How And When to Include CV References (the Right Way)

27 December 2023
6 min read
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CV references can be a super important part of your job application.

If done right, they can really give you the edge you need. A positive character assessment from a reputable and reliable source could be what sets you apart from other, equally qualified candidates. 

But if you do it wrong, though, the references could make your CV look sloppy and unprofessional. 

With so much at stake, you definitely don’t want to make any mistakes.  

Worry not, though! In this article, we’ll teach you all you need to know about CV references.

  • What are CV References?
  • How to Choose the Right CV Reference?
  • When Should You Include References on a CV?
  • How to Include References on a CV?

And more! So, let’s dive right in:

What Are CV References (And What Purpose Do They Serve?)

CV references are people whose contact information you give to recruiting professionals so that they can vouch for your character, skills, and work performance. 

Recruiters like to use your references to double-check what you’ve written on your CV, as many candidates actually lie on their applications. In fact, 85% of employers say they have caught applicants lying on their CVs

If you provide references in your CV, the recruiters will either call or email them and request information about you, such as:

  • What is their relationship to you?
  • Are you a good employee?
  • Why are you no longer working for them?
  • What are your defining characteristics such as abilities, work ethics, interpersonal skills, punctuality, etc?
  • Will you be a good fit for the job you are applying for?

How to Choose the Right References

When choosing your references, you should keep in mind that recruiting professionals will almost always check them. So be very careful with who you include in the list. 

For example, you might be tempted to include a reference that sounds really impressive on paper. This person could hold a very high position in your company or even be a well-known professional in the field. But this won’t do you much good unless they actually know you well enough to have something meaningful to say about you. 

Traditionally, you should provide at least two references on your CV. The first one should be your current or former employer, and the second can be someone who knows you well in a professional or academic setting. 

Are you a recent university graduate? In that case, it’s acceptable to include two academic references as opposed to a professional.

Also keep in mind that if you are using a former employer as a reference, it should be the most recent one. Otherwise, the recruiter might think that you have something to hide. 

Some good examples of possible references include:

  • Current or previous employers
  • Manager and supervisors
  • Professors and teacher
  • Colleague and business partners
  • Trainer and coaches

In addition to their relationship with you, you should also consider how well they will be able to communicate your virtues. Your references should be authoritative, well-spoken, and friendly.

Can I Ask a Family Member or Friend For a Reference?

You might be wondering, “well my friend or family member is well-spoken and they know me better than anyone else, so can I use them as a reference?”

The answer is no, that would be a bad idea. 

Though they might know you well enough, they aren’t reliable references in the eyes of the recruiting professional. Their personal relationship with you makes them biased. 

Should I Include References on My CV?

Despite what you might have been told, it isn’t always necessary to include references on a CV. In fact, sometimes it might even be counterproductive to do so.

In this section, we’ll teach you when to include references and when to leave them out. 

When Should I Include CV References?

You should include references on your CV when:

  • It is requested by your prospective employer. In some cases, recommendations are listed as a required part of your application, alongside your CV and cover letter.
  • It will help out the recruiter. It can make the recruiter’s job much easier if they have references to help them get a clear picture of what kind of employee you are.
  • You received accolades from the reference. If you have received any rewards or promotions in your previous work experience for your outstanding work, this can be a great opportunity to highlight your achievements.
  • You want to impress your employer. If you have a reference who is renowned and well-respected or holds a high position at your previous job or school, their words can hold more weight to the recruiters. Just make sure that the reference knows you well and can give meaningful information about you when they are contacted.
  • You want to make your CV more credible. When recruiting professionals see that you have provided references on your CV, it can boost your credibility. It makes you appear more honest, as it clearly shows you have nothing to hide, and reliable, as your previous employers must have good things to say about you.
  • You have space left on your CV. If your CV has a large amount of space left at the bottom, it’s a good idea to fill it out and give it a more complete look. This can be the case especially if you are a recent graduate or are otherwise new to the job market.

When Shouldn’t I Include CV References?

All that being said, there are certain circumstances when it’s best to leave out your CV references. 

These circumstances can include:

  • References aren’t required during the early stages of your application.
  • You are specifically asked not to include them.
  • You don’t have enough references (2 or 3 at least).
  • The references aren’t relevant to the position you are applying for.
  • You have been fired or have otherwise ended your contract on bad terms.
  • You don’t have enough space on your CV to include them. Your work experience and skills are much more important so if they don’t leave enough for the references, you can just skip them.

If any of these are true for you, the safest bet is to leave them out and write instead: “references available upon request”.

How to Include References in my CV?

If you have decided to include references on your CV after all, here’s how you should do it:

The first step to writing CV references is always to ask for permission. It isn’t good etiquette to give away someone’s contact information without first checking if they are ok with it. Besides, you probably won’t be getting the best character appraisal if your reference is caught off-guard. 

After this, you can get to the formatting. 

Here are the steps you should follow to properly format your references:

  1. Give your reference’s full name and job title so the recruiter will know this is an authoritative person.
  2. Add the name of their company and work address.
  3. Provide the reference’s work phone number and email but make sure not to give out any private contact information.
  4. Briefly describe your relationship with the reference. Why are they the right person to give reliable information about you?

You can use the following template to help you write your reference list:

Reference template:

Reference’s full name

Job title

Company name

Work address

Work phone number, extension code (if applicable) 

Work email

Brief description of the reference’s relationship with you 

These references can be included either at the bottom of your CV or on a second page.

What not to do:

  • Write long, poorly organized references
  • Choose bad references such as - employers who are not recent, not relevant to your position, or are biased.
  • Provide personal contact information or home address.
  • Leave out any of the key information.
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Examples of CV References

If you’ve followed the instructions correctly, your references should like something like these

#1) Reference on CV

Frank Smith

General Manager - Stop and buy Corp.

Eugene, Oregon 97401


Relationship: Direct line manager at previous job.

#2) Reference on CV

Dr. Jessica Peterson

Director of Research - Research Laboratories, Inc.

Salt Lake City, Utah 84113

801-213-8358, ext. 3

Relationship: Served as a research assistant to Dr. Peterson

#3) Reference on CV

Prof. Stacy Oliver

Professor of Engineering - Penworth University

Southfield, Michigan 48075


Relationship: Professor in Engineering  

Each of these references is well organized, includes all of the necessary information, and is an appropriate reference! 

On the other hand, take a look at some bad examples of CV references so that you know exactly what NOT to do. 

Incorrect Example 1

John Goode

Customer Service Representative

Best Goods, LLC

3623 Howard St. 

Grand Rapids, Michigan 49503


Relationship: Childhood best friend

Though the formatting looks good at first glance, it is an inappropriate reference since there is a deep personal relationship with the applicant, rather than a professional or academic one. 

Incorrect Example 2

Linda P. Holland

Rowan Marketing, Inc.

1408 Summit Rd.

Davenport, Iowa 52806

This has the beginnings of a good reference. However, there are several key pieces of information missing. 

The referee’s job title is not included, so your recruiter will not know if they are an authoritative reference, and the phone number is missing so the means of communication is limited. 

On top of that, the relationship between the applicant and reference is not stated so the recruiter cannot tell if they are a reliable source. 

Incorrect Example 3

Stephan McCarthy

Relationship: Previous supervisor 


Floor Supervisor 

738 Quill Rd.

Columbus, Ohio 43215

Duncan Textiles, Inc. 

This reference is actually appropriate and includes all of the relevant information, but it’s a jumbled mess! It’s difficult to make sense of the information and makes the applicant look disorganized and sloppy. 

Key Takeaways

Now you’re ready to start writing your references! If you decide to include them, that is.

Just remember these 3 main points: 

  1. Include references only if the circumstances are right. For example - if it is requested by the employer, will be useful to the recruiter, or will make you look good or more credible. 
  2. Choose your references carefully. Make sure they are relevant to the position you’re applying to, your relationship is professional or academic, and they know you well enough to provide a useful characterization. 
  3. Follow the steps to properly format your references. Make sure you include the reference’s full name, job title, company name, work address, work phone number, work email, and a brief description of their relationship with you. 

Wondering what else you should be putting on your resume? Check out our list of everything your resume should include