Should You Put References on a Resume?
Modern resume best practices advise against putting references on your resume. Here’s why.
By: Grace Mitchell | Contributor for Let’s Eat, Grandma
If you’re working on the first resume you’ve written in a while, you may have some confusion about how to list your professional references.
We want to set the record straight once and for all: professional references are important. They provide an easy way for potential employers to verify the data you give in your resume is accurate, and that you’ll be a dependable, resourceful asset to the team.
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That being said, references don’t belong on your resume. Simply put, they fulfill a different purpose than the resume, and trying to put the two together just wastes valuable resume real estate. Here are some best practices when it comes to references and resumes.
Why you shouldn’t put references on a resume
They waste space no matter what
Your resume is designed to tell recruiters and hiring managers at a glance why you’re a great candidate to interview for the job posting. That means this document should be short and concise, focusing on your relevant career accomplishments.
Your resume’s purpose is threefold:
- To land an interview
- To give a quick overview of your relevant qualifications
- To show you have the skills in the job description.
Anything included in your resume should be in service of these goals.
You shouldn’t include references in your resume because they don’t tell recruiters anything at a glance. Without contacting the listed references, your recruiter will just be looking at wasted space, space you could be using to fulfill your resume’s purpose!
Instead of including references, your resume should include your contact info (While recruiters won’t need to contact your references yet, they will need to contact you!), summary of qualifications, skills, professional experience, and education.
These essential sections give plenty of room to sell recruiters and hiring managers on your personal brand and what you would bring to the job. Ideally, you have enough material between these four sections that 1-2 pages won’t give you enough room to list references. But if you’re a new grad or making a career transition, we’ve got resources for filling out those pages.
They’re not used at this stage of the hiring process
Your resume is a tool to get you to the interview process, and it’s not until the interview stage or later when references are used. Recruiters aren’t going to contact references for every candidate. They’re often screening hundreds of applicants in the initial round, and that would take up way too much time.
Instead, references provide necessary information for a select few applicants in the final stages of interviewing. These former colleagues, employers, and educators give needed insight into the character, work ethic, and work history of the most qualified candidates.
In other words, you absolutely need to provide references if they’re asked for in the job description, but not in the resume.
Why you shouldn’t list “References available upon request”
Maybe we’ve sold you on why you shouldn’t include references, but you’re thinking of using this phrase instead. Unfortunately, including the words “references available upon request” runs into the same issues as the references themselves, even if they don’t waste quite as much space.
Your resume is valuable real estate, and using any amount of that space to let recruiters know you can provide references doesn’t do justice to the incredible accomplishments you’ve achieved over the course of your career.
It’s also stating the obvious–of course you’re willing to provide references! Even worse, since this was a popular phrase on resumes in years past, using it could make it more likely that you’ll experience ageism in the hiring process.
How to find out if references are required
Not sure if the job you’re applying for requires references? Start by reading the job description! If a company wants your references, they’ll either ask for them in the initial stages of the job application or later in the process.
Either way, it’s crucial to scan the job description carefully and submit only the documents asked for. The company (hopefully!) put time into crafting a thoughtful job description, and reading it can also help you determine if you’d be a good fit.
(Remember that interviewing is a two-way street. The hiring process is just as much about you deciding if the company is the right one for you as it is the company deciding if you’re the right candidate.)
Even if the description doesn’t ask for a professional reference list, though, it’s a good practice to have one ready to go for if you’re asked for one later in the hiring process. That way you won’t cause any delays and you’ll continue the great impression you’re making with the hiring manager. Plus, assuming you’ll make it to the interview will give you a confidence boost that’ll help you brag about yourself if your resume and cover letter.
Where to put your references if they are required
So you’ve carefully read the job description and you know you’ll need references (or you’re being proactive and getting your references assembled just in case). If these don’t belong on your resume, where should they go?
You can list your references in a document that’s formatted similarly to your resume and cover letter. This means that your contact information and fonts should be the same on each document. Not only does this practice free up some valuable space in your resume, but it also adds to a professional look.
Who you should include as a reference
You’ll generally need 3-4 professional references total.
The best professional references are people you’ve worked closely with who you know will vouch for the quality of your professional work and character. Your most recent supervisor is a great person to start with. However, if you didn’t have the best professional relationship with your last boss (say, your last boss is the reason you’re looking for a new job) or you’re not ready to tell them you’re applying elsewhere, there are other options.
You can also reach out to colleagues, direct reports, and even business partners and clients. If you’re confident you had a good working relationship with this person and that they could communicate that to an outside source, they’re a great choice for a reference. (Pro tip: You can also ask these connections to recommend you on LinkedIn.)
If your work experience is limited, you can also consider professors, bosses from internships, and other school connections. Just remember these are generally professional references rather than personal references. Your cousin or grandma or second-cousin’s-grandma-once-removed may be able to attest to your character, but unless you’ve worked with them directly they can’t speak convincingly to how you are on the job.
Whoever you choose to list as a reference, be sure to let them know you’d like to list them. If you’re unsure what they’d say about you in a phone call, it’s a good idea to ask them candidly about their perspective on your work. Even if you’re sure about where you stand with someone, they’ll be more equipped to sing your praises if they know you’ve put them as a reference.
What information you should list for your references
Once you know who you’re including as references and you have their permission, be sure to ask them what contact information you can include. Ideally you’ll want to include their full name, email address, and phone number so the hiring manager knows who they are and has multiple avenues to contact them by, but be sure to confirm which information they’re OK with you including, out of respect for your reference’s privacy.
You’ll also want to include the person’s company name, title, and their professional relationship to you. These details help establish your work history for your hiring manager so they can get to know you better.
An employer can only learn so much about you from an application and hour-long interview, and ideally they’ll be spending a lot of time with you soon. A reference is like asking someone for a read on a friend they’ve known for a few years before going deeper in friendship with them.
The more quality people an employer talks to who vouch for someone, the more that employer will feel like they’re making the right hiring choice. A great hiring manager can also fin in gaps from the interview through asking questions of a reference.
References, Resumes, and You
References are just one more tool in your job hunting toolkit, and one that, if used appropriately alongside your resume and cover letter, will get you well on your way to a great new job. Just remember that these three documents are meant to complement one another, not overshadow each other.
Giving your references and resume the space they need helps them do what they’re meant to do: verifying your work ethic and character in the final round of interviews and getting you to the interview, respectively. If you give due diligence to choosing the right references and formatting those references well, your references can get you far!