Everything You Need to Know About Including a Reference on Your Resume

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Your work history should tell employers all they need to know about you, right? So why do some employers still ask for references?

Employers ask for references to get a better understanding of who you are in the workplace. Your work history helps to build a picture of who you are. But how do employers know whether you’re a good worker or just good at billing yourself as a good worker?

If you’re searching for and applying to new jobs on a job board like ZipRecruiter, there’s no need to fret when an employer asks for references. Here’s everything you need to know about adding a reference on your resume.

Do Employers Even Care About References Anymore?

Just as business casual attire is becoming more common in workplaces, so are employers’ casual attitudes about resume references.

Just check the millions of active listings on a job board like ZipRecruiter and you’ll find that it’s true — references aren’t required as often.

Many employers are satisfied with contacting your employer and having them serve as professional references. And social media can also tell an employer a lot about job applicants.

There’s a lot of information they can learn from your old job, such as:

  • job title and description
  • employment dates
  • attendance record
  • rehire eligibility

However, some questions are off-limits for previous employers. And for those who want to get a complete picture of you, they’ll want to hear from people who can say a little more (friends, co-workers, mentors and professors).

These are some of the more personal questions recruiters and the hiring manager can gain from talking with your resume references:

  • Is this person a team player?
  • How ambitious is this person?
  • How reliable is this person?
  • How well does this person respond to deadlines and pressure?
  • How strong are this person’s skills?

How to Choose Resume References

While you may come across many jobs that don’t ask for professional references, it’s better to have a few references on file than to have to scramble for help when a hiring manager asks for them.

Here’s how to get professional references to have whenever you need them:

  1. Reach out to a few past or current coworkers, supervisors or managers. How many references you may need will vary, but hiring managers usually only need about three references.
  2. Let your contacts know your career aspirations, the type of jobs you’ll be applying to and the types of skills you intend to use in those roles.
  3. Give your contacts plenty of advance notice, especially if you’ll be asking them to write a recommendation letter, too. They’re doing you a solid, so no need to be demanding of their time.

Note: Friends can also make good references, if you’ve worked with them at some point in your career. And while a direct manager or supervisor is preferred, any manager or supervisor who can attest to your job performance can make a great reference.

Also, consider professors or members of an organization you volunteered with. These contacts could be impactful in affirming your character and integrity.

What If Professional References Aren’t Specifically Requested?

If an employer or job description doesn’t request references on a resume, consider leaving them off. Prospective employers may ask for references later on in the hiring process.

If a company doesn’t ask for professional references on your resume, adding them could make your resume more time-consuming to review. You’d rather have hiring managers read everything than skim through your resume.

However, if you really want to show off your references page, you can mention in your cover letter that you’ll happily send a separate references page if requested.

How to List Professional References

You don’t necessarily need to list references on a separate reference page of your resume. A simple resume references section with a header and contact details should suffice.

If they request more than a few job references or they request them later in the hiring process, you’ll certainly want to create a separate reference sheet.

Here’s a template for how to list and format each of your references on a resume:

Contact Name

Contact’s current or most recent job title

Phone number

email address

(Optional) description of your professional relationship with the contact.

Tip: Start your list with your best references. Add a space between each entry on your reference page and try to be concise in any descriptions you provide.

Resume References Examples:

List of Professional References

John Doe

Director of Marketing, Super Sales Inc.


[email protected]

John was both my boss and mentor during my time at Super Sales Inc. In the seven years that I’ve known John, he has helped me become a better written and verbal communicator.

Jane Jones

Director of Volunteer Resources, Unlimited Giving Industries


[email protected]

Jane helped me discover volunteer opportunities through Giving Industries. Under her guidance, I began taking on a leadership role in the organization.

Kick Off Your Job Search Today

While it’s always nice to have a reference sheet ready to back up your resume whenever you’re in the job market, you don’t need them to kick off your job search.

The most important thing is finding the right opportunities at the right time. And with a virtual recruiter on your side, you can do that right now for free.

While you reach out to old bosses and coworkers to build out a reference sheet to go along with your resume, your virtual recruiter will be scouring job postings to find opportunities that align with your career goals. And before long, you’ll be prepping for an interview.

ZipRecruiter makes it even easier than that. Many of the millions of active jobs on the site take advantage of ZipRecruiter’s One-Click Apply feature. You can apply to jobs with just a single click. No need to spend all day applying to just a few jobs.

Applying for jobs doesn’t have to feel like a job itself. Take advantage of an easier job search, driven by artificial intelligence and directed by your career aspirations.

All you have to do to get started with ZipRecruiter is set up an account, upload your resume and tell your virtual recruiter your job preferences.