How Many References To Include on a Resume

I may not have been the top candidate for the job opening. There were other writers with more experience and, likely, stronger writing skills. Yet, to my surprise, I landed the job!

The secret? My solid professional references made the difference.

This highlights just how crucial it is to have strong, perhaps even exceptional, references on your resume. They can be the deciding factor in your application’s success or failure. And if you’re under the impression that references are merely a formality, think again.

In this article, we’ll dive into the topic of references: how many to include, and other key insights from industry experts. 

But remember, resume and your references are just a part of your application. You should ensure that you have the right skills to do the job. Upskill today with the best career development courses

three references on your resume

The Myth Busted: How Many Resume References Do You Really Need?

The common myth around job references often leads to confusion about their number and impact. 

Contrary to popular belief, more is not always better. In reality, the quality of your resume references far outweighs the quantity. 

A common guideline suggests having at least three solid references. These should be individuals who not only know your work ethic and skills but also can vouch for your character and achievements. 

It’s crucial to choose references who can provide specific examples of your accomplishments and speak to your potential. 

Industry experts have agreed on the range as well. 

1. Ryan Wong, HR Manager, BarkLikeMeow

“Two to four stellar references are the golden standard. Think variety is the spice of life? Include a mix of professional relationships to showcase your well-roundedness. Remember, quality always trumps quantity, therefore choose only references who’ll truly make you stand out.”

2. Vladimir Terekhov, CEO of Attract Group

“Typically, three to five references are sufficient. This range offers enough voices to affirm your qualifications without overwhelming the hiring manager. Ensure that each reference brings a unique perspective to your candidacy, highlighting different aspects of your professional profile.”

3. Richard Heaton, HR Manager, Cartisian

“Although there isn’t a hard limit on the amount of references, quality is always more important than quantity. Generally, three solid references will be enough. Make sure they jointly highlight various facets of your career, providing a complete picture of your abilities and personality.”

thumbs up as a sign of approval

Maximizing the Impact of Your Resume References: Essential Tips

References remain to be an important part of an application as it builds credibility. 

Harrison Tang of Spokeo offers his expert insight. 

“I want to emphasize the importance of adding references to your resumes. This is because it increases your reliability and credibility. Not only this, but it also reflects that you were able to develop a professional network that can speak to your previous roles, responsibilities, and characters.” 

1. Choose relevant references

Select individuals who have directly observed your work and can attest to your skills and achievements. Ideally, these should be past supervisors, colleagues, or mentors in your field. Ensure they are familiar with your recent work and can speak about your abilities in a meaningful way.

If you are to choose your references, follow this tip from Christy Pyrz of Paradigm Peptides. 

“Many people make the mistake of picking the people who they think have the most impressive credentials to be on their resume, but what they should do is choose indiciduals who provide the backing for what a business is looking for. You can have references that showcase people with accomplished backgrounds but if they can’t speak directly to the qualities that a business is looking for, it will provide them little reason as to why you are right for their position.”

Christy Pyrz, CMO, Paradigm Peptides

2. Provide necessary details

Include each reference’s full name, current position, company, phone number, and email address. This makes it easy for potential employers to contact them and lends credibility to your references. You can follow the format below:

  • Reference Name: Dr. Jane Doe
  • Title: Senior Research Scientist
  • Company: ABC Pharmaceuticals
  • Relationship: Former Supervisor
  • Phone Number: (123) 456-7890
  • Email Address:
  • Brief Note: Dr. Doe supervised my research project on neuropharmacology at ABC Pharmaceuticals. She can speak to my technical skills and project management abilities.

3. Brief your resume references

Inform your references about the job you’re applying for. Also, remind them of specific projects or accomplishments you worked on together. This preparation helps them provide specific and relevant information about your abilities.

Here’s a great tip from Bruce Hurwitz of Hurwitz Strategic Staffing, Ltd.

“If the employer/recruiter asks for references, telling them that they will get them in a day or two because they first want to make certain they are available, shows that the candidate is a professional and does not want to waste the employer's/recruiter's time. (There is nothing worse than calling someone for a reference and the person does not return the call.)”

Bruce Hurwitz, Executive Recruiter, Career Counselor, Author/Writer, Hurwitz Strategic Staffing, Ltd.

You must also ensure that your references can and will respond to emails or calls from potential employers. Martynas Žvirblis offers this advice. 

“Also, let me stress this: the references you will include in your resume must answer email inquiries and calls promptly. I have encountered a few applicants who, despite having excellent skills written in their resumes, are sidetracked by a character reference who fails to reply to an email or drops a call from the hiring manager.”

Martynas Žvirblis, Manager, VPS Forex Trader

4. Format consistently

Your reference list should match the format of your resume and cover letter. Use the same font, style, and header. This consistency presents a professional image.

Additionally, take note of these mistakes when writing a resume.

On the other hand, here’s what you can share if you ventured into a business.

5. Keep it concise

When providing references, it’s crucial to be succinct and to the point. Focus on including only the essential information.

Adding excessive details can clutter the page and distract from the most important content. Remember, the goal is to make it easy for potential employers to understand who your references are. Likewise, they should know how they can be contacted. 

Avoid lengthy descriptions or unnecessary personal information. This streamlined approach ensures that your references are presented in a clear, professional manner. It also complements, rather than overshadowing your resume.

Read: Find out whether you can write a 2-page cover letter.

6. Check for accuracy

Regularly verify that the contact information for your references is current and accurate. Outdated information reflects poorly on your attention to detail.

7. Thank your references

Always express your gratitude to your references. A simple thank-you note or email shows appreciation and maintains a positive relationship.

This tip is strongly supported by Jasmine Charbonier of Love Rush Essentials. 

“Thank your references for their time and help. Maintain ongoing contact to keep them posted on your job search progress.”

Jasmine Charbonier, Career Coach and Hiring Manager, Love Rush Essentials

8. Separate reference page

Instead of including references on your resume, create a separate reference page. This approach keeps your resume focused and allows more room for your own experience and skills. 

Also, remember that there’s a more significant rationale behind maintaining a separate page for your references as shared by Matthew Warzel of MJW Careers. 

“You must keep your references on a separate document because of security, spam, and hacking risks. Privacy is important and having other people's personal information can be a way for hackers to take advantage of that data.”

Matthew Warzel, CPRW, President, MJW Careers, LLC

Richard Heaton of Cartisian agrees on creating a separate page for your reference. 

“Save a section for references at the end of your resume rather than stuffing it into the body. To make it obvious that it is there, use a heading such as Professional References. Provide the name, title, business, and contact details of the reference. If space is an issue, you can also say, References available upon request.”

Richard Heaton, HR Manager, Cartisian

9. Use professional titles

When listing references, include their professional titles. This provides context about their credibility and your professional network. For instance, “Dr. Jane Smith, Senior Research Scientist” is more informative than just “Jane Smith.

At the end of the day, never underestimate the power of networking skills, especially when you need professional references on your resume.

Effective Strategies for Seeking Permission from Potential References

Why is it important to ask permission from potential references? Sergey of Flex Moving and Transport has this to say.

“Isn't it annoying when your phone number ends up in a database used by telemarketers and you start getting unsolicited calls? This is how your previous supervisor or employer could feel, for example, if they unexpectedly received a call from a recruiter asking them to provide information about you. Hell, they may have forgotten who you are! Never divulge someone's contact details without that person's express consent. Ask people you would like to use as references on your resume if it's okay to include them before adding them to your references page. Please accept their decision if your request makes them uncomfortable.”

Sergey Dvorkin, President, Flex Moving and Transport

When seeking permission from potential references, it’s important to approach them in a respectful and professional manner. Here are some effective strategies:

  • Choose wisely: Select individuals who know your work well and can vouch for your abilities and character. Consider past supervisors, colleagues, mentors, or academic advisors who have a positive opinion of your work.
  • Personalize your request: Reach out to each potential reference individually, rather than sending a generic request. A personalized approach shows respect and consideration for their time and contribution.
  • Explain the situation: Clearly explain why you are seeking references. Mention the specific job or opportunity you are applying for, and why you think they would be a suitable reference.
  • Provide context: Remind them of your work together and your key achievements. This can help them recall specifics about your performance and contributions.
  • Ask for their comfort level: Politely ask if they feel comfortable providing a positive reference for you. This gives them an easy out if they don’t feel they can provide a strong endorsement.
  • Offer an easy opt-out: Make it clear that you understand if they are unable or unwilling to be a reference. 
  • Provide necessary information: If they agree, provide them with details about the job you’re applying for, your current resume, and any other information they might need to provide a relevant reference.
  • Discuss preferred contact method: Ask how they prefer to be contacted by potential employers – whether by phone, email, or another method.
  • Keep them updated: Once they agree to be a reference, keep them informed about your job search progress and notify them when they might be contacted.
  • Express gratitude: Always thank them for their willingness to help, regardless of whether they agree to be a reference or not. A thank-you note or email after their agreement can also be a thoughtful gesture.

By following these strategies, you can ensure a positive experience for both you and your potential references, increasing the likelihood of a strong endorsement.

Read: Discover expert resume writing tips to make a lasting impression on potential employers. 

Frequently Asked Questions 

Do I need to include references on my resume?

No, it’s not typically necessary to include references on your resume. Most employers expect references to be available upon request, so it’s standard to leave them off your initial application materials. Instead, prepare a separate reference list that you can provide when an employer asks for it.

Can I use a family member as a reference?

It’s generally advised to avoid using family members as references. Employers usually prefer professional references who can speak to your skills and experience in a work environment. Family members are perceived as biased. Instead, choose former supervisors, colleagues, mentors, or academic professionals.

What if my reference’s contact information changes?

If a reference’s contact information changes, update your reference list immediately. It’s crucial to keep this information current to ensure potential employers can easily contact your references. If you’ve already provided a reference list to an employer, notify them of any changes as soon as possible.

Do employers always contact resume references?

While it’s true that not all employers contact references, it remains a significant and common aspect of the hiring process. In fact, according to SHRM, 87% of employers conduct background checks, which include contacting your references. Many employers reserve reference checks for their final candidates. Therefore, it’s crucial to be prepared with a list of reliable references. 

You might not always be aware of an employer’s specific vetting process, so having a well-considered list at the ready is an essential step in ensuring your candidacy is taken seriously and you’re prepared for all possibilities.

How recent should my resume references be?

Ideally, your references should be as recent as possible, especially those who can speak to your current skills and experiences. If you’re early in your career, academic references may still be relevant, but as you progress, professional references should take precedence. It’s best if your references can discuss your abilities and achievements from the past few years.

Key Takeaways 

We’ve explored the vital role of references in your job application process, from selecting the right people to ensuring their contact details are up-to-date. We discussed the importance of keeping your reference list concise, yet informative, and the etiquette of asking for and maintaining good relationships with your references.  

Now that you’re equipped with expert tips on handling references, it’s time to put this knowledge into action. Carefully select individuals who can best attest to your skills and work ethic. Keep their information current and communicate openly with them about your job search. These steps are more than just formalities; they’re strategic moves that can significantly influence your career trajectory.

To further enhance your career prospects, consider exploring the wealth of resources available through Skill Success All Access Pass. This platform offers comprehensive career development courses covering everything from resume writing to effective communication in the workplace. Whether you’re looking to sharpen your skills or expand your knowledge, Skill Success All Access Pass provides valuable tools to help you succeed in your professional journey. 

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