Getting a Job

What Are References?

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Although it may be tempting to underestimate the importance of references on a resume, providing the appropriate references can be a deciding factor for whether or not you get a job. It’s worth taking the time to compile a list of professional and personal references to include when submitting your resume. This article explains how to list references on a resume along with a template and example that you can follow when preparing your own list of references.

What are references?

References are people who can speak to your skills, qualifications and character. As part of the hiring process, an employer may contact your references to verify information on your resume and ensure that you will be a good fit for the job. Many job applications require you to list at least two references. Typically, these references must be non-relatives. Previous employers, managers, coworkers and colleagues often make good references.

Professional references vs. personal references

Depending on the nature of the job, you may need professional references as well as personal or character references.  Professional references, such as a previous supervisor who can discuss your job performance, should be able to confirm that you are qualified and competent. In comparison, personal references, such as a college professor, previous coworker or friend, should be able to vouch for your character and abilities.

How to list references on a resume

Many people end their resume with a generic statement like, ‘References available upon request.’ This is an obvious and therefore unnecessary statement. It’s much better to simply list your references on a separate sheet of paper. You can then submit the list along with your resume or simply have it ready in case someone asks for it.

Tips for preparing a list of references

Here are some tips to consider when preparing your list of references:

  • Be sure to include your own name and contact information at the top of the page in case your list of references gets separated from your resume
  • Your name and contact information can appear either above or below the title ‘Reference List’ 
  • The title can also be altered to ‘Professional References,’ ‘Personal References’ or ‘Employment References’ as needed
  • You can divide the reference list into two sections for personal and professional references, if you are listing both
  • Be sure to include the full name and preferred contact information for each reference
  • Note how you know each person so the interviewer will understand what type of information each reference can provide
  • References can be numbered or simply separated by a blank space
  • If you have several references to list, consider formatting them into two columns so they will all fit on the same page

You can vary the formatting in a few ways, but you should match the style and font of your resume so that both documents are consistent.

Reference list template

Use the following template to create your reference list:

[Your Full Name]
[Street Address]
[City, State and Zip Code]
[Phone Number]
[Email Address]

____________________________

REFERENCE LIST

  1. [Name of Reference]
    [Job Title], [Employer]
    [Street Address]
    [City, State and Zip Code]
    [Phone Number]
    [Email Address]

    Relationship to candidate: [Briefly explain how you know them.]

  2. [Name of Reference]
    [Job Title], [Employer]
    [Street Address]
    [City, State and Zip Code]
    [Phone Number]
    [Email Address]

    Relationship to candidate: [Briefly explain how you know them.]

  3. [Name of Reference]
    [Job Title], [Employer]
    [Street Address]
    [City, State and Zip Code]
    [Phone Number]
    [Email Address]

    Relationship to candidate: [Briefly explain how you know them.]

Reference list example

Here is an example of a reference list:

Melissa Sanders
122 Oakwood Avenue
Fremont, North Carolina 27830
555-555-5555
melissa.sanders@email.com

____________________________

REFERENCE LIST

  1. Avery Stouffer
    Floor Supervisor, Parker Industries
    255 Corporate Drive
    Fremont, North Carolina 27830
    555-555-5555
    avery.stouffer@parkerindustries.com

    Relationship to candidate: Avery was my supervisor for six years at Parker Industries.

  2. Shelley Morgan
    Account Representative, Prince Resources
    672 Spicer Lane
    Pleasant Valley, West Virginia 26554
    555-555-5555
    s.morgan@email.com

    Relationship to candidate: Shelley was one of my coworkers at Parker Industries. She now works at Prince Resources.

  3. Ted Nuzum
    Professor of Business, NC State University
    733 Verdant Avenue
    Raleigh, North Carolina 27607
    555-555-5555
    ted.nuzum@email.edu

    Relationship to candidate: Professor Nuzum was my faculty advisor and one of my business professors. He is also the chair of NC State University’s Department of Business and Economics.

Frequently asked questions

Here are some frequently asked questions about writing references on a resume:

Should I always include references with my resume?

It’s always a good idea to have a list of references ready. However, you may not need to attach the list to your resume if you already listed your references on an application. You may also want to submit your references after your interview. Waiting allows you to tailor your list based on information you gleaned during the interview. For instance, you can use your references to address any concerns that were discussed or to emphasize skills that seemed particularly important to the interviewer.

How many references do I need?

For most jobs, you should have three to five references ready. If you are applying for a senior position, consider listing five to seven.

Who should I list as a reference?

Your references can include:

  • Former employers and supervisors
  • Coworkers and colleagues
  • Teachers, mentors and professors
  • Friends and other non-relatives who know you well

Avoid listing the following people as references:

  • Former or current employees who may feel obligated to give a favorable review
  • Relatives, whose opinions are likely to be disregarded as biased
  • An employer with whom you had a poor working relationship
  • Anyone who is unlikely to provide positive feedback

Should I ask before listing someone as a reference?

Yes, since you will be providing their contact information to potential employers, you should always ask permission before listing someone as a reference. This gives them time to prepare what to say and lets them know to expect a call or email. Asking also gives them the chance to say no. This is crucial because you don’t want to list someone who is unwilling to provide a favorable review or who feels they have nothing to say.

What will employers ask my references?

Employers will use your references to verify information from your resume, including past job titles and employment dates. They also want to get a sense of your strengths, weaknesses, experience and abilities. With that in mind, they may ask about your responsibilities, performance, character and accomplishments.

When do I need recommendation letters?

Generally, you only need letters of recommendation if an employer asks for them as part of the application process. In some situations, you can include an unsolicited letter of recommendation to help your application stand out. 

A letter of recommendation can be especially helpful if one of your references has connections or influence that might help sway an employer. For instance, if one of your references already works for the company you’re applying to, a personal recommendation from them could help. A letter of recommendation may also hold more weight if one of your references has a personal or professional relationship with the person who will make the hiring decision.

When should I include personal references?

Include personal references when they are relevant or if you do not have enough professional references. If you are applying to volunteer or work at a non-profit organization, for instance, references that can vouch for your character and your passion for the organization’s mission could be vital. A personal reference can also help explain gaps in your employment history or clarify issues that may cause an employer’s concern.

What if this will be my first job?

If you are applying for your first job, you may not have any professional references to list. In this case, you could use your high school teachers or college professors as references. A family friend might be willing to serve as a reference as well. You could also ask people who have supervised you in the context of community service, volunteer efforts or extracurricular activities, such as a pastor or coach.