Should You List References on a Resume?

Written by Coursera • Updated on

It’s best to use the space you have on your resume in more productive ways, but collecting references to have on hand is a proactive step you can take in your job search.

[Featured Image] A woman is on the phone while looking at herresume. On her desk is a book and laptop.

Although it used to be common practice to list at least two references on your resume, it’s since become unnecessary in the digital age. But if you’re actively searching for a new job, it can help to proactively collect references so you’re prepared in case an employer asks for that information. 

Let’s go over why employers need references, why it’s not necessary to list them on your resume, and tips for asking someone to serve as a reference. 

What are references? 

References are people in your professional or personal network who can speak to your previous roles, responsibilities, and character. It used to be that you would list your references on your resume, but as the job application process has moved online—and as the number of applicants per job has increased—it’s best to use the space you have on your resume in more productive ways. You can go into more detail about your past successes, or include a resume summary or resume objective.   

When should you include references on a resume?

The short answer is: never. References on your resume take up valuable space. Whether your resume is one page (if you have less than 10 years of experience) or two pages (if you have more than 10 years of experience), it’s important to use that space to promote your qualifications. Moreover, considering that each job attracts more than 100 applicants and only 2 percent of applicants will be called to interview, it’s best to keep your references’ contact information private until you’re asked to share it.

Why do employers need references? 

Employers typically request references from their top two or three candidates in order to learn more about each person, factoring that information into their final decision. References are an opportunity for a potential employer to learn more about your past work and impact—and to gain an outside perspective on any lingering concerns. 

When does an employer ask for references? 

Potential employers can ask for your references at any point of the job interview process. But generally you’ll receive that request during the final stage of an interview, when you’re among the top two or three candidates, and the employer is nearing a final decision.

How many references should you include?

When you’re asked to provide references, you should list three to four people who can attest to your professional experience and skills. If a professional reference isn’t available, you can ask unrelated friends and acquaintances to serve as a character reference. 

Rather than include your references’ contact information on your resume, it’s standard practice to create a separate list, and submit it as a PDF or Word document via email (unless otherwise noted), using the same font and design details as your resume to create cohesion.  

A reference tends to be a phone call or email that takes place during a job search. A letter of recommendation tends to be a one-page letter that’s required for college and scholarship applications.

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Learn more: How to Write a Letter of Recommendation (Template + Tips)

Who should serve as your references? 

It’s important to find three or four people who can highlight your strengths. When possible, try to include as many professional references as possible—people you’ve worked with or currently work with. If you don’t yet have a lot of professional experience, consider asking mentors, former professors, or close personal friends who can substantiate your character, your career goals, and perhaps even your work ethic. 

Here are the most common types of references to include on a reference list: 

  • Former manager or supervisor

  • Former coworker 

  • Current manager or coworker (if they approve of your job search) 

  • Mentor  

  • Former or current professor 

  • Personal acquaintance that’s not related to you 

When should you ask someone to be a reference? 

You don’t have to wait for a potential employer to ask for your references before you begin collecting that information. It helps to be proactive and reach out to previous managers, colleagues, or anyone else who could provide a strong reference and ask if they feel comfortable speaking on your behalf should the occasion arise. 

When you’re asked for your references, it’s good etiquette to reach back out to the people on your list and confirm their participation before passing along their contact info. It’s also a good time to let your references know that someone from the company you’re interviewing with might be in touch, so they know to watch out for a phone call or email. 

Tips for asking someone to serve as a reference 

You can start by emailing the people you feel would best represent you and asking whether they’d feel comfortable serving as one of your references. You should also confirm their contact information. 

If you’re nearing the end of a job search, explain the job you’re interviewing for, what excites you about the position, and the skills you’ll be able to apply to the work. If you’re not actively interviewing, ask your potential reference whether they’d be comfortable serving as a reference in the future. 

After you’ve completed a job search, whether you get the offer or not, it’s a good idea to thank your references for speaking on your behalf. 

How to format your references 

Limit your references to one sheet of paper. Besides including each reference’s contact information (name, phone number, email), provide some additional context by including their job title and the company they work for. You should also explain how you know the person, such as “Person A was my supervisor for three years at Company X.” 

List each reference’s information in the following order:  

  1. Full name

  2. Job title and company name 

  3. Contact information (phone number and email address)

  4. Brief description of the relationship 

Use our handy reference sheet template available at How to List Resume References.

Explore further

Learn more about creating an eye-catching resume and cover letter with this free Guided Project on Coursera. Or you can explore a number of Professional Certificates from a range of industry leaders, each designed to help you develop or strengthen your skill set and add a notable credential to your resume. You can earn a Professional Certificate in business, computer science, or marketing.

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This content has been made available for informational purposes only. Learners are advised to conduct additional research to ensure that courses and other credentials pursued meet their personal, professional, and financial goals.

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