Imagine this: You’ve just applied for this position. The interview goes smoothly, and now you can’t wait to receive your offer letter.
But, out of the blue, HR asks you for a list of references.
So what should you do next?
Can you just attach it to your resume? Who should you include in your references? And how many references should you have?
Sit back and relax: The Jobandedu team is here to clear up all of your confusion! Keep on reading, and I will cover everything you need to know about how to use references to your greatest advantage.
Table of Contents
What Is A Reference For A Job?
Everyone wants to show off their smartest, most professional selves on their resumes with fancy words. Still, sometimes your potential employer might want to understand your previous work performance beyond what they can see in a resume. In some cases, they would like to talk to your former or current employers to get to know the real you. That’s when you will be asked for a list of job references.
Simply put, job references are people who can confirm your claims about your experience, education, skills, character, and professional achievements.
How Many References Should You Have?
So when your potential employers request a list, how many references should you have? That’s a tricky question. Of course, just one or two is not enough: HR can only form a thorough impression of you as a candidate after listening to diverse perspectives. However, giving them too many references might be off-putting and confusing since they don’t have enough time and resources to go through all. Yes, too much of a good thing can be bad!
Therefore, the ideal number of references to provide is 3 to 4, as experts suggest. This number might vary, depending on the role and the company. For instance, if you apply for a senior position in a government agency, up to 7 references might be required with your application. Unless specifically mentioned, though, you shouldn’t list more than 4.
According to Pam Venne, principal of the Venne Group, you should always keep a list of up to 10 people who can act as references to you. “That way, whenever you need to provide references, you can choose the best people to represent the qualities you want to highlight for the opportunity,” she said. Then, from the list, prepare a short list of 3 – 4 references for each interview. It helps you avoid “overusing” some referees and making them annoyed or less enthusiastic about you.
What Kind Of References Should You Have?
But what if you can’t even come up with 3 references simply because you don’t have enough work experience? What if you don’t know how to track down your former manager, even if you think he would like to talk about how flawless your sundae-making skills are?
Well, you might be relieved to know that there are two types of references: Professional and personal.
Professional references can give employers an insight into who you are at work, such as your performance and work ethic. Generally, you will want to list your former manager or current one if they know and support your job search. Former or current colleagues are also in a good position to talk about your skills, teamwork, and professional abilities.
If you are a fresher and don’t have many former managers, college professors are also considered professional references. The key is to choose professors who have seen you perform in a productive capacity where you proved your skills and qualifications for employment.
Meanwhile, someone who you know outside of work can serve as a personal reference to provide information about your personality and the skills you’ve used in your daily life.
People who can be your character referees include your neighbors or landlords, long-time friends, community leaders, and managers at volunteer organizations. Regardless of who you choose, they should know you well enough to attest to your integrity, dependability, and kindness.
Throughout your job hunt, you might have heard that professional references are more significant than personal ones. However, this is not always the case. “Although you haven’t worked together, personal references can still provide useful information about your value, personality traits, and soft skills”, says Nekpen Osuan Wilson, co-founder and CEO of WomenWerk, “a good personal reference proves that you are well-rounded.”
With that in mind, you can always include a personal reference when you don’t have enough professional references. Entry-level candidates might take advantage of personal references to show off the skills and qualities they possess that are related to the position they’ve applied for. In case your target position requires you to work with a particular group of people (children or those with special needs, etc.), they might help, too.
When choosing your references, it is essential to let the people know that you want to include them in the list. Aside from being polite, asking for permission also gives the referees time to consider your best qualities and accomplishments before employers reach out to them. To help them identify the skills and traits needed for the position, you can give your references, resume and job description in advance.
The Perfect Way To Format A Reference List
Now that you have strategically chosen a few people who can be your referees, the next thing is to prepare your list. In your job application, you will want to keep this list separate from your resume and provide it in another attachment.
Now, here’s my guide on how to format a reference list:
- At the top of the page, put your name and the title “References”.
- List your referees, including their names, current jobs/positions, companies, phone numbers, and email addresses.
- If it’s not clear from your resume, you might want to include information about how you know or have worked with this person, where, when, and for how long. It’s ideal to keep this description in one sentence.
You don’t have to provide the referees’ home or work addresses since your potential employers won’t need that information anyway. Also, if your referees prefer a certain method of contact, you can add “(preferred contact)” next to that line on your reference list. Take a look at the example below:
Joe Smith Jones, Executive Director
(555) 555-556 (Preferred contact)
NOTE: Joe was my boss at Clarify for two years.
To make things more convenient for HR, including your name, email, and phone number at the top of the document can be a good idea.
If Not Asked, Should You Include References In Your Resume?
Adding references to your resume used to be standard protocol, but that was many years ago. Now, career consultants and hiring managers all agree that resumes with references included are undesirable and old-fashioned.
Why is that? Do employers just suddenly lose interest in hearing from college professors that this new grad is the most promising student they have ever had?
Well, several reasons!
Back in the old days, resumes were printed on paper and considered private documents when you couldn’t send mails without licking stamps. It might still be passed around an office, but still, there was no way millions of people could have access to the names and contact info of the referees.
Nowadays, that’s no longer the case: Your resume is now a digital document that’s accessible to anyone. You can (and should) submit your resume on LinkedIn profile or any public job-hunting website.
Would your former co-workers be happy to know that their names, addresses, and phone numbers are put in front of millions of audiences then? I don’t think so. “Privacy” is the number one thing that pushes references on resumes out of vogue.
Another reason is that employers usually spend less than 30 seconds on average reading a resume. Time and space are precious, so just focus on convincing HR to call you for an interview by providing verifiable evidence of your achievements and best skills.
Should you include your references on your resume?
So, unless specifically requested, you shouldn’t include references in your resume. Adding “References available upon request” is unnecessary, too, since hiring managers know that they can always ask. Don’t waste your space on this line unless you want a recruiter to think, “Thanks, Captain Obvious!”
The Bottom Line
How to format your reference list, and how many references should you have? You’ve got the answer now! Not every time will you be asked to provide references for jobs you are applying to. Still, it’s important to keep a reference pool and stay in touch. It will keep you prepared whenever necessary. Beyond that, you can also maintain a good relationship with past employers during the hiring process. This expands your network and opens doors for future opportunities!