May 24, 2009

Should I put references on my resume or not?

First off, I apologize for not posting earlier. I've had quite a few requests for advice as the summer job search season kicks into high gear.

Nonetheless, this posting relates to a question that I'm often asked - in fact, it's based on an e-mail I received a few days ago.

Hi Andrew,

I'm getting ready to apply for a job this summer. My parents and friends tell me to put my references on my resume. Should I?



Well "Unsure", this is a great question - and one that many students have. There seems to be a prevailing view that young people should put references on their resume since employers will undoubtedly ask for them.

And it's true - I've yet to get a job where I didn't have to provide references. But so does everybody, regardless of your age and/or experience.

But getting back to the central question about references on your resume, the answer is simple ...


You should never put references on your resume. I know that some people disagree, but I've always been adamant that my clients not put references on their resume.

Here's a scenario to demonstrate why:

Let's say you want a summer job at the mall and you skip your morning classes on a Tuesday to hand out resumes. By some magical stroke of luck, the 20 stores you hand your resume out to are hiring and they are interested in hiring you. Each hiring manager notes you have references on your resume and says they'll do reference checks.

Sounds good right?

Not so fast!

Well, it's true that the first phone calls or e-mails will be good - your reference will and should speak highly of you. But think about what the 20th phone call or e-mail will be like. Perhaps your reference will be sick and tired of talking about you and they won't return the call or e-mail - or worse, they'll say something unflattering about you.

But that's not the only problem. By giving the information, a hiring or store manager can make a quick phone call - without you having the chance to prepare the person giving the reference.

Why is this important?

Well, you'll obviously want to let them know that they should be expecting a call or e-mail. You'll also want to inform on the job you're applying for, where it is, and what it involves. This way, they can highlight your strengths as they relate to the job.

And so, in sum, you should never put references on your resume. A simple "References available upon request" is sufficient.

But, if we go back to the scenario above, I do have one piece of advice.

If you plan on handing out your resume to a number of stores in the mall, take along a few copies of your references on a list. You never know if you'll have an on-the-spot interview.

And in case you're wondering, on a reference list, you should have the person's name, title, contact information, how you know them and for how long. Plus, it should also have your contact information so they know who the list belongs to.

Ideally, put the list on a separate sheet of paper that has your contact information in a personal letterhead. You should include 3 or 4 people on the list - former employers, supervisors, colleagues, teachers, coaches, mentors, etc. - and list them based either on alphabetical order or how long you've known the person.

Here's a sample of what a good reference list looks like on a personal letterhead:

Good luck!