How to list references on resume

How to List References on a Resume in 2021 (with Examples & Tips)

In this guide, we will cover everything you need to know about including references on a resume, from how to format them to how to know when they should be included at all.

Ed Moss
Written by Ed Moss • Last updated on May 11, 2021


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Should I Put References on a Resume?

The answer to whether or not to put references on your resume can vary. 

The general rule of thumb when is actually to not include references on your resume.

This is because employers are unlikely to reach to references until the interview phase, making the inclusion of them on an initial resume typically unnecessary.

This does not mean that there are never scenarios in which you will need to know how to properly list references.

For specific jobs and in certain situations, you may be asked or required to include a list of references within or alongside your resume. 

When you need strong references, it's important to structure them so that they stand out and impress the hiring manager, landing you the pivotal interview. 

In this guide, we will be covering the basics of how listing references on your resumes and when to know it’s time to use references.

Plus, we will discuss alternatives to sending references that can help you in situations where sending a reference may be a difficult task. 

How to List References on a Resume

When it comes to listing references on a resume, there are two main ways you can go about it:

1) Make a Dedicated Reference Section

Making a dedicated reference section involves making the space on your existing resume to include a short section with information on your references.

2) Create a Separate Reference Page (recommended)

More often than not, job applicants who have chosen to include references on their resume will do so on an entirely separate page to be included with the resume. 

The second option of listing your references on a separate page is actually the preferred and recommended method.

This is because references are not generally expected to be included on an initial resume and can take up unnecessary space that may be off-putting to hiring managers.

Comparatively, a separate page of references gives the hiring manager the opportunity to look more closely at the information in the resume without becoming visually disoriented by too many sections.

Hint: Not sure how to list other sections of your resume? Check out our Resume Guides to learn more about how to craft each section of your resume. 

When to Put References on a Resume

So, if it is typically not expected to have references included on an initial resume, when is the best time to include references on a resume?

Creating a reference section or page can be necessary depending on a number of situations, including:

  • If the employer has specifically requested for references to be included in the job description
  • If you have progressed further down the hiring process and have been asked to provide references before or after an interview
  • If you are applying to governmental or institutional position, such as a federal job, that will require strong references and a background check
Quick Tip: If you have impressive references, such as a company CEO or another recognizable figure, be sure to make these the most noticeable references and the first ones you list in your reference section. 

Overall, the golden rule is to wait to provide references until they are requested. 

Examples of References on Resumes

Let’s take a look at a few examples of references on resumes to learn more about common mistakes made when crafting a reference and how to correct them. 

It is highly important to include the necessary information to contact a reference – just a name and company is not enough. You should always include at least an official business number and an official business email in your references. 

Incorrect:

John Doe
CEO of Doe Corporation 
123 Avenue Way, New York, NY

Correct:

John Doe
CEO of Doe Corporation

123 Avenue Way
(123) 456-9890
johndoe@email.com 

Always be specific when including the reference’s job position or title.

Don’t just list the name of the company without the exact job title to go along with it.

If you are unsure of a reference’s job title, ask them before submitting your references to an employer. 

Incorrect:

Jane Smith
Works for corporate at Best Buy

42 Wallaby Way
(123) 456-7890
Jane.smith@bestbuy.com

Correct:

Jane Smith
Head of Marketing and Sales
Best Buy

42 Wallaby Way
(123) 456-7890
Jane.smith@bestbuy.com
Bookkeeper

How to Format a References Section on a Resume

Formatting a reference section will ultimately depend on if it is being created within a larger resume or separately on a different page.

For on-resume reference sections, it is important to keep them as short as possible, potentially even excluding some of the basic information. 

If you are including references directly on a resume, you will likely only want to include one or two of your most relevant and impressive ones in order to not take up too much space. 

When making a separate page for references, you can simply stack them as you would jobs in a work experience section, placing emphasis on relevance in how the references are ordered. 

The Basic Reference Format:

  • First and Last name
  • Position or Title (i.e. CEO, professor of law, etc.)
  • Company or University of Employment
  • Company or University Address (not personal addresses)
  • Company or University Phone number
  • Company or University Email Address

It is important when writing out your references that you do not include personal information about the reference, such as a personal cellphone number or email, without their explicit permission.

It is best to just air on the side of caution and only include official and public contact information. 

There is, of course, optional additional information you may want or choose to include within a reference.

This can include:

  • Your relationship to the reference
  • The length of time you worked with this reference
  • Examples of experiences or projects that you and a reference shared work on that they can provide greater detail about

As for formatting the rest of your resume, don’t forget to check out our other guides in this series including How to Write the Perfect Resume in 2021 and How to Choose the Correct Resume Format in 2021!

What Not to Include in a Reference on a Resume

We have already covered the basics of what to include and how to format a basic reference – but what kind of information should be excluded from a reference on a resume. 

Here is a quick breakdown of what kinds of information should be excluded from a reference:

  • Any personal information
  • Lengthy descriptions of your relationship to the reference
  • Personal anecdotes or other non-essential information
  • Too many references from the same company or employer

You ultimately want to provide concise references that are easy to ready quickly and clearly show why that person has been included as a reference.

Take a look at these two examples on correcting reference errors:

When including additional information, keep it to one line or less of the most relevant information.

Additionally, keep additional specific and don’t use vague wording such as “several years.”

Incorrect:

Jack Frost
CEO of Frost Inc.

21 East Avenue
(123) 456-7890
jack@frost.com

I worked closely with Jack for a number of years and learned a lot from him that contributed to my skills today. 

Correct:

Jack Frost
CEO of Frost Inc.


21 East Avenue
(123) 456-7890
jack@frost.com

I worked as Mr. Frost’s personal and administrative assistant for 8 years.

When making your list of references you plan of including, it is important to not include too many from the same company.

You should only really include two references from the same company if each reference witnessed different skills or accomplishments of yours that the other did not. 

Incorrect:

You worked at a corporate company in the communications department as a copywriter, and you have worked with both junior and senior level copywriters who you have included as references.  

Correct:

You include only the senior copywriter as a reference, as they can better attest to your skills and their position is more impressive and relevant to the job you are seeking. 

How Many References to Add to a Resume

Assuming you are using a separate, dedicated references page, the ideal number of references to aim for is between 3 to 4.

In some cases, you may include up to 5 to 6 references, though generally you should limit yourself to a lower number unless specifically requested to do otherwise. 

When selecting your 3 to 4 references, it is important to keep a few factors in mind:

  • Which references hold the highest prestige in their positions, making their inclusion on a references page notable?
  • Which references can provide the most relevant information about your work ethic and skills for the job you are currently applying for?
  • Which references do you have the strongest relationships with who will go above and beyond to recommend you to a hiring manager?
Auditor

Who to Ask for References

As you are creating your list of potential references to contact, there are a number of different types of people you can consider including.

It is important to keep in consideration how a reference can relate back to the job you are applying for, and whether their testimony of your work ethic and skills will be relevant enough for the desired position. 

Here are some common examples of who to include as references:

  • Former employer or manager
  • Supervisor or low-level management
  • Coworker, colleague, or team member
  • College professor
  • Internship supervisor 
  • Community member (typically used when a job applicant has limited references but has connections within the community who can validate their experience and skills)
  • Business partners (this can be anyone you worked on a project with or shared a similar business experience with)

How to Ask for a Reference

Asking for professional references can be a bit nerve-wrecking, especially if your references are busy people.

The key to asking for references is to be polite and concise in your request. A direct phone call is preferred for asking for references, but a quick email can work in a pinch as well. 

When asking someone to serve as a reference for you, it is important to be considerate of their potentially busy schedule and give them a good time frame for when to expect a call or email.

This is another reason why it is important to wait to provide references until requested, as it will give you a narrower window of time to give to your references of when they will need to be on the lookout a hiring manager to contact them. 

Quick Tip: When you call or email to ask for a reference, this is a great time to confirm that the information you have is correct (such as their specific title and business phone number).

Can People You Have a Personal Relationship with Be a Reference?

It is generally advised against to include references that have a strong personal relationship with you outside of work (such as a significant other, parent, or sibling) as this can result in a biased recommendation from the reference. 

However, exceptions can be made in certain instances, such as if you worked within a family-owned business or if the reference worked directly with you for a long period of time.

In general, however, try to avoid including references that are too personally related to you. 

Alternative Methods for Sending References

If you are a new graduate or are returning to the workforce after some time away, you may not have many recent professional references to include in a resume.

For recent grads, including one or two professors can be acceptable, but you will likely still need other references.

Here are some examples of alternative references when you lack strong professional ones:

  • Volunteers you have worked with
  • Professors or teachers who have recently taught you
  • Community members such as church pastors or mentors who can attest to your character
Legal Assistant

Final Takeaways

Ultimately, the key to doing references right is to wait to provide them until they are requested by a hiring manager or potential employers.

Once references have been requested, remember the following five takeaways that are key for rocking your reference section:

  • Create a separate and dedicated references page to go along with your resume
  • Provide all the necessary official contact information
  • Avoid including personal information of the reference’s 
  • Avoid including references who share too personal of a connection to you
  • Include the most relevant or impressive references at the top of the page

To learn more about all the elements of creating a great resume, check out our beautiful resume template designs and resume examples for inspiration!

Ed Moss is an author for Easy Resume
Ed Moss
Ed is a co-founder of Easy Resume. His background in scaling teams at tech startups over the last decade has given him extensive experience and knowledge around how to hire top talent and build successful teams. He enjoys mentoring, coaching, and helping others reach their career goals. When he's not writing about career-related advice, he's playing with his dog, Lilo, or going on long hikes in upstate New York.
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