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“Oh, I get by with a little help from my friends” — Joe Cocker. There’s a reason this song is so beloved by so many generations — it’s just really nice when someone has your back, isn’t it? Long story short, that’s what resume references are — a list of people you can trust to vouch for your character and work ethic when it matters most; that is, when you are looking to find a new job.
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But, as usual, it is not all that simple.
So should you include references or you resume, or shouldn’t you?
If so, how many?
And where should you put them?
Should they be on a separate page?
And how should they be formatted?
So many questions! Don’t worry, I am here to walk you through this, step by step 😄 In this guide, you will find the answers to all the above mentioned questions and more.
But what if you don’t even have a resume yet? Or what if it’s a CV you need to write, not a resume at all, and you have no idea where to start working on that behemoth of a document? That’s not a problem, either.
So, are you ready?
Let’s get started! 😄
Times change, and with them the idea of what’s appropriate and what isn’t. Wearing a suit and tie used to be seen as an absolute must during a job interview, but that can now seem comically out of place if you are interviewing with a trendy, laid-back millennial-run tech company.
The same goes for heels for women — in the 21st century, getting a job is, or at least should be about your skills and experience, and much less about how long your legs are.
Opinions on whether references should be included on a resume have been changing as well. In the past, they were considered an absolute must, as a form of guarantee that you were in fact who you claimed to be.
Nowadays, there are many other ways of checking the legitimacy of a candidate’s career claims.
So should you include references in your resume?
The answer is: only if the job offer makes it clear that they are required.
If not, don’t bother, as it might make you come off a little too old-fashioned or overzealous.
Besides, providing lots of unnecessary information doesn’t mean you are automatically the best candidate. Learning to leave well enough alone is an important life lesson.
But for the sake of this article, let’s say that references were explicitly requested in the job offer you are interested in 😄 Or perhaps they were requested at a later stage of the recruitment process, say after the first interview.
Let’s move on to how to how to add them properly.
References can undermine your candidacy as much as they can bolster it, so keep these few important things in mind.
Let’s start with the obvious: choose people you are fairly certain will speak well of you.
save yourself the grief and don’t bother listing them, no matter how well they know you.
Human pettiness knows no bounds, and people who dislike you are not above sabotaging your endeavors. Look at that! Another important life lesson! We are on a roll today.
The second thing to keep in mind when choosing references is diversity.
You don’t just want 1 group of people, say former bosses. Keep things interesting by providing different perspectives on your work from:
This list of people you can and should include on your reference list somewhat begs the question of who should NOT be on it. Well, first off, your mother. Even though she would definitely give a most glowing recommendation of her very nice boy, you’re going to have to pass on this one. 😄
Seriously, though. There are people who think that listing their personal friends as references is a good idea, something that both baffles and amuses any recruiter — wow, your friends like you, who could have guessed?
Sarcasm aside, it CAN BE alright to list your friends as references but only under the condition that their opinion is somehow relevant, meaning they have had some professional experience with you, and not just that you play a hella mean game of beer pong.
Long story short, stick with professional references.
And last but not least, the million dollar question: should you list your CURRENT boss?
Listing your current boss as a reference when looking for a new job kind of has disaster written all over, don’t you think?
I mean, what if you don’t get that new job and you end up stuck at a company where your boss knows you are looking for any opportunity to jump ship? That’ll put a damper on the atmosphere at work for sure. At the very least.
So unless your boss knows about and supports your decision to move on to greener pastures, you’d best omit them. If you want to explain why your current boss is conspicuously absent from your list of references, bring the issue up briefly (!) in your cover letter.
Here, you could explain that you have not included your current boss as reference for confidentiality reasons.
You could then state you would be pleased to provide their name and contact information once a conditional offer is made, as offers are often made subject to satisfactory references from your current employer. Diplomacy is everything 😄
So now you know whom to choose, and all that’s really left to do is, well, do it.
But don’t just jot them down and send them off.
It’s now time you do something that’s both a courtesy and a way to check if the contact information you want to put down is accurate — contact the people you have chosen as references to ask if it is okay to provide their contact details.
Regardless of context, it is generally considered rude to just pass out someone else’s personal information and phone number, even in work-related situations.
Plus, if you get in touch with your potential references before adding them to your resume, they will be better prepared to answer questions about you than if a phone call interrogating them about you comes right out of nowhere.
And this means they can be even more helpful!
On the other hand, someone’s annoyance that you gave a stranger their phone number without their permission or warning may influence what they say about you. Ouch, right?
So take the time to shoot your potential references a quick email, or give them a quick call if you have a closer relationship. While you’re at it, you can double-check their personal data to make sure you get it right on your resume. Win-win!
So you’ve contacted all the people you wanted to list as references and like in every cheesy romantic comedy, they all said yes!
Now all you have to do is actually list them, so let’s get on that.
Let’s start with the basic question of how many references to provide — even if you have a lot of people to choose from, burying the recruiter in a stack of references that looks like the Houston yellow pages is both overwhelming and unnecessary.
Between 3 and 5 references is generally considered the optimal number, so stick with that.
It is best to attach your references as a separate page, as attempting to cram them into your resume will take up space you could use to talk about your experience and skills.
Your reference page should be formatted the same way that your resume was, meaning:
In the spirit of making your reference page just like your resume, start with your own personal details, just as you did at the top of your resume. This means:
Below that, put the date. Next, put the contact details of the person recruiting you:
Now for the main attraction: your references.
Start by heading the section “Professional references”.
List each reference almost the same way you did the recruiter’s: their name, followed by their position, the company they work for, and the company’s mailing address. Finish by adding the person’s email address. Otherwise, how would the recruiter get in touch with them?
Now lather, rinse, repeat until you have gone through your list.
Each reference listed should look like this:
Adam Jackson Customer Service Specialist Bank of America 495 Elmwood Ave Buffalo, NY 14222 firstname.lastname@example.org
We talked about this before — if the job offer explicitly requests references, provide them; if not, don’t. Simple.
Taking up precious space on your resume to say “References available upon request” is like when someone you know says they’ve heard some juicy gossip about you that they just can’t tell you about.
“SO WHY DID YOU BOTHER MENTIONING IT THEN, SHEILA?!” you want to shout at them.
And that’s how this makes any recruiter feel.
Either give them the goods (they asked for) or keep this to yourself. Simple as that.
Take a look at this short checklist to make sure you’ve got all the most important aspects of listing your references covered before you send that list off.
And that’s it, that’s all there is to it. You now have a neat, informative list of people to vouch for what a great employee and all-around stand-up guy you are. Don’t forget to come back here so we can prepare for your job interview when you get invited! 😄