How to Format a List of Professional References

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Do you have a list of references ready to provide to prospective employers? If not, you should line up references who can speak to your credentials and qualifications for a job, so you’re prepared when you’re asked for them.

During the job application process, you will most likely be asked for references who can attest to your qualification for the job. Typically, this request either occurs when you initially submit your job application, or later in the application process, when the hiring manager is close to making the decision about which candidate will get the job. The employer will typically specify how many references to include on your list, as well as what contact information you need to provide for each reference.

You will need to format your list of professional references either to include with your application materials, or else to email to the hiring manager later on in the hiring process. The employer will typically advise you on how and when to provide references.

As with all communication with a potential employer, from cover letters to thank you notes, your list of references should be formatted professionally, easy to read and understand, and free of any typos or errors.

What to Include on a Reference List

When you provide a list of professional references to an employer, you should include your name at the top of the page. Then list your references, including their name, job title, company, and contact information, with a space in between each reference.

If it's not clear from your resume, you may also wish to include information about your relationship with the reference. For instance, you could write "Reference Name was my supervisor while I was an accountant at Smith Enterprises," or "Reference Name is my current employer."

The list should include at least three professional references who can attest to your ability to perform the job you are applying for. See more information on who to ask for a reference and how to make the request.

When you’re emailing a reference list to an employer, name the file so it’s easy to identify and easy for the hiring manager to keep track of. For example: JaneApplicantReferences.docx.

Example of Professional References Format

Here's how to format a list of professional references for employment or business purposes.

References Example (Text Version)

References for Janet Dolan

John Killeny
Human Resources Director
Allston Industries
52 Milton Street
Allston, MA 12435
(555) 123-4567

Janet Smithley
McGregor Company
1001 Route 20, Suite 210
Arlington, CA 55112
(555) 123-4567
Janet Smithley was my supervisor at McGregor Company.

Samantha Greening
Marketing Director
Samson Enterprises
108 Fifth Avenue
New York, NY 11111
(555) 123-4567
Samantha Greening was my colleague at Samson Enterprises.

A Few Tips Regarding References

Choosing who to ask for a reference is an important step in your application process. Depending on the job you’re applying for, you will want to tailor who you place on your reference list. When possible, utilize references with connections to the company to which you are applying. It’s also helpful to use references who can attest to your qualifications for the particular job you’re applying to. It’s great if you can list people who have worked with you in a similar context to the position as well.

When you ask someone to give you a reference, it’s always a good idea to give them an opportunity to decline. While most people are happy to help colleagues out with references and recommendations, there may be personal circumstances preventing them from doing so at a particular time.

Remember that there are circumstances as well when you might want to submit a character or personal reference (as opposed to a professional reference) who might be better able to speak to your abilities to do the job you’re applying to.

This is especially true when you have limited work experience, or are branching into a new field.

Before You Submit Your References

Listing your references on the page isn't your last step in this process. If you haven't already, ask permission from each of your references. It's important to only submit people who have agreed to serve as a reference.

Even if all of your references are happy to be on your list, it's a good idea to provide a heads-up that someone may be reaching out to ask about you. This is a great opportunity to share some information about the job you're applying for, provide some key points that you'd like them to emphasize, and generally remind them about your skills and accomplishments, especially if it's been a while since you worked together.

Once you've done all that, review the list of references one final time to make sure there are no typos and that all contact information is correct and up-to-date. Here are some helpful proofreading tips for job seekers.