Resume references are professional references that can speak to a job applicant’s previous employment history, skills, qualifications, and experiences while employed at a previous employer. These professional references are often referred to as a job reference or employment reference. They provide a potential employer with the professionals who have confirmed they’re okay being a reference to their former colleague in their job search.
A professional reference is a professional you may have worked alongside in the past. This could be a former colleague, former supervisor, former boss, and manager. It would be best if you never listed a personal reference on your resume or job application, as these individuals won’t have the ability to speak to your previous employment history for your recruiter or hiring manager who might be inquiring.
References provide your future employer, recruiter, or hiring manager with the ability to inquire more deeply about your work performance and work history. Having anywhere from three to five references in your job application can show a healthy sum of work experience that can assist in the interview process and job offer process for the employer.
Tip: You’ll know when your future employer wants to contact one of your references as they may inform you that they’ll be performing a “reference check.” Once that occurs, you may want to speak with your former colleagues and inform them that they may be contacted. Provide them with your resume, cover letter, and light coaching on what qualities they should bring up that align with your career goals.
Good and Bad References
When thinking of including references on your resume, here are some examples of who to consider.
A good reference is someone who:
- You’ve worked alongside in a professional manner in the past.
- Is a former manager, supervisor, executive staff member, or someone with a significant job title.
- Has positive things to say about your professional history.
- Can speak to your skills or additional skill that you’d like to shed light on for your recruiter or hiring manager.
A bad reference is someone who:
- Won’t be able to speak about your professional experience.
- Someone who works with your current employer and isn’t aware you are seeking a new job.
- Is only going to be able to speak about your personal characteristics (a character reference).
- Is not someone your recruiter or hiring manager will find useful in their process.
References should never be included on the resume page itself. Job seekers should include a reference list as a separate page in their job application assets. Similar to the cover letter being a separate page, the references page should be the third page (or separate document) in your job application. The reference page is sometimes referred to as a reference sheet. If your prospective employer asks for a resume reference page, reference page, or reference sheet— this is the information they are seeking. They may ask for this page during your job interview or later in the interview process as they prepare to make a job offer.
Job seekers should consider building a references list with at least three to five professional references that are willing to speak about work experiences with them positively.
Tip: Having your references on a seaport page ensures that an applicant tracking system, which is used by HR professionals, can properly scan your resume and references appropriately.
Listing “References available upon request” on the resume
No. The reason why is that it’s better to list the available references. If listing “Additional references available upon request” on the references sheet, then that’s acceptable. But it’s best to provide the hiring manager with the opportunity to see references right away rather than having them ask the job applicant for the information.
It comes down to convenience for the hiring manager and not having to send an additional email or make an additional phone call to get the right job application information.
How many “good references” should be listed?
This is an important question. Anywhere from 3-5 references is ideal. This provides ample opportunity for the hiring manager to find the proper reference that they might be looking for. Too many references can be a negative thing, as well. As long as the references sheet is one-page in length, it is considered acceptable.
Should I include their personal website or LinkedIn?
While including contextual information and contact information of the reference is helpful, a professional’s LinkedIn page or personal website isn’t customary. Primarily because the hiring manager is going to be contacting that person by email or by phone. And asking them about the job application and to vouch for the candidate.
The LinkedIn page and personal website won’t assist the hiring manager and the process they have to take to “check references.”
Listing references on a cover letter
Often, a job applicant will consider listing references on a cover letter as part of the cover letter body paragraphs. This isn’t effective. Instead, provide three pages worth of information for the hiring manager. A properly formatted cover letter, a professional resume, and a third-page—a reference list.
Including a business mailing address
While this is customary and formal, most hiring managers will be contacting references by email and by phone. Meaning, the business mailing address isn’t going to be as important. There aren’t many scenarios where the business mailing address will be essential to the hiring manager. Consider whether it’s important to list the business address on the reference or not.
If the job seeker removes this information from the reference sheet, the hiring manager can certainly ask for this information if required. But it’s not common. The job title, company name, phone number, and email address are the most important parts of the reference contact information.
Be sure the email address listed for the reference is up-to-date. Consider emailing the reference if they have been on the reference sheet for longer than one or two years, asking if the email address is current.
The information to include in a reference sheet should be the following:
- Full name.
- Contact information (email address, phone number).
- Job title and company name.
- Relationship to you.
Determine how many references to list on your sheet based on the length of your employment history and the willingness of your professional colleagues to speak about your work history. Any number of references is considered a good thing to list on your sheet.
Tip: If you aren’t sure which resume template is best for you (chronological, functional, or hybrid), consult a career expert who can guide you in the right direction and assist you with your resume references formatting.
Before resigning from any position, ask managers and supervisors if they are willing to be a potential reference to you, the job seeker. If the manager is willing, it can be useful to ask them to write a reference letter and list their contact information.
Reference List Template and Format
Below is an example template and format to follow when including a references sheet inside a job application, accompanying a resume.
[Colleague/Manager’s Email Address]
[Colleague/Manager’s Phone Number]
[Job Title @ Company Name]
[Colleague/Manager’s Relationship to the Job Applicant]
[Optional: Business Mailing Address]
References List (References Sheet) Example
Below is an example of what the references sheet should look like when completed.
Attaching the References List
When including a references sheet or references list as part of a job application, be sure to export the references as either a DOCX file or a PDF file. Include this attachment when sending a job application email or when submitting a job application through a corporate careers portal.
If the careers portal doesn’t allow the job applicant to submit the third-page of references, it’s customary for the portal to have a section called “References” where the job applicant can include the same contact information contained on the reference sheet. While this process may be time-consuming, some employers require this step to submit a formal job application.
When Do Employers Check References
It’s customary to check references after the interviews have been conducted. At this point in the interview process, the prospective employer validates the information provided by the applicant. The reference should vouch for all information contained within the resume and cover letter.
When a prospective employer checks references, it does not indicate that the applicant will receive a job offer. Even if the employee references say positive things about the applicant, the employer may decide to go to another potential employee route. Don’t presume that a reference check means a job offer will be secured as a candidate or job applicant.
In short, the reference check happens after the interviews have been conducted before a job offer has been made.
How Do Employers Check References
When employers check references, the first thing they will do is to ask the job applicant if the reference list or reference sheet is up to date. This allows the job applicant to make any last-minute corrections to their list of references. The reference check will be performed by either a human resources team member, recruiter, or the hiring manager.
The hiring manager will reach out to each reference listed on the reference list provided by the prospective employee. From there, they will ask questions regarding work performance and work history. Questions might include, “What was it like to work with [X]?” or “What was [X]’s experience working with this particular type of job?” This helps to understand the candidate’s motivations better. The hiring manager normally determines reference check questions.
In the job application, the job applicant should include the name, job title, email address, and phone number of the employment reference. Be sure to list the most recent employment history at the top of the page to direct the hiring manager. This will help the hiring manager understand the chances of the reference responding. For example, older employment history references are less likely to respond to a prospective employer than a more recent one.
If an email address is included in the reference list, the hiring manager will contact them by email and attempt to schedule a phone call. If a letter of recommendation or reference letter was provided (a written reference), the hiring manager may refer to that instead of contacting the reference.
Never include a reference on a reference list that might be considered a “bad reference” or list fake references. A bad reference is a previous employer who wasn’t informed that they are being included as a reference. Or had a bad working experience with the job applicant.
For more information on how and when employers check references, visit this resource.
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