A resume showcases your education, experience, and skills all in one place. This document is what introduces you to human resources representatives and hiring managers for the first time, so its quality is crucial to a successful job search. A resume by itself, however, leaves the hiring manager with only your word to go on. This is where your references come in.
Most jobs will require references at some point in the hiring process. Whether or not you include references directly on your resume is a subject of some debate. As with everything, there are pros and cons to both. The appropriate choice will be determined by your specific circumstances, but there are a few things to consider to help you make your decision.
By including references on your resume, you indicate up front that there are people who will vouch for you. Offering references without prompting sends a clear message that you are forthcoming with information and have nothing to hide.
However, hiring managers will almost never call your references before meeting you in person. They usually prefer to wait until after your interview to make sure your references check out. This means that it is usually safe to wait until your interview to provide a list of references and use that valuable resume space for something else.
Most job seekers prefer to omit references from their resume, instead including the line “References available upon request” or making no reference to references at all. However, no hiring manager will fault you for including yours. It is perfectly acceptable to include your references if that is your preference. Just be sure that the References section on your resume is well-formatted and unobtrusive—and that your references will all have positive things to say about you!
The most common practice is to include your references is at the end of your resume. After you list all the wonderful skills and experience you bring to the job, wrapping up your resume with contacts who can endorse your work ethic and character may help strengthen your position in the candidate pool.
If your resume takes up a full page or more, it is acceptable to move your reference list to its own page. The formatting of your resume should make it easy to read, and your reference list should be clear and well organized.
Selecting a professional reference is a delicate process. The last thing you want is a situation where a prospective employer calls a reference you listed, but your reference does not actually have good things to say about you!
The best people to have as references are individuals with whom you have positive and work-oriented relationships. Previous supervisors or mentors who liked your work and saw you grow are ideal. Co-workers, advisors, business partners, or even connections you have at the company to which you are applying are also good options.
Once you have selected your desired references, but before you submit their names, be sure to ask their permission. It is presumptuous to assume they are available or even interested in providing a positive review of you and your work. Have a conversation with the person and make sure you have permission to share their contact information with potential employers.
Although there are a wide variety of people you can ask, there are people that are better avoided at all costs. Primarily, stay away from anyone that would hurt your case as a candidate. For example, don’t ask anyone with whom you’ve clashed on a regular basis, especially if the arguments remain unresolved. A reference ought to be someone who can speak well of you, and offer insight into your strengths; someone with whom you had a tempestuous relationship might be more petty than helpful, or worse, have negative opinions they want to share.
Finally, don’t ask family or friends who have no connection to your previous work or the company you’re applying to, unless you are asked specifically for character references. Unfortunately, they are not credible as professional references.
Your list of references should be succinct and easy to read. If your prospective employer does not specify, 3-4 references will usually suffice.
Start with the name aligned with the left side of the paper. List the person’s current position and employer, business address, phone number, and email address, with each piece of information on its own line.
If your reference list is separate from your resume, don’t forget to put your name and contact information in the header.
Note the uniformity. Each item on the list follows the same format and offers all the necessary information. Only add more information if a job explicitly asks you to. If they do, be sure you include everything they request.
While there are good reasons to include a reference sheet, there are also times you shouldn’t. Definitely don’t include a reference sheet when anywhere in the process - maybe the initial job listing, or an HR rep - explicitly asks you not to provide one yet. Giving a company more than they ask for can be a good thing at times, but giving someone something that they explicitly ask you not to provide does not look good. It may appear that you don’t follow directions or pay attention to details.
Also, leave references off of a resume you submit to an especially large company. A large company spends a relatively short time with your resume. They may only look into references once you have become a final candidate, and they likely have a process by which you submit them. Either way, they have their reasons, and you always want to be respectful of their time and their process.
Applying for a job requires a lot of work and a reference list can feel like just another box to check. However, like anything, it’s all how you look at it. Offer quality, professional references in a list that is easy to read and within the correct process, and you just may stand out from the competition in more ways than one.
James is the CEO 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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