Unlock Job Offers with Smart Reference Choices

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When it comes to selecting a candidate to fill a position, references can be a major factor. Not only do references serve as testament and confirmation of a candidate’s professional accomplishments, they can provide insights into their character, reliability, and how they may fit into workplace culture. How should references be chosen? How should they be presented? Let’s take a look.

How Should a Candidate Choose Their References?

When applying for jobs, the best references are direct or indirect superiors. 

“They will tend to be more honest than colleagues or customers,” says Goldbeck Recruiting President Henry Goldbeck.1 “Colleagues can be chosen and curated, bosses cannot.”

For those early in their careers, professors, academic advisors, or coaches can be used as references. These individuals can provide insights into your professional abilities, work ethic, and accomplishments.

It’s important for candidates to keep their references current.

“I don’t want to simply see references from 20 years ago,” says Senior Recruiter Vanessa Cox. “That tells me that the candidate has not kept their resume up to date.” 

References from the past are fine, however, if they are accompanied by more recent ex-bosses.

“It’s very reliable and persuasive when a handful of references spanning ten to fifteen years of employment can provide a consistent picture of attitude, work ethic, development, and skills,” says Goldbeck. 

Should References be Included on a Resume?

While it’s important to have good references, it’s not necessary to list them on the resume itself. Employers usually check references just before making an offer, so that’s when they should be requested and presented.

The phrase “references available upon request” on a resume is also considered unnecessary, as it’s assumed that you will provide references when asked. This takes up valuable space that could be better used to showcase your skills and qualifications. Instead, keep a separate reference sheet prepared and updated. This discretion also benefits those who are listed as references.

“If I’m the reference, I wouldn’t want somebody spreading my name and contact information far and wide,” says Senior Recruiter Alessia Pagliaroli. “It’s better to respect their privacy and only provide their names to those who have demonstrated interest in following up.”

Should People be Notified Before They’re Listed as References?

It is indeed crucial to notify individuals before listing them as references. This courtesy allows them to prepare for potential contact from employers and to thoughtfully consider what they might say regarding your qualifications and experience. Without prior notification, a reference may be caught off-guard, potentially affecting the quality of their endorsement. Notifying them also demonstrates professional respect and ensures that they are willing and able to provide a positive reference for you.

Are There Any Instances Where References Should be Included on a Resume?

Goldbeck believes that there are certain occasions when listing references can be beneficial. He points to students who are entering the workforce and don’t have any experience with which to differentiate themselves. In these cases, he believes that coaches, teachers, and supervisors from previous jobs can help candidates gain a second look. 

“When my sons were seeking their first part time jobs, they had a list of three or four coaches and teachers who were willing to speak on their behalf,” says Goldbeck. “This provided value as many applicants will lack references at this point in their careers.” 

Those who have slam-dunk references are also well-advised to use them to their advantage. If your resume shows a lack of experience or knowledge in a specific industry niche, references can help you overcome this deficit. 

“Perhaps you worked on a short-term project with a highly regarded individual within that industry,” says Goldbeck. “Listing this reference may get you a second look.” 

For most candidates who are mature in the workplace, however, listing references is not advised.

What Should be Included on a Reference Sheet?

A reference sheet should provide the name, current job position, company, phone number, and email address of each reference, along with a brief description of your relationship with them.

This document should be kept current and at the ready so that a candidate is able to provide comprehensive contact information to prospective employers promptly when requested. Different references may provide more benefit in different situations, so it’s advisable to keep track of each supervisor you’ve worked under, and, if possible, acquire a letter of reference for your files.


It’s oft said that we’re known by the company we keep. In the competitive workplace environment, a solid endorsement from a strong source can be the difference between being offered a job or not. This underscores the importance of maintaining professionalism and not burning bridges, even when your exit from an organization is imminent. Those who leave a favorable impression upon their professional contacts will be well positioned to receive a boost from them when it’s needed most.

Cited Sources

1 Direct communication with members of Goldbeck team