When and How to List References on a Resume

Kellie Hanna, CPRW
By Kellie Hanna, CPRW, Career Advice Expert Last Updated: April 19, 2024

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If you’re reading this, chances are you’re wondering “Should I put references on my resume?” Don’t worry! You’re not alone and we’re here to help.

Is it OK to put references on a resume? The short answer is no (with exceptions), and here’s why:

A resume with references looks outdated to most and takes up valuable space that could be used to highlight your job skills and work experience. Plus, you don’t want to appear too eager. You’ll have your chance to provide a list of job references, but the start of your job application is not the time.

Now you’re probably thinking, “But wait! How do employers take you seriously without a list of qualified people who can vouch for your job qualifications?”

Keep reading! We’ll explain: 

  • Why you shouldn’t put references on a resume (and the exceptions)
  • How to list references on a resume (if needed)
  • How to write a professional list of references (with examples)
  • How to choose the best references for a job application (and how many you need)

When should you put references on a resume?

You should only include a list of job references on a resume if the job description explicitly tells you to — which happens rarely. 

Otherwise, keep your resume clear of any professional references and don’t write the phrase “references available upon request” — that’s a given.

How to list references on a resume?

Job seekers responding to a job ad that asks for resume references upfront are likely wondering how to write references in a resume.

Good question. 

If you have room on your resume (remember, a professional resume should only be one to two pages long!) for three references, place them at the bottom of your document. 

For each reference, include: 

  • Their first and last names.
  • Their professional title. 
  • The name of their workplace.
  • The company’s address, including city, state and ZIP code.
  • Their business phone number.
  • Their email address. 

That’s a lot of information to add three times to your resume! We have another idea for job references to save you precious room on your resume. If you want to save all your valuable resume space for your job qualifications, the next section is for you.

How to create a reference page for a resume

So, if you shouldn’t include references on a resume, what should you do instead?

Create a separate document with your list of references!

Use the following steps to create a strong reference page for a resume filled with people who can speak highly of you and help your job application.

1. Consider your best three professional references.

Look through your contacts and see who can be a professional reference. It’s good to have a wide range of references in your pocket, from past jobs, classes or different departments, ready when needed. 

After searching through your contacts, tailor your list of references to the job. Make sure that they can speak to your skills and how valuable you are. For example, an IT manager as a reference for an IT position or your business professor for a position in a sales company.

2. Create a separate reference page for your resume.

We’ve established that you shouldn’t list references on a resume. Instead, create a document with the same look and feel as your resume template and follow this resume references format:

  • Your contact information at the top of the page.
  • The reference’s name. 
  • The reference’s position in the company.
  • The company’s name and address.
  • The reference’s phone number and email address.
  • A brief description of who the reference is. 

The most valuable reference should be at the top of the list. Remember to keep their information strictly professional. Don’t include personal information, a phone number or email address they didn’t give you permission to use or their home address.

For a clearer picture, take a look at this resume reference page example:

Resume Template Markings Mobile

3. Have your resume references template ready to send.

The best way to provide references is to prepare a separate reference page ahead of time and have it ready to send with your resume if required or to the hiring manager when asked. You will likely need to send it via email, so make sure to save it in a universal format like PDF. You can also save it as a Word document.

Remember, there’s no need to send your list of references with your resume unless the job description explicitly requests references with the application, nor should you include references on a resume.

Resume references examples

Use these resume references examples as inspiration to create your list of references. If you’d like to have one cohesive job application, feel free to explore resume templates and resume examples.

Resume references example 1

Carmen Sharp
Creative Director
POV Agency
3987 Cherry Camp Road
Junction City, CA 96048

Carmen Sharp was my former supervisor. She can talk about my professional and artistic growth in the company. Under her supervision, I created a unique and creative campaign for one of the agency’s biggest clients.

Darlene R. Callahan
Graphic Designer
POV Agency
3987 Cherry Camp Road
Junction City, CA 96048

I worked with Darlene on multiple projects and commercial campaigns. She can talk about my work ethic, creative thinking, and time management skills.

Julian McFadden
Art Director
We Create, Inc.
8765 Thomas Road
Junction City, CA 96048

Julian McFadden pushed me to become a better designer, and I learned new Photoshop skills with his guidance. He can vouch for my ability to learn quickly and not buckle under pressure.

Resume references example 2

Paul D. Grimes
Director of Sales
LMT Company
2877 Grey Road
Williamsport, PA 17701

Paul Grimes witnessed my negotiation and marketing skills getting better with time. I helped him during meetings with clients and eventually started negotiating independently.

Ruby Moreno
Regional Sales Manager
LMT Company
2877 Grey Road
Williamsport, PA 17701

Ruby can testify to my great organizational skills and work ethic. With her guidance, I helped the team exceed sales goals in the north region.

Sean Brandt
Professor, Patterson School of Business
Pennsylvania State University
7898 Oak Avenue
Williamsport, PA 17701

During my MBA, Sean Brandt was my professor on various courses and thesis supervisor. He can testify to my hard work and ability to adapt and learn quickly.

How many references should you include?

A good number of professional references to include is three to five.

If you’re a job seeker with no experience or a couple of years under your belt, we recommend going for three people in your list of references.

If you’re a senior professional or a manager, however, your references list can be longer, with five to seven references that can vouch for your expertise.

How to choose the right references

You know how to create a list of references, so let’s now talk about who to list as references. There’s more to it than just selecting someone you know and worked with.

1. Focus on quality professional references.

Be selective of the references you choose to send to a potential employer like you’re selective when writing a resume.

Remember, these are people the recruiter or hiring manager will be asking directly about you, so don’t choose just anyone.

When considering references for a resume, they should:

  • Be familiar with your abilities and achievements.
  • Enthusiastically advocate for you.
  • Be able to think on their feet and answer questions without missing a beat.
  • Be trustworthy enough not to jeopardize your application.

Professional references shouldn’t:

  • Be people who didn’t work closely with you.
  • Be family members who can’t speak to your abilities.
  • Be someone who fired you.
  • Be made up – recruiters will notice if something doesn’t add up.

2. Choose references based on your career level.

Your list of references should be varied and include people in other positions and departments — don’t just include your manager or supervisor.

If you’re a manager, your professional references should be:

  • Someone in a position higher than yours.
  • Someone at your same career level.
  • A team member in a position below yours.

Each of them will talk about what it’s like having you as a manager. So, for example, you can select your supervisor, another manager and employees from the department you managed.

If you’re a mid-level candidate, your references list should include:

  • Someone in a higher position.
  • Someone at your career level.
  • Someone from another department.

For example, if you’re a copywriter, you can ask your creative director, the graphic designer you worked most with and an account manager you interacted with to be your references.

Recent graduates or candidates with little work experience can go for a professor or a teacher they have built a relationship with — ideally through a specific career-related project. If you volunteered with an organization, you could find a reference there.

3. Search for references outside your current job.

A professional reference may not always be someone from your current or latest job. It can be someone you previously worked with or even vendors you spoke with as part of your job responsibilities. Take into consideration what you’ll be doing at the job you’ve applied for and tailor your references accordingly.

4. Contact your resume references.

You should contact your references and ask for their permission before including them on the reference page for your resume. By having a conversation with them, either in person or by a phone call, they’ll be aware that a recruiter or hiring manager will eventually reach out to them and ask about you, so the chances of them not answering are lower.

When talking to the people you want in your list of references, it’s important to:

  • Inform them of the role and the company you’ve applied for.
  • Ask them if it’s okay to have them as a professional reference.
  • Have an honest conversation with them about your work experience.
  • Ask them to speak to a specific work accomplishment or special project that was important to you.
  • Get their preferred method of contact.

You could begin your conversation with your reference by saying something like: “I’ve applied for a copywriting position in an advertising agency, and I would like to include you in my list of professional references because we worked together closely for many years. Is that OK with you?”

If they’re willing to be your professional reference, discuss your skills and prepare them for a phone call with recruiters or hiring managers.

Key takeaways

Here’s a quick recap of everything we learned about professional references:

  1. Should references be included on a resume? No, you shouldn’t include references on a resume.
  2. The phrase “references available upon request” isn’t needed and it’s a thing of the past.
  3. The only time you should submit a resume with references is if it’s requested in the job description.
  4. Create a separate document with your list of references. Be sure to include their updated contact information and a description of who that reference is.
  5. Tailor your references to the job and your career level. Choose them carefully.
  6. Include three to five references on your list. If you’re a senior professional or a manager, it’s okay to add more references.
  7. Reach out to your references and ask for their permission before including them on the reference page for your resume.
  8. Use the examples on this page as a resume references template to determine what to write on your page and how to format it.

References on a resume FAQ

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