Including References on Your Resume
Should you include references on your resume itself, or should an attached list of references accompany your resume when you apply for jobs? A list of references is a list of the people who the employer might contact to learn more information about you. These people should be able to vouch for your qualifications for a job. Sometimes an employer will contact only one person on the list, and other times an employer will contact everyone.
The employer might reach out to speak to these references either via email or on the phone. A list of strong references can be a great way to demonstrate your qualifications for a position – but this doesn’t mean that you should automatically include one with your resume.
When Not to Include References
If a job posting doesn't request references, the answer is simple: don't list any references on your resume or send any references with your job application. There are a few good reasons for this. Although including a list of references on a resume was de rigeur thirty years ago, this practice has almost disappeared over the last decade.
Providing references on the resume itself can thus peg you as an older job candidate (even if you aren’t). Employers also realize that it has become policy for many companies *not* to provide references for their personnel (because of potential lawsuits if they provide a poor reference).
They thus do not expect job candidates to provide such a list.
Finally – even if you trust your references to provide a strong recommendation – there is always the chance that a) they will not actually do so, or b) they themselves are known to and not respected by the hiring committee members who will be reviewing your resume.
When the job posting does request references, follow the instructions in the job posting when you submit your references. Unless instructed to do so, do not include the list on your resume; rather, create it as a separate list of three references to send to the company.
When an Employer Requests References
In some cases, an employer will request references in the job posting. For example:
Applicants must submit the following documents online:
- Cover letter
- A list of three professional references with telephone numbers and email addresses
When references are required as part of the job application, send or upload a separate page with a list of references. This list should include each reference’s name, job title, company, address, phone, and email address. If the job listing asks you to submit a list of references but does not tell you how many you need, include three on the list. This is the typical number of references that employers want for each candidate.
How to Request a Reference
When you give out someone's name as a reference, first of all, be sure that you have permission to use them as a reference. Secondly, let them know they may expect to be contacted.
This will better prepare them to provide a strong recommendation for you if they are contacted.
Provide some information on the job you have applied for, so your reference can relate your experience to the job and give you the best possible reference for the job. You might also provide the person with an updated resume or list of your skills and qualifications.
If possible, select people who can speak to your skills and qualifications as they relate to the job you’re applying for. Only choose people who you know will give you a positive recommendation. These are typically employers, business acquaintances, professors, or even customers or vendors.
Sample Reference List
Below is a sample reference list. You can use it as a template for your own reference list.
City, State Zip
Human Resources Manager
City, State Zip
City, State Zip
City, State Zip
Here is another sample reference list for employment for you to use as a template.
If you’re going to include a cover letter, make sure it includes these 3 things
Let your resume set ‘em up, and your cover letter knock ‘em down.
Recently, we discovered that the cover letter is just about dead. It’s not completely obsolete yet, but we learned from recruiters that they spend precious little time reviewing job candidates’ materials—and according to a 2015 survey, only 18% of hiring managers consider the cover letter important.
Even so, many jobs still ask you to file a letter along with your other application materials. And even if it’s optional, you might take the opportunity if they’ve asked. “The cover letter provides you the opportunity to connect the dots for the human resources staff,” says Vickie Seitner, executive business coach and founder of Career Edge One in Omaha, Nebraska.
So if you’re going to submit one, first, make sure each letter is tailored to the job you’re applying for and references the position. Second, make sure each cover letter you write includes these three elements.
Proof that you’ve done your homework
Recruiters and hiring managers want to see that you know what you’re getting yourself into. It’s important in the early sections of your cover letter that you refer to the job, its title and the company in some form.
And don’t be afraid to do a little flattering. Impress your potential future boss with an acknowledgement of a major company success. Bonus points if that success relates to the team you’d be joining.
Management expert Alison Green, in a 2007 post on her Ask A Manager blog, gives an example of how you’d sneak this info into your cover letter narrative. This is an excerpt from her sample cover letter, which would be included as part of an application for a magazine staff writer job.
I’m impressed by the way you make environmental issues accessible to non-environmentalists (particularly in the pages of Sierra Magazine, which has sucked me in more times than I can count), and I would love the opportunity to be part of your work.
The writing is informal, flattering and shows the job applicant knows the ropes.
An explanation of how your skills relate
Your cover letter is also the written explanation of your resume as it relates to the job. So it’s important you explain in the letter what exactly it is you can do for this company and this role based on your previous experience.
Here’s one revolutionary approach that accomplishes this without boring the reader to death. Darrell Gurney, career coach and author of Never Apply for a Job Again: Break the Rules, Cut the Line, Beat the Rest, asks the job candidate to write what he calls a “T-Letter.”
This is a letter with a two-sentence intro followed by two columns: One on the left headed, “Your Requirements” and one on the right headed, “My Qualifications.” Bye-bye big, boring blocks of text.
Using the job description, pull out sentences that express what they are looking for and place those in the “Your Requirements” column. Then add a sentence for each to the “My Qualifications” column that explains how your skills match those.
It’s an aggressive, bold approach. But one that could set you apart from the rest.
“You have a short-and-sweet, self-analyzed litmus test that they will read,” Gurney says. “It is pointed and has them, at minimum, think that this person has at least looked to see a congruent fit.”
Of course, you can also do this in a more traditional way—simply stating how your skills connect to the job.
Your excitement about the position
Here’s an exercise: Think about yourself in the job you’re applying for. What do you feel? You’re probably pretty pumped, huh.
Now harness some of that excitement and put it down on paper.
For example, if you were applying to a web design or UX job, you could write, “For as long as I can remember, I’ve been interested in how the digital world works and how users interact with websites. Website design is not only my career, it’s my passion, which is why I hope you’ll consider me for this great role on your team.”
This has feeling and emotion; a far cry from the dry form letter you thought you had to write.
As we said, HR staff and hiring managers have limited time and a lot of resumes to sort through. Don’t put them to sleep. Create something they’ll remember you by. It just might be the difference between your application ending up in the trash or the inbox of the boss.
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