How to Handle References When Putting Together Your Resume

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References have long played a key part in the job application process. It’s hard for a recruiter to rely solely on a candidate’s words, so having former employers, teachers, co-workers, and others vouch for the applicant is a valuable way of vetting any prospective employees. How do you let a potential employer know about the people willing to endorse you?

Typically, you should not include references in your resume, but they are extremely useful in the hiring process. Some recruiters will call your references, and others won’t, but you should always have some lined up in case you’re asked to supply them. So, if you don’t put them on your resume, where should you put them? If you need help with who to use as a reference or how to list them, ask a resume expert

Why shouldn’t you put references on your resume?

The simple answer is that references take up too much space. Resumes that are too long are apt to be automatically discarded, so including references takes up precious space you should be using to sell yourself. Remember the purpose of your resume—to make you look good. Your references may help you get the job later on but not right away since they’re practically useless until the employer reaches out to them. Your resume should be no longer than two pages, so if you fill almost a page with references, you’re wasting the opportunity to showcase your qualifications. 

As mentioned earlier, some employers may never contact your references, but they’ll usually ask for them. Most of the time, they’ll request a list of references later in the hiring process. They don’t need your references when looking over your resume, but they might need them when they want to confirm your work experience or skills. It’s a case-by-case scenario, so the best strategy is to not include your references in your resume and provide them if the employer requests them later.

How do you choose your references?

You want to choose people who know what skills you possess and how you applied them at your previous jobs. You also want people who you’re certain will say good things about you when asked for an opinion. 

Before listing someone as a reference, you should always reach out to them first and ask them if they would be willing to vouch for you. Not only does this ensure they aren’t caught off guard if your prospective employer does call them, but it also increases the chances that you can count on a positive review since most people who don’t have anything good to say will simply reject your request. If you parted on bad terms with an employer, you should refrain from using them as a reference. 

Where do you put your references?

Instead of wasting space on your resume, type up your references in a separate document and be prepared to send it to the hiring manager. You can insert “References available upon request,” which tells the hiring manager that you’re ready and willing to submit your references when asked. It’s up to you, though. It’s no longer standard practice to include this statement since it’s assumed that you’ll have references to provide if asked. (If you don’t get this request, the hiring manager likely isn’t that interested in you anymore.)

How do you format your references?

You’ll want to keep your references consistent with the layout of your resume, using the same template and headings. When you write your references, include information such as their place of employment, email address, phone number, and a brief description of your relationship with them. A reference should look like this:

John Smith

Head of Customer Service, Shony Electronics Inc.

Phone: 123-456-7891


Note: John was my manager at Shony Electronics from 2017 to 2020. He is currently the VP of the company.

For each reference, follow the same format. Before reaching out to your references, hiring managers want to know what company they work for and their position. While this isn’t technically part of your resume, take the time to double-check for any errors or inconsistencies in your references. Don’t give the hiring manager any reason to cross your name off the list—they receive so many applications that they’ll take whatever excuse they can get to narrow the pool.

Your references are a crucial part of the hiring process, but not at the beginning. Your resume is all about you, so don’t waste space listing references. Save that space for your skills, work history, achievements, and other concrete things you want the recruiter to know—they are interested in you first and foremost and will ask for references later. Be prepared with a professionally drafted list of references that shows the hiring manager you have people willing to recommend you for the job. If you need help formatting your references, let a proofreading expert help you!

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