Should You List References on a Resume? (2023)


Professional Development

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.

Should You List References on a Resume? (1)

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. Potential employers now tend to ask for references once you near the end of their interview process. Listing that information on your resume as part of your initial application takes up valuable space you could spend highlighting other things, such as your technical skills or job skills.

That being said, when 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. During the job interview process, a potential employer will reach out to your references and learn more about you.

It used to be that you would list your references on your resume, but as the job application process has transferred to applicant tracking systems—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 or two pages, it’s important to use that space to promote your qualifications. Learn more about important resume sections to include.

Considering that each job attracts more than 100 applicants and only two 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.

How to format your references

Many candidates submit their references in a separate document, sometimes called a reference sheet. Let's discuss how to format the information you'll need to gather.

Limit your references to one page. 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.

Why do employers need references?

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.

Employers typically request references from their top two or three candidates in order to learn more about each person. In addition to the interviews you've conducted and any work samples you've shared, they'll likely factor the information they glean from your references into their final decision.

When does an employer ask for references?

Potential employers can ask for your references at any point during 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 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.

Should You List References on a Resume? (2)

Reference tips

There are certain tips you can follow to solicit the most effective references possible. Ideally, you'll choose a variety of references who can speak to your different strengths and discuss your experience in specific detail.

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 previously 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

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.

When should you ask someone to be a reference?

You can either reach out to potential references when you begin looking for a new job or once a specific company has requested your references. When you contact the three or four people you'd like to serve as references, make sure to detail the following:

  • The job you’re interviewing for

  • What excites you about the position

  • The skills you’ll be able to apply to the role

This will help your references connect this new opportunity to what you've done in the past.

Take note: If some time has passed between when you initially asked a person to serve as a reference and when a potential employer requests their information, it’s good etiquette to reach back out and confirm their ability to participate before passing along their contact info. It’s also helpful 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.

Following up with references

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.

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.

Should You List References on a Resume? (3)
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Written by Coursera • Updated on

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.


Should You List References on a Resume? ›

Do not include references on a resume unless an employer asks you to. Look for alternative methods of spotlighting a former employer's endorsement, like a recommendation letter. Never include professional references without first checking with each person you list. If you do include references, list three of them.

Is it OK to put references upon request on resume? ›

I would not advise using the term “references available on request” on a resume. It's old-fashioned and takes up valuable space. It's a given that you will provide references if asked, so you don't need to state this on your resume.

Should I include references on my resume or cover letter? ›

Only provide references after the prospective employer requests them. Do not include the phrase “References available upon request” in your cover letter, resume, or email. Providing references is an opportunity to inform a potential employer about your accomplishments and attributes.

Should references be included on a resume if not what is listed instead? ›

Though there are situations in which including references is acceptable, professionals rarely add them. This is because resumes are usually one or two pages long, so including the contact information of other professionals may use too much valuable space. Instead, include more information about your credentials.

Who should not be a reference on a resume? ›

Relatives and friends. They will sing your praises, but it won't come from an honest place, and the odds are good they can't speak to your qualities and qualifications as an employee.

When should you not include references? ›

Unless specifically requested, references do not belong on a resume. It is almost never a good idea to include them….” “As a rule of thumb, you don't need to include references in your resume.” “Do not put 'Reference available upon request', or the names and contact points of the references themselves.”

Why should you not list references unless they are requested? ›

Potential employers now tend to ask for references once you near the end of their interview process. Listing that information on your resume as part of your initial application takes up valuable space you could spend highlighting other things, such as your technical skills or job skills.

Do employers actually call references? ›

Employers typically contact references toward the end of the hiring process. They narrow down their candidate pool to just a few choices, giving them time to contact each reference. They use these references to help them decide between the last few candidates and ensure they hire the right person for the job.

How far back should a resume go? ›

Generally, experts recommend keeping about 10-15 years of work experience on your resume, but that guidance changes depending on your professional history. Your resume is one of the first things a potential employer sees about you.

Is references upon request good or bad? ›

References available upon request – This is a phrase to avoid as it takes up valuable space that can be used to add more details about your actual accomplishments and experience. You can leave it off, as in most instances an employer would assume you have suitable references.

Is it bad to not list references? ›

Listing references on your resume is typically not required. In fact, it's more common not to include them directly on your resume for several reasons: Standard practice:Most employers expect that references are available upon request, so it's not necessary to include them upfront.

What happens if you don't list references? ›

If you don't have any references for a job application , you can still apply and secure your desired position. Without professional references, you can find alternative contacts who can give positive feedback about you to a potential employer.

What if I didn't put references on my resume? ›

No, you are not supposed to put references on a resume

Many employers usually won't ask for this information until you're further along in the interview process, and they know you'll provide references if they request them.

Are friends OK to use as a reference? ›

Those providing the reference should know you well and be able to give examples that back up statements about your character. While friends and family are acceptable referees, it is better for you to select someone who is not immediate family as their opinion may be construed as being biased.

Is it okay to put coworkers as references? ›

Coworkers. Past and current colleagues are great references when you can't use a supervisor. Just make sure you're on good terms with them, and they can speak about your professional skills and big wins.

How many references is too many for a resume? ›

“Most employers will specify how many references they want, so there's no need for you to include any additional references beyond this number,” Cormier says. However, if the hiring manager or recruiter does not specifically say how many references they want, including three is usually appropriate.

Can you say references available on request? ›

Instead, we recommend simply stating, “References available upon request” at the end of the document. If you include references available upon request in your resume, or one of any number of similar phrases, you show that you have relevant referees available, but you have control over when they will be contacted.

Should you list references on your resume or say references are available upon request? ›

Should I list employment references on my resume? We don't recommend listing references on your resume. You also don't need to mention that "references are available upon request," as recruiters assume that you'll have references to provide when asked.

Should you include references on your resume indeed? ›

The only time you should send your reference list with your resume is if the job posting explicitly requests references with the application. Otherwise, wait until a recruiter or hiring manager makes the request.

Is it good when employers ask for references? ›

Recruiters just want to learn more about you and make sure that, before handing you an offer, they truly believe you are the right fit for the company. Remember this: When a hiring company makes a call to your references, it's almost always a good sign—so you can breathe easy.


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