References on a Resume

It’s not always necessary to include references on your resume, especially if you have a solid work history with a good group of skills that are a match for the position you are applying for. However, references are a vital part of a resume with no work experience, and they can help strengthen a resume that is weak for the position you are applying for. References are also vital if you have been self-employed, as they help prove that “self-employment” is not just a euphemism for being “unemployed” during the period of time you specify as self-employed time on your resume.



Choose the Right References

Choosing your best buddy or your mom as a reference is not going to help you get the job. You need professional references. The best references are former supervisors in the career field that matches the field you are applying for. Former supervisors in other fields are also strong references. Co-workers are acceptable references, though an employer might wonder why you couldn’t come up with any supervisor references to share, which could create an unnecessary red flag.

Do Your Homework

Never put references on a resume if you haven’t obtained permission to use the reference first. You can do this at the very beginning of your job search, before you type up your resume or start sending it out. A simple e-mail is a fine way to get the job done, something that indicates you’re starting a job search and politely asks for permission. You can also verify the reference’s contact information and ask for permission to list the e-mail at that time. You should also try to ascertain if the reference will have anything good to say about you. Ask if the contact would ever be willing to rehire you if the opportunity arose. Another good method is to contact references who have given you recommendations on LinkedIn, since they’ve already said something kind about you in a public forum.

List References Correctly

Each reference that you list must be full and complete in order to look credible. This means you need to list the reference’s name, job title, company, company address, telephone number, and e-mail address with permission. If the reference has changed companies since you worked with them you should also list their relationship to you, like so:

John Doe
Senior Copywriter
XYZ Public Relations Firm
Former Supervisor at ABC Advertising Agency
123 West Trail Drive
Shreveport, Louisiana 71115
318-999-7777


Without the information that the reference was a former supervisor at a company you’ve worked with the employer may become confused and wonder why you are including the reference.

If the reference was for self-employment you can add something that indicates which of your services they took advantage of, i.e. “Former Client while Self-Employed (Handyman)” or “Former Freelance Web Design Client.” This gives the future employment some context.

How many References?

In general you don’t want to overwhelm with references as the employer may wonder if you have something to hide simply because you seem too eager to overload them with information. Remember that each reference represents work for the employer—they have to call each of these references in order to see what they have to say. In general, 2-3 references are enough to include on any resume.


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