How to List References on Resume [3+ Real-Life Examples]

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9 min read

You’ve applied for an office position. You can’t wait to get an interview with the HR department.

Everything seems good to go, but now, the HR asked you for a list of your references.

So, how do you do this?

Are you supposed to attach it to your resume? Who do you include in your resume references? Is there a custom format style? 

Well, kick back and relax because we’re here to help answer all your uncertainties!

Read on to learn everything you need to know about listing references on a resume.

This guide is going to teach you:

  • Whether you should or shouldn’t put a reference sheet on your resume.
  • How to properly list references on a resume (with pro-tips).
  • The best way to format a “References” section.
  • Helpful resume references examples.

Should You Include References on a Resume? 

The general common practice that the majority of resume experts agree on is that you should NOT add a list of references to your resume

Why? 

Because, generally, the HR department doesn’t have time to go through every candidate’s list of references. They have a lot more important things to do than reach out to all the references every single candidate ever provided.

That’s why references aren’t requested until after your interview has gone well or right before you are hired.

But here’s the thing: 

That’s not an unshakable no.

If the job description explicitly states that you should include references on your resume, without question, include one! 

This is very straightforward on its own, you’ll know when you see it. 

Some consulting firms, for example, tend to ask for testimonials on your performance from previous employers before they hire you. 

In this case, it's best if you do include the contact information of the people providing you with their positive feedback, so the HR can check how legitimate they are.

Bottom line: 

Every word on your resume should be full of value and quality. References add unnecessary space. Insert them only when required or if you’re asked to submit testimonials.

references on resume

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How to List References on a Resume [+ Example]

Now, let’s say you’re requested to provide a list of references. 

What’s the best way to display it? 

Here’s the right way to list professional references on a resume:

  1. Reference's First Name & Last Name - Tim Borden
  2. Professional Position / Title - Marketing Coordinator
  3. Name of the Reference's Company - Zen Corporation
  4. Business Address - Blaine Ave
  5. City, State, Zip of Company - Atlantic City, NJ, 07030
  6. Phone Number of Reference - (600) 753 9216
  7. Email Address of Reference - timborden@zencoorporation.com

It’s best to stay ahead of the game. 

Keeping a list of possible references is something that should be done in advance, even when you’re not looking for a job. 

When you’re searching for a new position, you want to have a list of several names to contact. 

You wouldn’t want to struggle coming up with good fits on short notice, would you? 

Here are some more tips to keep in mind: 

You should always start your list with your biggest fan first: your most important and impressive reference. 

And no, this shouldn’t be your mom. Instead, you’d want your previous boss to vouch for you. 

Busy employers may not contact all of your references, but they will likely start at the top of the list. Glowing recommendations shouldn’t be left last!

What’s more, it’s important to clarify your relationship

It’s crucial to include what your working relationship to the reference is and how long you’ve known them for. 

But do not overshare. Don’t add more than the items we mentioned on the list unless required. 

And never include the personal mail addresses of your references for two reasons:

They will surely not be contacted via snail mail. 

And they might not want all of their personal information shared. 

Last, but not least:

Choose your references appropriately. 

Always choose the best references for the specific job under consideration. 

Let’s say you want to assert your marketing skills. In this situation, you could seek references from a former boss who can attest to that. Somebody like the Head of Marketing or Chief Marketing Officer

How to Format a Resume References Section 

Learning how to arrange a reference section is just as vital as other sections of your resume or cover letter. 

A messy, carelessly formatted reference page will lose your employer's interest. 

So how do you write one that’s eye-catching and professional?

First, put your references on a separate sheet. Add an exclusive reference page, as the last page of your resume. 

Keep the same format for your reference sheet as your resume and cover letter, meaning use the same font, margins, and color scheme. 

  1. Start off at the very top with your name, address, and phone number. You should place this information on that side of the page that fits the look of your cover letter and resume. (left, right or in the middle). 
  2. Next, write the date. Then start with your employer's information in this specific order: name, job position, company name, and company address. 
  3. Finally, follow up with a preferred title/subtitle: name the section References or Professional References

If you’ve included personal references as well, you could also add “Personal References” as a subtitle. 

Use the formatting we discussed in the previous section to list your references.

Pro Tip

Ditch the common “References available upon request”. 

This is a frequent mistake. Employers formerly know this and it’s an overworked phrase. The general rule of thumb is to keep your resume as brief as possible. Why misuse the space? 

How Many References Should You Include in Your Resume? 

Though there really isn’t a written rule anywhere about how many references you should include, the most fitting number would be three to five

Based on your career level though, there is a general division of two groups:

Regular and/or first-time job seekers, should usually provide 3 to 4. 

Whereas people applying for senior roles should include a longer list: about 5 to 7 references. 

In that case, it’s sufficient to list one reference for all the different points in your professional record. 

Who is a Good Reference For Your Resume? 

It’s important that all the references in your resume are all deliberately selected individuals

Everyone’s aunt thinks that they are special, but what does your previous manager think about your work ethic?

To figure out who’s a good reference for you, you should take personal experience into consideration: that means what stage in your career you’re currently in. 

Why? 

Because you’d list different people at different points in your career. 

If you are a student or recent graduate with little to no work practice, you would want to get references from:

  • Guidance tutors or counselors
  • Advisors 
  • Mentors 
  • Course teachers and professors 

Any of these people can speak positively about your best skills, qualities, and experiences. 

When you have some professional background, however, even at an entry-level position, you have more variety in selecting a good reference. 

You could use former colleagues or managers as well as project, master, doctorate supervisors from your most current studies. 

If you are a professional candidate, this process becomes simpler as your preferred references will be more acquainted with giving and requesting references. 

Pro tips

  • If you don’t have a lot of professional references to count on, you can reach out to just about anyone that can provide you with a valuable character reference. 
  • If a friend works in the company you are applying to, you could also use them as a reference.

Other important things you should consider:

  • Ask for permission and say thank you. Fill in your references before handing over their contact information to an eventual employer. It’s solely common courtesy. Send them a copy of your resume as well, so that both of you are in harmony for when the manager calls. Don’t forget to be grateful either. If you get the job, take them out on lunch to properly say thank you. Follow up, a little acknowledgment can go a long way! 
  • DO NOT use family members. This is unconventional and discouraged. The people you use as references should be unrelated to you, in a familial sense. Of course, our mothers have countless nice things to say about us, but their opinion isn’t relevant on a resume. It might also appear as though you don’t have enough people to vouch for you. 
  • Avoid people you’ve confronted. Be careful in not adding individuals you are or have once been in professional conflict with. You can never be too sure if they’re still holding a grudge against you. Play it safe. 
  • Make sure they are comfortable. Especially if they’re a person you are currently still working with, confirm they are okay with you searching for a new job. If you’re trying to keep it a secret from your employer though, it’s best not to ask a current coworker at all. You can never know for certain how ethical or pleased with your success one is. 

In the end, the basic point of a reference is for the employers to get a true reflection of your work ethics, background, character, and personality. 

Find people who can properly display all of the above for you.

3+ Good & Bad Resume Reference Sheet Examples

So many rules! 

But don’t worry - we have some great examples for you to help put them into practice: 

GOOD EXAMPLE:

professional references on resume good example

GOOD EXAMPLE:

how to list references on resume good example

BAD EXAMPLE:

MY BEST AND FAVORITE REFERENCE - inappropriate title 

Martha Payne - a family member as a reference 

2809 Candlelight Drive - including home address

870-294-1238 - wrong listing order, the reference phone number should be second to last

Nursing Assistant - unrelated to your industry or position

Newlife Hospital

4164 Fittro Street 

Lurton, AR, 72848

marthapayne@yahoo.com

Martha is my auntie. She’s not only a well-respected member of the community but a remarkable nurse. She was the one who raised me and I consider her my mother. She knows me better than anybody else and I couldn’t have chosen a better person to speak of my character. - prolonged and unprofessional description 

References available upon request - overused unnecessary phrase

  • providing them only one reference 

Key Takeaways

Here’s a recap of what we learned in this post:

  • References ARE NOT supposed to be on your resume. So when in doubt, DON’T include a list to your resume. 
  • On rare occasions though, references may be added on a resume. If you decide to do so, put your list on a separate sheet. Don’t forget to match it to the style of your cover letter and resume.
  • Be intelligent with your reference choices. Your number of references should correspond to your career stage. Put your most glowing references on the top. Selected those who are closest to your line of work. Avoid people you’ve ever had professional conflicts with.
  • Be diplomatic. Always ask for permission before listing them as references. Email them a copy so that you’re both on the same page. Don’t forget to thank them afterward. 
  • Use the correct formatting. List your references precisely as we showed you in this guide. There’s a definite, proper way to arrange entries and the structure of the page itself - don’t contradict it. Use the examples we gave you as a guide.

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