How to Write CV References (with Examples and Layout Tips)
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Having difficulty writing your CV References?

Your experience, skills, and education can make your CV shine, but if you want to take your job application to the next level you’ll need to line up good references.

“People who can sing your praises in a compelling way.”

This CV References guide has been carefully put together to save you hours of research and will tell you everything you need to know, including why they’re an important part of the hiring process, what makes for a great reference, and how to solicit all-star endorsers.

Recommended links:

  1. Our collection of 500+ professional resume examples.
  2. Our gallery of 20+ downloadable resume templates.

Do references matter?

Some people might think reference checks are a thing of the past, particularly given how easy it is for employers today to research job candidates online and via social media. In fact, nearly 9 in 10 (87%) of recruiters said they use online sources such as LinkedIn when vetting candidates during the hiring process,’s 2016 Recruiter Nation Report found. That may explain why 59% of job seekers use social media to research the company culture of organizations they are interested in, the report found, Also, LinkedIn enables users to post recommendations on their profiles from other members.

Nonetheless, 70% of recruiters said they still run reference checks for every job candidate, according to a recent survey by SkillSurvey, which provides cloud-based solutions to HR professionals.

Moreover, when hiring managers were asked why they conduct reference checks, 63% said the checks help them hire better employees, according to a survey by OfficeTeam, a U.S. staffing firm. A reference check can even be the deciding factor for many prospective employers when interviewing job candidates, since the hiring managers surveyed said they remove more than one in five (21%) candidates from consideration after speaking to their professional contacts.

Clearly, having strong references is important for both employers and job seekers alike. The challenge, however, still falls on the job hunter’s shoulders to assemble stellar references.

Should you include references on your resume?

Including contact information for references on your resume can certainly make it easier for recruiters and hiring managers to reach these people. Yet many career coaches and resume writers say there are negative aspects to including references on your CV.

For example, Vancouver-based professional resume writer Milton Kiang says that if a job application requires references, the employer will simply ask candidates for them separately. Also, by including references on your resume, you lose control over knowing when your reference(s) might be contacted. That’s a common mistake, says Kiang, who recommends job seekers let references know in advance when they can expect to receive a call from a potential employer.

Space is also an issue, especially if your resume is already cramped. Including references on the document means you’re giving up valuable real estate—space that could be better spent highlighting your skills or experience. Even stating on your resume “references are available upon request” can be a waste of space.

Still, Kiang says there is a caveat: “The only time when I counsel clients to list their references out is when the referee is a public figure (e.g. a civic leader or public official) or is renown in your industry.”

For example, executive producer Scott Knowlton includes a reference who was a leading expert at Apple on his online resume.

It might also make sense for freelancers and contractors to include past clients on their resume so that prospective employers know who to contact if they want to verify your credentials. (Of course, you’d also want to ask these references for permission before including them on your resume.)

However, when you’re going through the traditional job application process you’re better off not including references on your resume.

What makes for a great reference?

An ideal reference is someone who can effectively endorse your skills and value as an employee. As a result, references are usually former managers or co-workers, since these colleagues have firsthand knowledge of how well you perform on the job. A past client or customer can also serve as a good reference, says Kim Costa, a professional resume writer and job-search coach based in Richmond, Virginia.

Moreover, Costa says job seekers should avoid using personal references, like a relative or friend. “Your best bet is to keep your references as professional as possible” she says. The exception would be if a family member or friend was your direct supervisor and could comment specifically on your work performance.

How to ask a referee for a reference

You don’t want to use a reference without asking the person’s permission first, particularly if a significant period of time has passed since you two last spoke. (There’s also a chance that the person is too swamped to serve as a reference.)

Touching base with references before you provide their contact information to a prospective employer has several benefits. For starters, you can bring the person up to speed on where you are in your career and your job search; if you’re in the process of changing professions, give a brief explanation behind your career move. You can also refresh the person’s memory of your past accomplishments, such as successful projects that you worked on together. (Your reference will then be able to relay that information to prospective employers.)

In addition, it’s beneficial to provide references with background information on the company and the type of job that you’re applying for. This is crucial if you’re doing a global job search, since “some of the companies or organizations you may be applying to will be extremely unfamiliar to people in your home country,” says Anna Sparks, a global career consultant.

For a global job search, you may need to get your reference to write a letter of recommendation. “Your references may not speak the foreign language,” says Sparks, in which case you would then translate the letter and attach it to your job applications.

How many references should you have?

Three to five references is sufficient for most job seekers. For senior or executive positions, however, five to seven references may be appropriate.

After all, when you’re applying for a high-level job you usually have more years of experience under your belt, which means hiring managers may want to talk to more people from your past jobs.

Can you have a CV without references?

It is okay to have a CV without references if you don’t wish to list your references upfront.

Should you put references on a UK CV?

Adding references to a CV in the UK is optional.

Related: UK CV Format, Examples and Requirements

Don’t forget to follow up

When you use someone as a reference, the person is doing you a favor. Therefore, it’s good manners to say thank you regardless of whether or not you land the job. However, there’s no need to go overboard with gifts; simply send a short, handwritten thank-you letter to the person (it’s worth the cost of postage!) or take the person out for a cup of Joe on your dime.

James Clift

Written By

James Clift

Co-Founder & Director

James is an entrepreneur and the Co-Founder of VisualCV. He has spent the last 10 years building businesses, from window cleaning to software. His passion is helping individuals create the careers they want.

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