How to List Resume References: A Job Seeker's Guide + Sample

Written by Coursera Staff • Updated on

To include or not include? That is the question. Instead of including references on your resume, though, how about creating a resume reference list you can provide to recruiters upon request instead? Here's how to do it.

[Featured image] Woman in a yellow sweater with glasses looking at a resume

Many experts agree that you probably shouldn't put your references directly on your resume. But, that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t have personal references ready in a separate document for when you start your next round of job applications. 

In this article, you will learn a better approach to listing references than directly putting them on your resume, how to create an effective reference list, and find a reference list template to help you create your own. At the end, you'll also explore flexible, online courses that can help you craft a stand-out resume in just hours.

Do you put references on a resume? 

Generally, you should not put references on your resume. 

While it was once common practice to include references on resumes, experts now suggest that you use the extra space for something more valuable, such as work experience or marketable skills. Similarly, you should forgo adding “references available upon request” to your resume as it is seen as largely unnecessary by prospective employers. 

The reality is that recruiters and hiring managers rarely have the time to reach out to references during the initial screening phase of the hiring process and will usually only ask for references from applicants that interest them. In effect, the only time you should include your professional references with your resume is when the job description explicitly asks for it. 

While you shouldn’t put references on your resume, you should prepare a separate reference list to send potential employers once they have requested them from you.  Read more: Should You List References on a Resume?

How to make a separate resume references list

A separate reference list is a smart alternative to adding references directly to your resume. 

In addition to being prepared easily in advance to ensure that you have a reference list handy for any potential employers, they can also be unobtrusively added to your resume should a job posting request them. 

1. Choose your references and contact them for approval.

The references that you include on your list should be individuals who know you well and will provide positive commentary on your abilities and character.  

While the list should ideally focus on professional references from your current or previous places of employment, you can also include former professors or even personal acquaintances. These last two options might be most helpful to students, first-time jobseekers, or those who have been out of the workforce for some time.

Some of the potential references you might consider reaching out to include: 

  • Former or current supervisors

  • Former or current employers

  • Former or current co-workers

  • Former or current professors

  • Non-family personal acquaintances that can vouch for your character and abilities  

Once you have identified those contacts who will provide strong references, you should reach out to them and ask them if they would be willing to be a reference for you. Typically, it is more advisable to ask your contact to be your reference either in person or through a formal email rather than via text message. 

If your contact agrees to be your reference, then you should make sure to check what their preferred mode of contact is (email or phone), the times they are generally free to speak, and what their most up-to-date contact information is. 

How many references should go on your reference list?

The number of references you are required to put on your reference list will depend on the kind of job you are applying for. As a general rule, most employers typically ask that you send them three references. If you are applying for a more senior position, however, they may ask for more. 

You can also always reach out for clarification if you are uncertain. Remember, if an employer is asking you for your references after reviewing your application, then they are likely interested in you and will happily respond to your request for further clarity.


2. Create your reference list. 

Once you have a list of approved references, you can now create your reference list. The proper format for each reference should be as follows:                                        

  1. Full name

  2. Job title

  3. Company name

  4. Address 

  5. Contact information (phone number and email address)

  6. Description of relationship to the reference

Your references should also be listed from top to bottom in order of most to least recent. If you find that not all of your references are equally relevant for the specific position, then you might also consider ordering it from most to least relevant. 

For example, if you are applying to a position that allows you to employ specific technical knowledge that you gained in graduate school a few years ago, then you might put your former thesis advisor at the top of your reference list and your most recent employer after. 

3. Format your reference list. 

Now that you have completed your reference list, you should make sure that it is properly formatted and ready to send out. 

Your reference sheet should visually reflect the design that you used for your resume and cover letter. Providing a reference list that is consistent with the design of your other material will provide a sense of cohesion and professionalism across your application. 

Sample of reference page for resume

The sample below illustrates just one way that a reference list can look. As you are creating your own, remember to make its overall design cohesive with the rest of your resume material. Often, a simpler design is more effective than an elaborate one.

[Sample Resume Reference List] Black text on a white background

Create your own resume reference list using this template.

Get ready for your next job search with Coursera

You can never be too prepared for a new job search. Whether you're a first-time job seeker or an established professional, you might consider taking a cost-effective, online course to help you develop job-relevant skills.

Start learning the skills for a high-demand job like project management or cybersecurity with a Professional Certificate from industry leaders like Google, IBM, or Meta. If you need help with your resume, you might consider taking the State University of New York's project-centered How to Write a Resume course, which will help you craft an eye-catching resume that lets your professional strengths shine in just five hours.

Whatever your next step, though don’t forget to thank your references for taking the time to help you land your next job.

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