References on a Resume: All You Need to Know About Job References

Securing a job at a company requires potential employees to go through several stages of screening. And, putting references on a resume can certainly give you an upper hand.

However, there’s one stage when the hiring company is getting serious, which requires communicating with someone other than the applicant. This stage is called the job reference check.

Here we will show you how to put references on your resume the right way:

  1. Know Who to Ask for Job References.
  2. Understand How to Ask For Job References.
  3. Enter Complete Information.
  4. Try to neutralize bad job references on your resume.
  5. Be Prepared For A Thorough Background Check.
  6. Boost Your LinkedIn Profile With References.
  7. Don’t Forget the Essential Details.

Employers will search for references

5 professionals waiting for interview
After succeeding in a job interview, be prepared to give job references

Potential employers get in touch with past employers, teachers, and personal contacts to verify your character, abilities, and qualifications.

They have already built up an assessment of their own from your resume and interview. But, they need to attest your job references on your resume with the mentioned names.

References on Resume
Employers need to attest your job references on your resume with the mentioned names

When you’re interested in making a big purchase, like a car or a house, you ask other people who’ve purchased something similar for their opinion. You talk to the past owners (if it’s second-hand) to get an honest personal review of the product, which goes beyond specification digits and all the fabulous things the salesperson told you.

Similarly, when an organization is looking to hire a new employee, they run a reference check to understand how they perform.

Almost all job applications require you to put a list of references they can get in contact with on a resume.

In theory, job references are entirely out of your control. You cannot force your last boss to sing praises of your work, nor should you!

However, there are still ways to avoid a negative reference and get one to secure the job. Here we point out some of them.

1) Know Who to Ask for Job References

You should have a list of references ready when you apply for a position.

Some job applications only require your past employers' contact details, while others might ask for a letter of recommendation.

That's a basic tip, but it's never too much to highlight:

Only mention those people as references who you know will say good things about you.

Forego that person with the impressive title, who barely knows you, in favor of the relatively junior person, who knows you and wants to see you succeed.

Two professionals talking

If you’re still fresh on the job market with nobody to call upon for professional references, use a personal recommendation from the place you volunteer at or a professor from college or high school.

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There may be instances where the hiring manager would like to talk to your current employer. Speak to your boss about why you’ve applied for another job and if they would agree to be a reference.

If you are not comfortable doing so, let the hiring company know and give your reasons.

You don’t need to list your current employer as a reference.

In case you have just passed out of college and have little or no work experience, somebody from the college administration or your professor also counts as a professional reference.

There are multiple ways to get a reference across to potential employers.

Before that, you need to find out if the person you intend to use as a reference has good opinions about you or not.

2) Understand How to Ask For Job References

Make sure you take permission from the person you want to use as a reference.

Have a friendly conversation and find out what they would say about your performance and character before listing them.

Also, let them know beforehand what you are applying for and when they can expect a call or letter.

A girl talking on the phone about references on a resume
Have a friendly conversation and find out what they would say about you

Remember that when you provide your former manager’s contact information, the potential employer assumes you’ve told him/her to expect the call.

It’s believed that he/she will be available to talk about you.

3) Enter Complete Information

Make a reference list to give at your interview if the recruiter asks for it. Put these references on your resume and mention:

  • Name
  • Job title
  • Company name
  • Division or department
  • Telephone number
  • Email address

Ensure that all details of your references are correct and the contact information is up-to-date and in use.

A person putting down his references on resume
Put down references on your resume

Give your references a call to confirm that the number belongs to them and it is in use.

To be safe, it’s recommended to include at least four references on your resume, in case one or two become unavailable.

4) Try to neutralize bad job references on your resume

It is also illegal for a past employer to give a negative reference that defames your character, yet it continues to happen.

The founder of Allison & Taylor, a job reference check firm, Jeff Shane, spoke about the employee verification their company does. She said:

"Unfortunately, bad references are far more common than most people realize. About half of the reference checks we perform come back with negative comments."

While many companies may have the policy to inform only the job title and employment dates, employees frequently violate such policy. Providing a lousy reference may be inevitable for some people.

9 hands with thumbs up
Look for those who will tell only good things about you

If you’re worried about getting a bad reference, call your former boss and try to understand his opinion about you in advance.

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If you’re not convinced, try to provide another person as a reference to that company, like the Human Resources Manager.

If you feel that you are repeatedly hitting a dead end after an interview, you might be a victim of a bad reference.

Two female colleagues talking
Former company colleagues can be a good resource

Check up on your listed references and ask them, indirectly, if employers contacted them and what was said. You might be able to identify the person. But if not, change the whole list.

5) Be Prepared For A Thorough Background Check

Preparing a short list of references for yourself is a good idea.

Firstly, it is essential to know what kind of questions can be asked about you from your referrals.

In general, they are related to your previous job performance and the skills the job requires.

Different questions merit different answers. Also, you should avoid putting a name on the job reference list for whom you are ambiguous.

A proffesional talking on the phone
The new employer often does a background check

There are also certain limitations about what a reference can say about you. Hence, choose professionals who have admired your work and know you better in a professional sense.

If you doubt what a particular reference might say, it is better to get that name off the list.

Try to keep it professional as people who are very close to you might end up saying something intricate about you that can harm your chances with the job.

6) Boost Your LinkedIn Profile With References

Networking sites like LinkedIn have become a hot spot for employers. They often search for LinkedIn profiles that suit their needs.

This is relatively new, but the trend points towards an optimized chance of getting employed if your profile is filled with references.

Besides that, if you have a public recommendation in your LinkedIn profile given by your former boss or the former HR Director of your company, they will probably keep their opinion not to contradict themselves or simply because they liked your job performance.

While looking for references on LinkedIn, it is necessary to know how to get recommendations on the website and who you can ask for references. Sufficient research on how to manage the received recommendations is also required.

Requesting recommendation on LinkedIn can help you when searching for your references for your resume

The old-school ways of getting references still retain the same importance. But the professional networking sites are gaining prominence as more and more employers are looking towards them to scout for employees.

Example of LinkedIn profile
Recruiters are often looking for information on people's profile

Getting recommendations and having reliable references on your resume can be a tough task.

Even tougher can be the task of knowing how to make the most of such references. Several factors determine whether the recommendations you get will do you any good or won’t.

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Ranging from knowing how to get your reference across to the employer to know which of the references are good enough for you, the task is tricky.

However, you can easily manage it given the right research and familiarity with a recommendation's limitations.

An excellent way to start is by making a list of potential references that have a reasonable opinion of your professional capacity and integrity.

7) Don’t Forget the Essential Details In The Process When Adding The References on a Resume

Apart from knowing who is possibly a positive reference, it is necessary to understand how to use those references. So don't forget to consider these critical points as well:

  • Be polite and phrase your request carefully not to put the person on the spot. You should ask if he or she would be comfortable being your reference.
  • If the person is open to participating, ask for a possible letter of recommendation or a LinkedIn recommendation (look for information about how to gain recommendations on the professional networking website).
  • Follow up and thank your job references after they agree to help you.
  • Keep in touch and keep your references up-to-date and think they are an essential part of your network. Consider being their reference as well and let them know about your accomplishments and your career success.
A man writing thank you note for his reference
Don't forget to thank your references after they accept to be included in your resume

Also, It would take time, but once you put your positive job references on a resume, your chances of attracting an employer online multiply.

In Conclusion

A professional reference is by far the best form of recommendation you can get. It is essential to know how to use that reference and how to recognize a trusted professional reference.

For a professional reference to work efficiently for you, your reference needs to know about you in a work-related sense. A relative who has never worked with or around you will know you only as a relative.

It is one way to stand out among your peers if only you properly list those job references on a resume. A professional reference can often be a teacher, a former employer, or a colleague at your previous office.

So be prepared. Know the person you will ask for a reference. Let them know they are your reference beforehand, anticipate the type of question the recruiter will ask, and support your references with LinkedIn recommendations. Also, don’t lie because employers will eventually do the background check.

Good Luck! What else do you suggest?

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