How to List References on a Resume (Templates Included)
By Mike Simpson
Let’s face facts; writing a resume isn’t always easy. You have to choose the best resume format, discuss the right skills, cover critical achievements, and so much more, all in just a couple of pages. Then, if you need to fit references on a resume, too, it can quickly become overwhelming.
Does that mean you need to panic? Of course not. We’ve got you.
Here’s a look at the right way to list references on a resume, as well as a look at what professional references are, mistakes you want to avoid, and a handy references “template” to get you started on the correct path.
What Are Professional References?
Alright, before we dig into how to list references on a resume, let’s talk about what professional references are in the first place. In the simplest sense, professional references are people who know you through the lens of your career. They’re professionals you have working relationships with, either currently or previously, so they can talk about what you’re like on the job.
Hiring managers value professional references. Why? Because they help them get a better idea of what working with you is like. It really is that simple.
However, it can also go further. Contacting professional references lets the hiring manager confirm some of the details on your resume. That’s right; it’s an honesty check, too.
So, why would you include references on a resume? Isn’t that a less common thing to do today?
It is true that adding references to your resume isn’t the norm, but that doesn’t mean you’ll never need to do it. While 80 percent of employers will call your references during that hiring process, 16 percent of those actually reach out to a candidate’s references before they invite them in for interviews.
What does that mean for you? Well, mainly, that knowing how to list references on a resume is a good idea. That way, if you find an excellent opportunity with a company that wants your professional references from the get-go, you’ll be ready.
Common Mistakes When Listing References on a Resume and How to Avoid Them
As with all parts of a resume, avoiding missteps is crucial. Even small errors can derail your chances of getting called in for an interview or landing the job, so you really do need to dedicate time and energy to making sure everything is right.
So, what’s one of the biggest mistakes you can make when putting references on a resume? Well, putting a fake one on the list is a doozy.
A fake professional reference? What on earth is that? Well, usually, it’s when a person lists a contact who they have no professional relationship with and then asks that person to lie to make them look good. At times, it means listing a contact that doesn’t actually exist, including a made-up name, company, phone number, email address, and more. Yes, for some reason, candidates sometimes try that.
Dishonesty is always a big no-no. Why? Because if you get caught – and the odds are pretty good that you will – it will probably cost you. Overall, about 65 percent of candidates who get busted in a lie either don’t get the job or get fired if they were selected and start in the role. Who wants to take that kind of risk?
Plus, if word gets out that you lied, that can haunt you. Remember, people talk, so there is always a chance that the hiring manager will let others know about your less-than-scrupulous behavior.
Is that the only misstep? No, it isn’t. Selecting the wrong references is another one.
When you pick people to ask to reference, you need to choose wisely. First, you want people where there is a professional connection. Past managers, colleagues, mentors, customers, and similar professionals are your best bets.
MIKE’S TIP: But what if you’ve never worked before? Who should you include then? Well, if you’re a recent high school or college graduate, teachers, sports coaches, or similar people could be great alternatives. They know quite a bit about you what you bring to the table, so they can work nicely if you’re aiming at your first entry-level job.
Generally, don’t list friends unless the company explicitly requests that kind of personal reference. Hiring managers won’t necessarily find much value in these references.
The same goes for family members unless you have a working relationship. For example, if you had a job in the family business, then including a family member may be okay. Otherwise, skip them.
Second, you want to choose people who have good things to say about you in a professional context. Listing a past manager or colleague who you didn’t get along with is a horrible idea. They might not have the kindest words to share, and that can keep you from getting the job.
Ideally, they can discuss an accomplishment that really highlights what you have to offer, as well as talk about workplace attitude in a glowing way. You want someone who can champion your awesomeness, ensuring the hiring manager gets the right idea about what you bring to the table.
Finally, whatever you do, don’t have any references listed on a resume that’s publicly accessible. If you do, you’re essentially broadcasting other people’s contact details, opening them up to unwanted calls, including scams. While it may not directly hurt your job search, it is a major faux pas, one that could harm your reputation with your references and make them less inclined to say nice things about you going forward.
How to List References on a Resume
Alright, now it’s time for what you’ve been waiting for: a close look at how to put references on a resume. If you want to make sure you get it right, here is a step-by-step approach that covers it all.
1. Ask Permission
Why is “ask permission” step one? Because you should never blindside someone by listing them without their knowledge, that’s why.
Being someone’s professional reference is a favor, as well as a big responsibility. Some people aren’t going to be comfortable with being put on the spot, particularly if they don’t know a hiring manager might come calling.
So, before you include anyone as a reference on your resume, pick up the phone, give them a call, and make sure they are cool with it. Then, accept their answer.
Typically, you’ll want to get permission from three contacts. Why three? Because that’s the most commonly requested number of professional references. By getting them all handled now, you’ll usually be able to provide everything the hiring manager needs in this department in one fell swoop.
2. Get Updated Contact Information
Once you have a person’s permission, ask them to provide updated contact information. Usually, you’ll need their current job title, employer’s name, employer’s address, a daytime phone number, and an email address.
3. Start a New Page
When you’re adding a reference list to your resume, you want to start it on a new page. Additionally, it shouldn’t be any longer than a single page, as anything more is a bit excessive at such an early step in the hiring process.
It’s also important to note that your reference list will typically be the last page of the resume document. However, make sure you check the instructions for applying as some hiring managers will want them submitted as a separate document, not unlike how you usually need to go with cover letters.
4. Add Your Contact Information
Since your professional references are on a separate page, you want to add your contact details at the top. That way, if the page gets separated from the rest, the hiring manager will know whose references they are.
4. Keep It Simple
A professional reference list isn’t embellished. All you need to do is to write a header explaining that these are your professional references and then include the contact details for each person in succession, with a clear division between each person’s info.
Along with adding a space between each one, consider bolding the contacts’ names. That helps each listing stand out, and it looks much better than numbering your reference list.
5. Choose the Right Order
When you need to decide which reference to list first, go with the person who is most likely to give you an exceptional recommendation. Hiring managers may not reach out to everyone. So, by leading with the best, you’re increasing the odds that that reference will get a call.
6. Add a Short Statement Outlining Your Relationship
Along with the person’s contact details, it isn’t a bad idea to add a quick note about your relationship with each reference. That lets the hiring manager know a little about why they should care about what this person has to say, so it doesn’t hurt to do it.
What should you write? Well, mention the kind of working relationship you had, where you were working at the time, and how long you knew them. For example, “My direct manager at ABC Company from 2018 to 2021” is enough to provide the hiring manager with some context.
References on a Resume Sample
Alright, if you really want to know how to list references on a resume, a resume references example is a good place to start. It’ll give you insights into the format, making it easier for you to follow along.
To give you even more information, we’re going to cover two. First, there’s a references on a resume sample that shows you exactly what each entry needs to look like. Second, there’s a handy template that you can use when you’re creating a resume.
Resume References Example
Here is what a single professional reference entry usually looks like on a resume:
123 Main Street
Anytown, State, 12345
My direct manager at XYZ, Inc. from 2018 to 2021
Resume References Template
Here’s a quick template for creating your reference page for a resume:
Your Address as Listed on Page One of Your Resume
Your Phone Number
Your Email Address
Section Heading, Usually “Professional References”
First Reference Name
City, State, Zip Code
Second Reference Name
City, State, Zip Code
Third Reference Name
City, State, Zip Code
Putting It All Together
At this point, you should have a solid idea of how to list references on a resume. Use all of the tips, the sample, and the template to your advantage. That way, if you ever need to include professional references as part of your resume, you’ll be good to go.
Co-Founder and CEO of TheInterviewGuys.com. Mike is a job interview and career expert and the head writer at TheInterviewGuys.com.
His advice and insights have been shared and featured by publications such as Forbes, Entrepreneur, CNBC and more as well as educational institutions such as the University of Michigan, Penn State, Northeastern and others.
Learn more about The Interview Guys on our About Us page.