This is highly unusual. But wait, that doesn’t mean you should never do it. Sometimes “unusual” is good. Very good.

Especially when you want someone to take notice of you.

Anyway, to cut to the chase: references normally don’t belong on a resume. Instead, they’re something that you normally attach to it when requested.

That is, unless you know what you’re doing. This guide should help you with that.

This guide will answer these pressing questions:

  • When should you put references on a resume?
  • Who to ask for a reference?
  • …if you’re a student or fresh graduate?
  • …if you’re a seasoned professional?
  • How to ask for a reference?
  • How to include references on a resume?
  • Should you put them directly on your resume?
  • Can LinkedIn’s recommendations make your life easier?
  • Is there more?

What do references do on a resume?

The references section on your resume contains a list of people who can vouch for you and provide your future employer with more information about your abilities.

These can include your teachers, advisors, coaches, colleagues, employers or your direct supervisors. They know how you used your skills in the past, can confirm any qualifications that you stated on your resume or vouch for your character.

References help your future employer find out how you performed in your previous jobs or throughout your academic career. They can get an idea about your professional attitude and competency before hiring you.

Employers usually only contact your references once they get to the last stage of the hiring process. Or sometimes, in case you’re a freelancer, they may ask you to provide references in advance.

When should you put references on a resume?

Including references in your resume used to be more common in the past. Sure, it’s good to prepare a list of references in advance, but including it in your resume isn’t always the best course of action.

But in some specific situations, it’s still okay to put them on your resume or together with your application. It’s not customary but certainly acceptable if:

  • The job listing asks for references from the get-go, you should include them without much hesitation.
  • Your reference is someone well-known in the company or industry. Sometimes you don’t want to wait until the last round of interviews to play your strongest card.
  • You’re a fresh graduate. Probably you still don’t have enough experience to fill an entire resume. Moreover, as a student, you have no authority yet. Let others do the bragging for you.
  • You’re a freelancer. For companies it’s sometimes hard to find a dependable freelancer. Of course, your portfolio is still the most important of your application, but you should always be ready to provide a list of references from your past clients.
  • There’s an employment gap on your resume. Including references on your resume is an effective way to balance out your work gap.

But If none of the above applies to you, don’t do it. It’s neither customary nor expected. There are several reasons for that:

  • Waste of space. Your one page can be used much more effectively.
  • Problematic verification. Recruiters don’t have enough time to verify references on every resume they receive. They’ll only check references of the final 2–3 candidates.
  • Privacy. Your references have agreed to let you give their contact information to a potential employer. Don’t betray their trust by sending their references to just about anyone.

Who to ask for a reference?

Short answer, anyone respectable who can vouch for your ability and character. As a rule of thumb, try to obtain 3–4 professional references and 1–2 personal references.

Professional references attest your professional ability. Ask your past superiors and partners to put in a good word for you. It goes without saying that you should never ask for a reference someone less experienced than you.

Personal references can vouch for your character. It can be any esteemed person from your personal life: past teachers, non-profit leaders, instructors, etc. Just make sure you don’t include anyone from your family.

But before you even start to contact them, remember that you have to know your references well and be sure that they can give a good feedback.

Think about the people you worked for and worked with. Which of them could speak well of your qualifications, accomplishments and character?

Who to ask for references if you’re a student or a fresh graduate?

  • Teachers and professors.They can testify to your class participation, performance in your school projects or how well you can work in a team.
  • Coaches and leaders. They can endorse you for your leadership skills or the ability to work with others.
  • Contacts from your volunteer work. They can endorse you for your willingness to help the community, motivation and skills. Plus, volunteering is almost always impressive.
  • Employer from your part-time job or internship. Even if you stayed in your job only a few months, your previous employer can speak best about your work ethic.

Who to ask for references if you’re a seasoned professional?

  • Past employers. They can vouch for your work skills, overall performance and describe how you interact with colleagues and supervisors.
  • Direct supervisors. They know you the best and can vouch for you when it comes to your transferable skills and work ethic.
  • Professional mentors. They have a solid understanding of your personality and receptiveness to training and feedback.

Also, think about the relevancy of your reference. How recent is it? Does it come close to the nature of the job you’re applying for today?

Rrecent references should naturally be your first choice. Using someone you worked with years ago as a reference may look like you’re trying to hide something.

But if an older reference is more relevant to the job you’re applying for now, don’t hesitate to put it on your resume regardless of age.

How to ask for references?

You’ve got your wish list. What to do now?

Call each of these people — or meet them in person if possible — to ask for a permission to be your reference. Using email should be your last resort. It’s far less personal than having a real conversation.

Of course, sometimes you don’t have a choice. If sending your prospective reference an email is the only option, be sure to briefly remind them of who you are. Describe the projects you worked on together and explain where you’re heading with your career.

Also, send them a copy of your resume as an attachment. This will help them recall the times when you were working with them and remind them of your achievements and personality.

Give your potential references enough details about the jobs you’re applying for. Be specific in what skills and qualities you’d like to emphasize. Furthermore, you can even send them the job description. This will help them talk to the employer and endorse your key qualifications.

When it comes to formulating your request, try to be a bit diplomatic. Allow people to refuse gracefully. Here are a few ideas on how to frame your question:

  • “Would you feel comfortable being my reference in my upcoming job search?”
  • “Would you find some time in the next few weeks to meet and talk about being my reference during my job hunt?”

If you get a positive reply, you’re almost finished. Take a moment to get your reference’s current titles and contact information right. Also, ask how they’d prefer to be contacted by the recruiter — usually either by phone or email.

Last but not least, don’t forget to express your gratitude at the end of your email. Also, thank your references for taking the time to consider your request and review your application.

Here’s an example of e-mail request that you can use.

Subject: Larry Brown – Reference Request

Dear Mr. Clark,

I am in the process of seeking a new job as a software architect and was hoping you could provide a reference for me.

Having worked for you for 5+ years between 2011 and 2017, I am positive that you can inform prospective employers about my qualifications and experience. 

Your endorsement of the job-relevant skills that I attained during my tenure at Company XYZ will be instrumental in boosting my chances to land the job.

I’m attaching an updated copy of my resume and cover letter. Please let me know if there is any additional information you would need to serve as a reference on my behalf.

Thank you very much for taking the time to review my request.

Best regards,

Larry Brown

444-777-5228

larry_brown@email.com

How to list references on a resume?

You can either put them directly in your resume or provide them as a separate document attached to your job application.

Either way, you should first determine how many references you want to include. This depends on your career level.

You never know. The hiring manager may only contact one or two, or all references on your list. Just make sure they have plenty options to choose from if one of them is unavailable.

Are you expected to include references directly in your resume?

There are two ways to include your references on a resume. Either provide full details about your references or write the phrase “References available upon request”.

If you decide to provide full details, consider listing your references in chronological order, starting with the person you worked with most recently.

Here’s what specific information you should include:

  • Reference name
  • Reference position
  • Reference company
  • Reference address
  • Reference phone number or email address
  • Reference description including where you worked together, when you worked together and your working relationship. (optional)

So, in the end, it can look something like this:

REFERENCES

  • Prof. Jeremy Carter, Senior Lecturer MIT, +999 999 999
  • /Noah Maroon, Wildlife Species Expert, World Wildlife Fund,  / hello@kickresume.com
  • Dr. Jenny Randolph, Assistant Research Professor, Paul G. Allen School of Global Animal Health, Washington State University, +123 456 789

If you don’t want to give their contact information right away, you can simply write the phrase References upon request. Then prepare a separate references list that you can provide when requested.

Here’s how it will look like on your resume:

REFERENCES

  • References available upon request

Can LinkedIn make your life easier via recommendations?

A recommendation is a statement that can be written by your former employer, colleague, or business partner and is displayed on your LinkedIn profile. You either have to request it or accept it from someone.

You should always include a link to your LinkedIn profile in your resume. Employers are going to look you up and if they see professional recommendations in your LinkedIn profile, it’s a big plus for you.

They are an online equivalent to resume references. The only difference is that they are online and thus visible to everyone (if you choose so).

And you can ask for them anytime and don’t need to think about whether you should include them in your resume or not. In short, they can make your life a bit easier.

Although, it may not be the same as calling a former employer and asking for opinion, a LinkedIn recommendation is often sufficient. Because of that, LinkedIn recommendations should be given just as much credit as traditional references.

Not only do they add a lot of credibility to your LinkedIn profile, they also help you rank higher in searches.

You should try to get at least one recommendation for each role. Try to ask your direct manager or your colleagues with whom you enjoy working. You can either ask for a recommendation while you are still at the company or upon leaving it.

Be selective about who you will ask. Keep in mind that there are two main factors that matter - content and relevance of the recommendation and the credibility of the writer.

Pablo’s two cents worth of resume advice

  • List only the good references. Ask only those people who can say nice things about you. You don’t want anyone to ruin your job application. Put your biggest fans first. Hiring managers are busy and there’s a chance they’ll only call one person. And they’re likely to start at the top of your list.
  • Being relevant is the key. If you want your references to really help your case, you must include only those that have something relevant to say. If you need to emphasize your team-work, it makes sense to list your former colleagues who know how you work within a team.