Should you put references on a resume?
The majority of employers don’t require references, so unless asked, don’t put references on your resume or anywhere in your application. If employers are actually interested in pursuing you as a candidate, they’ll request a detailed list of professional references later on in the hiring process.
The only time you must include references on your actual resume is if you’re writing a federal resume, because government agencies require each candidate to be thoroughly vetted. If you’re applying for a government job, list a reference after each position you’ve held.
However, there are cases where you need to submit a list of references with your application, such as if the job description or hiring manager specifically requests it. If you must write a resume reference page, it’s important to know how to do it properly. We’ll show you how.
How to list references
Before you begin your job hunt, gather your references onto a “Professional Reference Page.” Include each reference’s name, title, organization, phone number, and email address.
Don’t annotate your application with “resume references available upon request.” This outdated practice only uses up valuable space and restates something that every hiring manager already knows.
Instead, create a dedicated references page separate from your resume, and attach it to your application.
Next, list each reference like this:
First and last name
Company / University your reference works at
Full address of your reference’s company / university
Never include the personal address of your reference on your reference page, because hiring managers don’t contact references via snail mail. Plus your reference may not want you to share their personal information with strangers either.
Underneath each entry on your resume’s reference page, you should also make a note clarifying your relationship with the reference, and how long you’ve known or worked with them.
Finally, if you want to save time formatting your reference page, download our resume references template and fill it in yourself:
Resume reference page example
Check out this properly formatted resume references example to see what a references list looks like in practice:
Note that in this example, the candidate matches the style of her reference page to her resume design.
If you need to include a list of references with your resume, be sure to match the formatting to the rest of your application.
How many references should you have?
Most job seekers should have between three and four references on their reference page.
However, if you’re applying for a position that requires extensive vetting like a senior-level role, you should include between five and seven professional references.
But remember that all of your references should be high quality. Each reference should be able to meaningfully attest to your professional strengths and character. Don’t include more references just to hit a higher number.
Who to use as a reference
Many people struggle to decide who to list as their references on their resume.
To help break it down, here are the best people to include on your reference page in order of importance:
If possible, list your current or former boss at the top of your references list. Most employers view supervisors or bosses as the most valuable references, because they have the greatest insight into your work ethic, skills, and professional strengths.
Additionally, consider the following details when choosing the other references on your resume:
- Which of my references are most relevant to the job I’m applying for?
- Do I have references that work in the industry I’m applying to?
- Which potential reference would best highlight my relevant skills?
- Who is not suited to give me a reference for this particular job?
Can you use a friend as a personal reference?
Generally, you shouldn’t include friends as a reference on your resume. The exception is if they’re former colleagues, are currently employed at the company you’re applying to, or are a former supervisor. In these cases, listing your friend as a reference is acceptable.
Who to use as a reference if it’s your first job
For a student or recent graduate, finding an appropriate set of professional references is difficult. So if you lack work experience and have no references, you can list a:
- Intern coordinator
- Guidance counselor
- Family member or friend you’ve done work for
But before asking any of the above people to be your reference, make sure that they have enough experience working with you to offer a convincing endorsement of your abilities.
At a minimum, each reference should be able to attest to the quality of your character, if not your professional strengths.
Assemble the perfect list of references (if necessary)
If an employer requests professional references, providing them a strong, tailored references list can maximize your chances of being hired over other final candidates.
And whether you get the job or not, remember to thank your references. They took time out of their schedule to help you convince an employer that you’re the right candidate for the position. The least they deserve is a nice thank-you note.