Before extending an offer, recruiters usually check your job references. They do this to verify the information provided on your resume or during your job interview and check your suitability for the role.

So, you need to prepare a list of references early in your job search to increase your chances of securing your dream job.

Equally important is building a standout resume. Use our resume builder to craft an ATS resume that impresses recruiters. Best of all, it is 100% free!

What is a job reference?

References are individuals who can attest to recruiters that you have the skills, strengths, areas for development, work ethic, personality, or prior job performance necessary for the position.

A reference can be the difference between a job offer and a rejection. Given that employers prioritize cultural fit when hiring, it’s imperative that you have people who can speak to your skills, accomplishments, and character.

3 types of references

Here are the three main types of references employers might ask for.

1. Professional references

Professional references or work references are individuals you have directly worked with. They can give recruiters and hiring managers first-hand information about your competence, skills, and work ethic.

Professional references include your:

  • Former manager
  • Former supervisor
  • Colleagues
  • Customers

2. Academic references

Academic references are those who can provide insights about you in the academic setting. These individuals can vouch for your educational qualifications, academic achievements, skills and qualities, and potential. They are especially important if you are a recent graduate or if you lack relevant professional experience.

Academic references include your:

  • Professors
  • Class instructors
  • Academic directors
  • Academic advisors

3. Character references

Character references or personal references are those who know you outside of work or academic contexts. They can vouch for your soft skills, values, personal qualities, and overall character.

Character references may include your:

  • Community leaders
  • Mentors
  • Family members
  • Friends

How to identify ideal references

Strategically choosing your references strengthens your application. It also boosts your chances of landing your dream job.

Here are three guidelines to help you select your top job references:

1. Choose references who are relevant to your target role

When choosing your references, include only those who are directly relevant to the job or industry you are interested in. Your references must be able to discuss your skills and relevant experiences in a way that aligns with the job you are applying for.

For instance, if you’re applying for a marketing position, your references might include former colleagues who can speak to your experience with digital marketing campaigns or direct supervisors who can attest to your performance.

On the other hand, if you lack professional experience, you can choose references that can speak to your academic achievements, education, and hard or soft skills. This may include your professors or your supervisors during internships or volunteer work.

2. Think of individuals who are affiliated with your target company

Studies show that 88% of companies favor referrals from their employees when hiring. So, when possible, think of individuals you know who work in the company you are applying to.

This is because recruiters, hiring managers, and prospective employers value the opinion and judgment of their employees over those outside of the company.

3. Select references with whom you have positive relationships

Make sure the people you include on your reference list are those with whom you have positive professional relationships. Also, consider the length of your relationship with each reference.

This way, you know that they are familiar with your work history and are capable of giving reliable endorsements to your prospective employer.

Additionally, you can rest assured that they will answer the call promptly and have your best interest in mind. You can also be confident that they will talk positively about you when they get a call from the recruiter.

Once you have strong references, it’s crucial to complement them with a polished resume that creates a strong impression on recruiters. You can check our resume writing guide and our library of resume examples and templates to get started.

You can also use our free resume builder, which is an easier and faster option for creating an ATS-friendly resume that hooks recruiters. You can either upload your existing resume to the tool or create an entirely new one by using one of our templates.

Here’s what that looks like:

screenshot of jobscan's resume builder showing the available resume templates

You just have to go through the steps, fill out the details needed, and follow the tips. Then, you can download your polished resume in no time.

What to include on your reference list

A reference list or reference sheet outlines the contact information of the individuals recruiters can contact for additional information about your suitability for the job.

When creating your reference list, make sure to include the following:

  1. Header
    • Title of the page (i.e., References)
    • Your contact information
  2. Job references
    • Full name of reference
    • Job title of reference
    • Name of company or organization
    • Address
    • Email address
    • Phone number
    • Brief description of how you know the reference

Reference list template

To help you make your own list, we created a reference sheet template that you can use.

preview of free references sheet template from jobscan

Download Free Template

Here’s a simple guide on how to use it:

  1. Open the template by clicking on the link. It will take you to Google Docs.
  2. Replace the placeholder text with your own information.
  3. Fill out the details of your references.
  4. Save the document.
  5. Download your file.

Reference list examples

Here are two examples of a reference list: one for an entry-level job seeker and another for a seasoned professional.

Reference list sample for an entry-level job seeker

If you are a recent graduate or if you lack professional experience, you can include your professors, mentors, or internship supervisors as your references. Just be sure they can speak positively about your suitability for the role despite your lack of experience.

Here’s an example:

Reference list sample for experienced job seekers

Here is an example of a reference list for a job seeker with relevant experience:

How to approach job references

Here are five tips on how to reach out to references:

1. Always ask for their permission in advance

You must get permission from each person ahead of time. The last thing you want is for a potential employer to call someone and find them caught off guard, unprepared to talk about you, or unwilling to serve as a reference. If your references reflect poorly on you, you will likely cost yourself a job offer.

Ideally, meet in person when asking someone to serve as a reference. It’s the perfect opportunity to go over your job search goals. It’s also a good idea to bring a copy of your resume so that you can discuss your strengths and accomplishments. This is especially useful for references from jobs you worked at a few years ago (or more). Bring them up to speed on what you did since you last worked together and what you’re looking for now.

If someone declines to be a reference, remember that it might not be personal. Many companies have policies requiring HR to handle all references. There are a number of reasons why anyone might be unable to serve as a reference, so be gracious.

2. Respect their time

The unfortunate truth is that a job search can last for many months. Leaning on the same people repeatedly can be asking too much, regardless of your relationship with them.

Serving as a reference requires not only time and energy but also availability on short notice.  Remember, your job references may also act as references for other people.

With this, we recommend that you rotate references. This keeps you from calling in the same favor from the same people too many times.

If you think you’d have trouble securing enough references to be able to rotate them, remember you aren’t limited to former bosses only. Colleagues you worked closely with, repeat clients, a supervisor from your volunteer work, and professors are all possibilities.

3. Provide updates

Time is of the essence during the hiring process. Always let your references know when they might be needed. They may have an upcoming vacation or deadline that overlaps with when an employer would contact them.

Note that checking the availability of your references isn’t enough. You also need to give them information about the role and company, the person or people who may be contacting them, and anything else relevant to the job.

The better informed your references are, the more prepared they will be when contacted.

4. Leave references off your resume

The “references available upon request” line is obsolete and makes your resume appear dated. Most employers today check job references after the interview stage. It can be a time-consuming process, and employers, for the most part, don’t see the point in devoting that time until they’re interested in hiring a particular candidate.

Remember, resumes are reviewed so quickly that some information gets missed, making it unwise to clutter your resume. A line about references is clutter, and because it typically occupies the prime real estate at the end of the resume, where the eye naturally falls, you risk employers seeing that line and missing something crucial.

5. Thank your references

You already know that it’s important to be courteous and follow up after each job interview. Similarly, you should thank your job references each time they are called upon.

Send a note letting them know you appreciate their time and effort, and update them on the outcome. If you send a card in the mail, consider including a gift card to a local coffee shop. And if you land the job, maybe dinner’s on you.

Key takeaways

Identifying and choosing the best job references who can positively advocate for you is crucial to landing your desired role. You need to think through it and make sure the references you get are those who can vouch for your professional experience, skill sets, job performance, work ethic, and character.

Once you have solid references, ask for their permission and brief them about the company and the job you are applying for. If possible, share a copy of your resume and the job description with them so they’ll know how to effectively communicate that you are suitable for the role.

Most importantly, make sure you have an effective and polished resume that will leave a lasting impression on recruiters throughout the hiring process.

Frequently asked questions

When should you provide a reference list?

Recruiters usually ask for your reference list during the offer stage as part of the final steps before hiring. Therefore, you should be prepared to give this list once recruiters request for it.

We suggest that you create your reference list even in the early stages of your job search. But, only give your list when the recruiter specifically asks for it.

What should you include on a reference list?

Here are the important details about your references you need to include on your reference list.

  1. Full name of your job reference
  2. Job title or position held by your reference
  3. Name of company or organization
  4. Address
  5. Email address
  6. Phone number
  7. Description of your relationship with your reference

Don’t forget to put your name and contact information on the top of the page.

Who can you use for a job reference?

There are several individuals you can use for a job reference.

This may include your:

  • Previous manager or supervisor
  • Co-workers
  • Customers
  • Mentors
  • Professors
  • Industry leaders

Just make sure that the references you choose are able to vouch for your strengths, skills, professionalism, work ethic, performance, and character.

What do employers ask when they contact references?

Employers may ask your references a wide range of questions to assess your suitability for the position and the company culture.

Generally, recruiters, hiring manager, and prospective employers will ask about your:

  • Employment details to verify the information on your resume.
  • Strengths, weaknesses, job performance, work ethic and other important information related to the job.
  • Interpersonal skills, problem-solving skills, leadership potential, and other soft skills.
  • Suitability for the position and whether the reference would recommend you for the job.
Can you put a friend as a reference?

Yes, you can put a friend as your reference.

However, you need to make sure that your friend can speak to your skills, qualifications, and abilities in a professional context. You should also make sure that your friend can communicate professionally and positively about your suitability for the role.

Should you include your references in your cover letter?

No, you should not include your references in your cover letter.

Who should you put as references on a job application?

You should include references who have worked with you directly or those who can vouch for your qualifications, achievements, experiences, work ethic, professionalism, and overall character.

Do employers contact all job references?

Employers may or may not contact all of your job references. This depends on the employer’s hiring process and specific needs.

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