Resume References – Do You Really Need Them?

The space on your resume is limited, you don’t want to bother anyone and you haven’t spoken to your old boss in a couple of years, so are resume references really worth the hassle?

The best summary for using references on your resume is; only list references if they are specifically asked for, and if not, always have them prepared. Even if the initial application doesn’t mention references, they are still important as a potential employer may ask for them at any time to confirm your declared qualifications.

“Having a few good references can be the deciding factor in you getting the job offer. Similarly, having one bad — or lukewarm — reference could cost you the job.” says Harshi Krishnaswamy, Recruiting Director of Synergy America.

Even when the resume reference sounds like an urgent requirement, you must always take careful consideration on who you include in the list; take some time to assess if the candidates can actually help move an application forward.

Who Makes a Good Reference? 


A direct supervisor is the best candidate for a reference, as they previously have directly evaluated you and they carry the most weight as a reference to a potential employer. Their position gives them enough credibility to influence an employer’s opinion.

If you don’t trust your supervisor enough to put in a good word for you, you can opt to have your co-workers speak  to your employability instead. While not as gripping as a testimony from a manager or supervisor, having a co-worker as a reference has its perks. A co-worker is likely better at letting a hiring manager know more about you as a person to see if you are a good culture fit. 

If you don’t have much work experience, a teacher or professor can be a very good reference. Much like a manager, they have experience evaluating your work and can give the employer insight into your thought processes and attention to detail.

Every company loves a positive customer testimonial, and getting it as a reference is a unique way to shine on your application. Just ensure that you’re not crossing any lines by asking a client to vouch for you, especially if you are applying to a job with a competitor.

As for those who should never ever be considered as a reference, the shortlist includes family members, close friends, and companies you shared a bad history with.

General Guidelines


Even when you have them all ready, references are not just a bunch of names you jot down in what little space is left of your resume. They are more or less the VIPs of your application as they can be the determining factor on whether an employer will invest in you or not. Be sure to remember the following tips when preparing your references:

  1. Ensure your references are on a separate page than your resume.
  2. The reference must come complete with name, position, company represented, and a brief description of your relationship. 
  3. Ask your reference how they prefer to be contacted. Try to include at least one phone number and email. 
  4. Potential references must first agree to vouch for you. Not doing so might result in confusion between them and your potential employer.
  5. References should be given a copy of the applicant’s resume; this way they can better prepare  their responses.
  6. Do not attach the phrase ‘References available upon request‘ on any page of your resume. 
  7. Avoid using reference letters. Employers hardly trust them—they prefer contacting them directly.

“Reference letters are pretty much a waste of time. The fact is potential employers want to TALK to your references. They want to hear in their voice how they feel about you. Employers don’t put much stalk into reference letters because let’s be honest, you pretty much know they are going to be filled with praise and little else.” says Jeff Gillis, Co-Founder of The Interview Guys

Now that you know what to do, plan your reference ahead and transform yourself into the most sought after candidate!




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