References on a Resume 

Updated Oct 13, 20214 min

References on a Resume 

Caroline BantonUpdated Oct 13, 20214 min

Should you list references on your resume or cover letter? The answer is no, and there are some excellent reasons why you shouldn’t. Also, job seekers should avoid the typical line “Resume references available upon request” because you may as well write “Available for interviews on request,” — the hiring manager assumes this to be the case.

However, there may be scenarios where you’re required to include references in the initial stages of a job search. Obviously, this requires a unique course of action as outlined by the employer.

This article explains how to select and approach references in the job application process, when and why you should include them, and how to format them on your resume. We also provide resume references examples.

Why You Should Not Include References in Your Resume If Doing So is Not Specified

You shouldn't provide references when you initially apply for a job. You may decide to select different references as you progress through the initial hiring process and learn more about the work you will be expected to perform.

Also, some companies prefer not to provide references so that they are not exposed to potential lawsuits; thus, many employers do not ask for references. Those that do, usually only ask for them once you are shortlisted for a job interview. Your prospective employer doesn't have time to explore references unless you are a definite candidate.

Lastly, listing references on your resume uses up valuable real estate that is better used to describe your skills, education, work experience, and accomplishments.

Who Are the Best People to Serve as References?

The best references are those you have worked with who you are confident will sing your praises and provide impressive testimonials. Ideally, they will have some association with the industry to which you are applying. Try to find both a former boss and work colleague so that you have a diverse list. Other people who make good references are mentors, advisors, and teachers.

How to Ask Someone to Serve as a Reference

Warning! The worst thing you can do is not give your references a heads up. It’s impolite to expect someone to go out of their way for you without being forewarned and prepared. So, you absolutely must talk to the person or ask them to act as a reference ahead of time—two weeks ahead of time is fair. 

The more personal you can make the request, the more the person will be willing to help you. If you can talk to the person one-on-one, that is ideal. Also, the fact that you are obviously looking to change jobs is likely to be confidential, so a discreet conversation is the right way to keep things on the down-low.  

If you cannot talk to the person in person or by phone, email is fine. Just be sure to compose a polite letter and give the person the required background information, such as the job description and a copy of your resume. 

Depending on the relationship you have with a potential reference, you might be able to have a quick chat with them and ask them to emphasize certain aspects of your character and work history. However, use your judgment here. If you don’t have a very close relationship with the reference, this could backfire. 

Don’t assume that someone will be willing to give you a reference for a new job. They might prefer not to for many reasons. They might be extremely busy, or they might feel that they cannot do you justice. Give them an out by saying something like, “Would you feel comfortable serving as a reference for a position I'm interviewing for?" 

How to List Professional References on a Resume

Your list of job references should be formatted in a similar style and font as your resume.

  • Use a separate page for your reference sheet.

  • Place your name and address at the top of the page and include your phone number and email address.

  • Next, add the company name and address above your first reference entry: first the recruiter’s name (if you have it), then the company’s name, and then the company address. This will ensure that if your resume is separated from your list of references, the hiring manager will know which are your references.

  • Write “Professional References” as the title and list your references below it on your references page.

  • The ideal number of references is between three and five.

  • Format your references consistently and include your reference's name, professional job title, company, and contact information.

  • Describe the relationship the person had with you. For example, whether they were a manager, a work colleague, or a mentor.

  • Note below each person whether they prefer to be contacted by phone or email, and when they would prefer to be contacted.

Pro Tip: Check the professional titles of your references on LinkedIn or ask the person how they would like you to refer to them.

Here’s an example of a reference page template:

Jane Dutton

56 Acadia Avenue

Winslow, PA, 22006


(713) 567 9988


Hiring Manager

IDN Data

89 Main Street

Pittsburgh 20024


Professional References


John Browne

IT Manager

Visions Data

700 Main Drive

Pittsburgh, PA 20035


(712) 456 6788

(Preferred mode of contact: Email)


John was my direct manager at my former employer, Visions Data, from June 2020 to August 2021.


Dr. Jenny Chu

Professor of Computer Science

Carnegie Mellon University

Pittsburgh, PA 23356

(712) 456 6788

(Preferred mode of contact: Phone)


Dr. Chu was my professor for three classes and my faculty advisor for my degree in computer science.


David Byrne

Software Engineer

Visions Data

700 Main Drive

Pittsburgh, PA 20035


(712) 456 6788

(Preferred mode of contact: Email)

David was a former colleague at Visions Data, and we collaborated on many projects together.

Pro tip: Using personal references, a friend or family member, is not recommended. The person does not know you in the professional environment, and a potential employer is not going to put much weight behind what they say. 

Say Thank You

It’s proper etiquette and wise to thank your references. Send a handwritten note and let them know how things went. Hopefully, you got the job! Your references will be delighted to hear that news. Also, a heartfelt thank you will mean that you can ask them for a reference again in the future.

Summary Checklist

  • Don’t provide references unless asked to do so.

  • Select your references wisely based on your relationship with them and the job to which you are applying.

  • Ask your references if they would be willing to provide a reference, and give them at least two weeks’ notice.

  • List references on a separate sheet.

  • Use consistent formatting for your references.

  • Write a thank you note.

Caroline Banton
Expert on career acceleration and business topics with vast experience writing for globally-recognized publications

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