Should You List References on a Resume?

Written by Coursera Staff • Updated on

It’s best to use the space you have on your resume in more productive ways. Still, it helps to be proactive and have references ready for a job search.

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

The common practice of listing at least two references on your resume has become unnecessary in the digital age. Still, if you’re actively searching for a new job, it can help to collect references proactively so you’re prepared in case an employer asks for that information. 

Let’s go over why employers need references, why it’s unnecessary to list them on your resume any longer, and how to ask 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. 

Employers typically request references 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 during the job interview process. Generally, you’ll receive the request during the final stage of an interview, when you’re amongst the top two or three candidates and the employer is nearing a final decision.

When should you include references on a resume?

The short answer is never. 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 more flexibly. Instead, you can detail your past successes or include a resume summary or objective.   

How many references should you provide?

When you’re asked to provide references, 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, creating a separate list is standard practice, and submitting it as a PDF or Word document via email (unless otherwise noted). Use the same font and design details as your resume to create cohesion.  

A reference is a phone call or email 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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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 additional context by having their job title and company. 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 

Who should serve as your references? 

When possible, provide professional references—people you’ve worked with or currently work with. If you don’t yet have much professional experience, consider asking mentors, former professors, or close personal friends who can substantiate your character, career goals, and perhaps even your work ethic. 

The most common types of references include: 

  • 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 reach out to previous managers, colleagues, or anyone else who could provide a firm reference and ask if they feel comfortable speaking on your behalf. 

When the potential employer asks for your references, you can contact the people on your list and confirm their participation before passing along their contact info. This also lets you prepare your references for someone from the company you’re interviewing with to get in touch via 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 a reference. Confirm their contact information is accurate; you don’t want to leave potential employers struggling to reach your references. That will not look good. 

If you can, provide a reference about the job you’re interviewing for, what excites you about the position, and the skills you can apply to the work. Otherwise, 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, thank your references for speaking on your behalf. 

Explore further

Learn more about creating an eye-catching resume and cover letter with this Guided Project on Coursera. You can also explore several professional certificates from various industry leaders, each designed to help you develop or strengthen your skill set and add a notable credential to your resume. Earn a Professional Certificate in business, computer science, or marketing.

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