How to List References on a Resume

It's important to have people who can vouch for your abilities and skills when applying for jobs, but offering a list of references right out of the gate is not always the best policy.

A list of references includes people a prospective employer might contact to learn more information about you. These people should be able to speak to your qualifications for a job. Sometimes an employer will contact only one person on the list, and other times an employer will contact everyone.

A list of strong references can be a great way to demonstrate your qualifications for a position. 

When Not to Include References

If a job posting doesn't request references, don't list them on your resume or otherwise include with your job application. Including references was a more common practice in the past, so doing so when not asked for them might peg you as an older candidate. In recent years, it has become more common for companies to not provide references as a matter of practice in order to avoid potential lawsuits. Because of this, companies are less likely to expect applicants to provide references.

There also are risks to including references. Even if you trust your references to provide strong recommendations, they might not do so. As well, it's also possible they could be known to your potential employers and not respected—hurting your chances by association.

When an Employer Requests References

In some cases, an employer will request references in a job posting.

Specifically, they might ask for a list of three professional references with telephone numbers and email addresses. Follow the instructions when you submit your references. Unless instructed to do so, do not include the list on your resume; rather, create it as a separate list to send to the company.

This list should include each reference’s name, job title, company, address, phone number, and email address. If the job listing asks you to submit a list of references but does not tell you how many you need, include three on the list. This is the typical number of references that employers want for each candidate.

How to Request a Reference

When you give out someone's name as a reference, be sure that you have permission to use them as a reference and let them know they may be contacted. Provide some information about the job you have applied for, so your reference can relate your experience to the job and give you the best possible reference for the job. You also might provide the person with an updated resume or list of your skills and qualifications.

If possible, select people who can speak to your skills and qualifications as they relate to the job you’re applying for. Only choose people who you know will give you a positive recommendation. These are typically employers, business acquaintances, professors, or even customers or vendors.

Sample Reference List

Use this template for your own reference list:

Reference List

Your Name
Address
City, State Zip Code
Phone
Email

References

John Smith
Human Resources Manager
ABC Company
Address
City, State Zip Code
Phone
Email

Jane Doe
Associate Director
XYZ Company
Address
City, State Zip Code
Phone
Email

Sam Jones
Executive Administrator
123 Company
Address
City, State Zip Code
Phone
Email

Tips on Listing References

Maintaining a list of potential references is something that should be done even when you're not searching for a job. When you find yourself looking for a new position, it's best to be prepared with several names you can contact rather than scrambling on short notice to come up with references who would be a good fit. These are some other tips to keep in mind:

  • List the references most likely to give you a glowing recommendation near the top of your list. Busy hiring managers may not contact every single reference, but they’re likely to start at the top of your list. Therefore, it makes sense to put your biggest fans first.
  • Choose the best references for the specific job under consideration. All of your references should have good things to say about you, but some will be able to make your case more effectively for particular jobs. For example, perhaps you need to emphasize your management and leadership skills. In that case, it makes sense to seek references from people you managed or former colleagues who otherwise can attest to your ability to lead a team.
  • Maintain a separate list of references for confidential job searches. The best time to look for a job is when you have a job, but that doesn’t mean that it’s easy to look for work while you’re employed. When you need to keep your job search a secret from your current employer, it’s best not to ask any of your current co-workers for references—even if they seem trustworthy and invested in your success.