The Dos and Don’ts of References
It’s a tale as old as resume-writing time: you start by writing an award-winning resume and wrap it up in a nice package by slapping some stellar references or a quick “references available upon request” at the end. Well, that’s what you’ve always been told, anyway. But now that you’re thinking about it, should you? The quick answer? Nope, never. Here are some dos and don’ts to help you navigate references:
• Request recommendations on LinkedIn. Recommendations are the feature on LinkedIn that function as a reference section on a resume. You can ask connections to write a recommendation that shows up on your profile. If you include your LinkedIn on your resume, this can be an excellent way for employers to see your references early in the game. They can even explore your recommenders’ profiles to get an idea of their credibility as references, which is a good move as long as they are, in fact, credible resources. You can request these from the “recommendations” section of your profile, and make sure to send a personalized message with it.
• Include your references as part of your application (if possible). At some point in the process, you’re probably going to have to fill out a lengthy application that will ask you where you live, dates of degrees, phone number, and how many cats you have (probably not, but your answer would tell a lot about you as a person). Somewhere in this process, some applications now ask you to enter your references’ contact information upfront, so when recruiters are ready to check your references, they already have that information. This isn’t true for all applications, and if you apply for a job that doesn’t require this information that still doesn’t mean you should include your references on your resume. If a company doesn’t ask for this information up front, it’s probably because they have no intention of contacting your references until after they interview you. Once they’re ready for this information, they’ll contact you to ask for it.
• Bring a reference list with you to the interview. Even if you’ve submitted your references via an online app and included your LinkedIn profile on your resume, it’s still a good idea to bring your list of references with you to the interview to give to the hiring manager. If you haven’t had the opportunity to provide references yet, it’s even more critical that you come to the interview prepared. The Balance Careers has an excellent example on their website of what this should look like, which you can access here.
• Treat your resume like a parking lot. Your resume is the Boardwalk of Monopoly, the Manhattan of New York, the Buckingham Palace of, well, you get the idea. Your resume is valuable real estate so nothing should go on it that’s not going to give you a significant return on your investment (let’s be real, you DID invest a LOT of time writing it). If you include all of your references on the page, you’re looking at taking up at least a quarter of the page with someone else’s contact information. If you’re thinking, “isn’t the resume supposed to be all about me?” You’re right! Don’t take up precious space on your page with your previous employer’s cell phone number. It may be acceptable to write a two-page resume now (especially if you have over ten years of experience), but that doesn’t mean you should break onto a fresh page just for fun. Keep it focused on you—your contact information, your skills, your experience, and your education.
• State the obvious. Recruiters don’t need to be told they can ask for your references. If you do put “references available upon request” on the bottom of your resume, you run the risk of looking amateurish. The only way they aren’t going to ask for your references is if you put “do NOT ask me for my references” at the bottom of your resume, and even then, they still might. There’s a reason references exist in the first place, and that is because recruiters/humans tend to be a skeptical bunch, so they’re just not going to take your word for it when it comes to your experience. If they’re interested, they’ll ask you for your references. Period.
The bottom line is this: there is a time and place for references, and your resume just isn’t it. Recruiters don’t need to see your references before deciding whether or not you’re worth interviewing because they’re not going to contact you for them unless they’re seriously interested in you. Save the space on your resume and avoid looking like an amateur by keeping your resume reference-free.