Professional references are a list of contacts you will provide employers to provide information about you and your work. Employers value references because they can get a third-party opinion on the value you’ll bring to their team.
Checking references may be the final step a potential employer takes before offering you a job, so preparing a list of people who can vouch for your work is crucial when looking for new opportunities. If references can be an important piece of the interview process, should they be included on the most common first touchpoint with employers—your resume?
Though it may make sense to think of references as another piece of helpful information to provide employers along with your contact information and professional experiences, it is a best practice to leave references off your resume.
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Related: How to Write a Resume Reference List
How employers use references
References are more commonly called after your interviews have gone well and the employer is in the final stages of deciding whether or not to offer you the job. For many employers, references are used to confirm many of the positive attributes they observed during the interview and to verify details of your work history that you may have shared. For this reason, they aren’t typically a part of the application or early interview process.
When to include references on a resume
Every word on your resume should be packed with value. Typically, you have one to two pages to explain why you’re qualified and well positioned for the job, and hiring managers only have a short time to read it.
Because references are not always a part of the interview process, you are taking up limited resume space to provide what may end up being irrelevant to employers in this phase. Even including the phrase “references upon request” on your resume can be unimportant. If their interview process includes references, employers will ask you to provide them.
There are a few rare scenarios in which including references on your resume may be acceptable. If you are in an industry that accepts case studies or testimonials (like consulting, for example) on the resume, it may be appropriate to include the person and contact information for which these apply.
Additionally, it is acceptable to include references if the job description not only requires you to include references, but explicitly states that they should be included directly on your resume. If not, you should include your reference list on a separate document.
How to send references
When used by employers, references can be a crucial part of the interview process. Employers often call upon references to understand your experience, skills, how you work with others and any other aspects of your work style and history they should be aware of. Unless specifically requested to include your contacts directly on your resume in the job description, let’s uncover how you should send a reference list to set your candidacy up for success.
Read the job description carefully
The job description should tell you everything you need to know about how (or if) you should send references. Often times, a reference list is requested in the online application process. In this case, you can simply include your contacts here. If not, follow instructions from the posting carefully. If there is no mention of including references, simply send your resume with no reference list until it is brought up in the interview process.
Related: Should You Put Your Address on Your Resume
Create a separate reference list document
If you are prompted to send references, create a separate reference list document to send with your (unless the job description requires you to include them directly on your resume). Format the document similarly to your resume (font type, size and overall style), but keep it simple with key contact information for your references. Again, refer to the job description for any key information the employer is asking you to include. In general, these are the details they may ask for:
- Full Name
- Job Title
- Company Name
- Company Address
- City, State, Zip
- A short summary of your relationship to this person. For example: “Kim was my direct supervisor for two years at XYZ Inc.”
Select appropriate references
When deciding who to include on your reference list, consider who may be able to prove the relevant skills and experience you’ll need for the position. The best references are people who will speak positively about your work, attitude and value with specific examples. This can include direct managers or supervisors, colleagues, mentors, business partners, professors or even clients and vendors.
Follow reference request etiquette
If you’ve decided to include someone on your reference list, be sure to ask their permission first. You can find details on asking people to be a reference for you with email templates and examples in How to Ask Someone to Be Your Reference. Additionally, let them know they may be contacted by your potential employer. This is another reason to avoid placing the reference on your resume: If you’re sending out resumes for several jobs, you may not have the opportunity to give your references ample warning.
Provide your contacts with details on the job you’re applying for and an up-to-date resume to help them prepare. If they decline, be sure to thank them and gracefully move on to your next option.
While references are valuable for employers, you should follow their lead when deciding how and when to send them. Whether listed on the job description or asked by a hiring manager, follow direction carefully.
If a list of contacts isn’t specifically required, simply send your resume without references, and any other requested documents like applications or cover letters. If you are asked to send references, develop a separate document instead of placing them directly on your resume.