aren't necessary early in the application process

  • If you have little to no room left on your CV

  • The references aren't relevant to the job industry

The job description instructs you to leave them out.

If the description for the job you're applying to says to omit your references, you should leave them out of your CV. There are a variety of reasons employers may choose to explicitly instruct you to leave off your reference list, such as having limited time to review each element of your CV, so it's important to follow instructions.

You have only one or two appropriate references.

If you have less than three professional references, it may be best to leave them out of your CV. This is because employers use references to validate a range of skills, experience and qualifications, and having a larger reference list to contact can mean a better review of your capabilities. If you only have one or two references, you may be better off filling the space in your CV with relevant information about yourself instead.

If they aren't necessary early in the application process.

Sometimes a reference list isn't necessary during the first stages of the application process. Employers may request your references after they interview you for a job, so waiting until the application process has progressed to an interview may be a better time to showcase your references.

If you have little to no room left on your CV.

It's important to use the available space in your CV wisely, and adding references may take away from the space you could use to highlight other relevant personal qualities. This can result in leaving out important elements that may impress employers, so instead of saving space just for your references, use these areas to list all of your skills, background experience, awards and other details that relate to the job and make you stand out to employers.

The references aren't relevant to the job industry.

If your references aren't relevant to the industry or job you're applying for, leave them out of your CV. You should include references that can provide relevant feedback about your performance, work ethic and qualifications rather than just listing anyone you have worked with in the past. For example, if you have a professional reference from a previous job as a cashier, you should leave this off of your CV if you are applying for an entry-level developer role because they may not be able to provide enough applicable feedback to a potential employer.

If you only include relevant references, employers can get input that is specific to the job to better assess your fit for the role.

How to include references in your CV

When formatting a reference list for your CV, you can either include them at the end of your CV or format them as a separate document. Follow these steps to properly format your reference list in either case:

  1. Ask permission to include the reference.

  2. State the reference's full name and job title.

  3. Include the reference's company and work address.

  4. List the reference's phone number and email.

  5. Give a brief description of your relationship.

1. Ask permission to include the reference

Before you add a reference to your CV, check with the individual to make sure they are comfortable with speaking on your behalf. Ask permission through an email or a phone call. Additionally, ensure you have the reference's accurate job title and contact information.

2. State the reference's full name and job title

On your CV, include the reference's first and last name. Then, state their formal job title on a separate line beneath their name. If the job title is long, consider using a professional abbreviation for it. For instance, instead of saying, "Vice president of coordinating operations," you might condense the title to something like, "VP of operations." Keeping your CV descriptions as brief as possible can help employers scan it more easily.

3. Include the reference's company and work address

Under your reference's name and job title, list their company's name and mailing address. The address you include should be the reference's work address or P.O. box rather than their personal address.

4. List the reference's phone number and email

Include your reference's work number and email address. List the phone number first with their email address on a separate line beneath it. If your reference has a private office extension code, include it next to their phone number.

5. Give a brief description of your relationship

At the end of each reference, provide some details about the nature of your relationship with the individual. For example, you can simply state "coworker" to illustrate a teammate's relationship to you. Similarly, if you participated in a project or other long-term assignment with them, briefly explain this under the reference's information. For instance, to describe a close working relationship with a reference, you might say something like, "Studied under Professor O'Neill during our four-month research project."

Template for formatting your reference list

Use the following template as a guide for formatting your reference list in your CV:

[Reference's first and last name]
[Job title]
[Company name]
[Reference's work address]
[Reference's work phone number], [extension code, if applicable]
[Reference's professional email address]

Relationship: [Short explanation of your association]

Related: Curriculum Vitae (CV) Format Guide: Examples and Tips

Example of a reference list for your CV

Use the following example to help you properly write and format a reference list in your CV:

Terrance Vondae
Director of Research
Spectrum Laboratories, Inc.
1250 Laurel Oak Rd.
Fort Worth, Texas 77724
Relationship: Lead supervisor in project research

Sarah Coombs
VP of operations
North Liberty Medical Laboratory
640 North Main St.
Houston, Texas 77882
Relationship: Department manager

Leslie Drummond
Senior Researcher
American Medical Center for Research
3310 Lafayette Blvd., Suite 2500
Indianapolis, Indiana 34356
500-998-4500, Ext. 750
Relationship: Professor of nuclear medicine and technical applications

Janna McRae
Professor of Nuclear Science
Cambridge University of Science and Technology
332 Dover Bridge Highway, Suite #4
Cambridge, Massachusetts 11201
103-200-9000, Ext. 101
Relationship: Served as acting research assistant to Professor McRae in a nuclear fission analysis project

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