CV references are a great way to make your job application more credible.
Having reputable people from your industry vouch for your skills and efficiency might just be the final push needed to get recruiters to call you back.
In other words, if you don’t get this part right, you won’t be able to reap all the benefits that it offers. In fact, there are instances where adding references might actually hurt your chances with hiring managers.
Having this in mind, we prepared an article in which we explain how to properly include references in your CV and when it’s desirable to do so. Without further ado, let’s jump in!
A CV reference is the contact information of a reputable professional in the field who can vouch for you.
CV references form an optional section, which means you should avoid adding it under some circumstances (when you only have one reference or they are unrelated, when you’re not in good relations with the referees, or there’s simply no space on your CV).
To make the most of this section, you need to have at least 2 professional references and make sure your latest employer is one of them.
Avoid listing family members or people you’re not on good terms with.
Place CV references at the bottom of your document or put them on a dedicated page if you have many.
What Are CV References and What Is Their Purpose?
In essence, a reference represents the contact information of a reputable professional in your industry who you worked with and who can guarantee your abilities and workplace performance.
The purpose of a reference is to give recruiters the option to confirm some of the claims you made in your job application. Anyone can add extraordinary achievements and notable results to their CV, but they are only impressive if they are true.
A study conducted in 2017 found that as many as 85% of candidates lied in their applications. The number was an increase from 66% five years prior. That makes CV references all the more important, as they are an easy way to stand out and show your credibility.
After all, wouldn’t you want to be in the top 15% of candidates simply because you added a CV references section to your application?
When done properly, references allow recruiters to verify your abilities, workplace proficiency, interpersonal skills, work ethic, and much more.
Should You Include References in Your CV?
Despite the fact that we’ve given plenty of good reasons to add references to your CV, they still aren’t a must-have part. Whether you should include or omit them in your application depends on a number of factors. In particular circumstances, references could even do more harm than good.
For example, a job posting might clearly state that you should not include references in your CV. In that case, doing so shows that you haven’t read the requirements. That, in turn, tells recruiters that you lack attention to detail or that you aren’t interested in the position enough to do proper research.
On the flip side, certain situations can make references highly desirable or even mandatory. All that makes it crucial to know whether you focus on CV references or disregard them entirely.
When to Include References in Your CV
You should include a list of references in your CV when:
It’s required by the job posting. If your potential employer asks for references, they become a mandatory part of your application alon with your CV and your cover letter.
Your references could impress the hiring manager.If you worked with an esteemed professional in the field, having them as referees will have a significant impact on the recruiters. Good word-of-mouth goes a long way toward improving your chances of advancing to the next stages of the hiring process.
They can help recruiters get more information about you. Recruiters don’t necessarily have to check your CV or do an interview with you before contacting your referees. They might do it beforehand to find out more about you. Plus, if you feel like there’s more to add to your application than fits the document, referees are the way to go.
They can make your CV more credible. Including references in your CV makes you appear more truthful right off the bat. We touched upon how plenty of candidates lie in their applications. Adding references allows recruiters to verify most—if not all—the information you put on your document.
You have some empty space on your application. If you’ve included all the mandatory sections and important information in your CV and there’s some room left, fill it up with your references. That way, you add valuable content to your job application and make it look complete and professional.
When Not to Include References in Your CV
Now that we've gone through all the reasons in favor of adding references to your CV, let’s see under which circumstances you should avoid including them:
You’re in the early stages of the recruitment process. Hiring managers usually ask for references after they’ve already had contact with you.
The job listing or your potential employers specifically require you to omit them from your CV.
You only have one reference or none at all. Make sure you have at least 2 or 3 before listing them on your CV. Also, under no circumstances should you lie about your references. It's one of the easiest things for recruiters to check.
The references are unrelated to the job you’re applying for.
You’re not in good relations with the referees. In this case, they might not say favorable things about you.
There’s not enough space on your CV. Don’t skip more important information (e.g., the essential education section) in favor of references.
How to Choose Who to Add to Your CV References
resumeThere are several factors that come into play when considering who to add to your CV references.
For starters, the more impressive the referee, the better. For example, if you’re on good terms with an influential high-level executive or a renowned specialist who can vouch for you, be sure to add their contact details to your CV.
However, keep in mind that you want the person to know you. A notable reference means nothing if the person in question can’t say anything of substance about you to the recruiters who contact them.
Also, you want the references you provide to be relevant to the position you’re applying for. A referred person from another profession might assure recruiters of your work ethic, time management skills, organizational skills, and other soft skills. However, someone from the same line of work can confidently vouch for your essential job-specific hard skills as well.
Additionally, always strive to have at least two or more references. At least one of those should be your last employer or manager. Omitting them might raise some red flags for the recruiters and get them thinking you’re trying to hide something.
On the other hand, if you’re a student or a recent graduate with no professional references, it’s sufficient to include influential figures from your academic environment.
Finally, if you have multiple references of comparable quality to choose from, consider those who are eloquent and excellent communicators. They will most likely do the best job of presenting you to recruiters in the most optimal way.
Should You Include Family Members as Your CV Referees?
You shouldn’t include a family member as a CV reference, even if they are outstanding individuals in the field.
You might be wondering why, as they’ll have nothing but good things to say about you, but that is precisely the reason not to add them. There’s a high risk of bias due to personal relationships, so the recruiters will look at any information they give with reservation.
In case you don’t have anyone but a family member to include, it’s best you skip this section entirely.
How to Add References to Your CV
If you've assessed your situation and determined that you require a CV references section, it's time to learn how to create one. To make the whole process easier, we’ve created a simple template you can use. Just fill in your information one bullet point at a time.
Here’s what it looks like:
References Section Template
Their job title
Name of the company
Full phone number
Short description of their relationship with you
When creating a list of your references, it’s crucial to follow the established CV reference format. Make sure that all the references feature information in the same order so that you don’t confuse the recruiters.
Here’s an example of a reference once it’s added to a CV:
References Section Example
Regional Manager - Dunder Mifflin Paper Company
Lackawanna County, Pennsylvania 18403
Relationship: Direct sales manager at my previous job.
Ensure you’ve included the referee’s full name and that you didn’t make any mistakes while listing their contact information. On the other hand, don’t give away any personal information, such as their private phone number, home address, or personal email address.
Another extremely important step would be to contact the referee, notify them of what you’re about to do, and get their approval before including them in your CV. The last thing you want is for recruiters to catch the person off guard, so you want to give your referees time to prepare.
Where to Put the Reference Section on Your CV
Now that you know how to add references to your CV, let’s find out where to put them on the document.
There are two scenarios, and the answer is simple in both:
If you have a few references and they can all fit on your CV alongside other categories, put this section at the bottom.
If you’re a prominent professional with lots of referees to include, create a new page for this section alone.
How Many References to Include in Your CV
We mentioned how you should feature at least two referees on your CV. If you're just starting out in your career and don't have any professional references yet, it's fine to use professors and mentors as references.
In most cases, you want to list 3–4 contacts in your CV reference section. Choose the best ones and put them in order of relevance and importance, with your most recent employer or supervisor at the top of the list.
If you’re a seasoned professional with plenty of references to choose from, there’s usually no need to include them all. Aim for 5–7 references, with one for each impressive accomplishment listed on your CV.
CV References Examples
Let’s put everything that we’ve learned into practice and take a look at some CV reference examples to make the differences between good and bad ones more prominent.
We’ll start with a good example first:
Sales Representative - Fine Goods Corp.
Birney, Montana 59012
Relationship: Previous supervisor.
This is a neat, clean reference that gives recruiters all the necessary information in the correct order.
Now check out what happens when you include the same reference but don’t follow the rules of formatting.
Relationship: Previous supervisor.
Fine Goods Corp.
While this reference has all the important information, just like the previous one, the order in which it is listed has turned it into a wreck. The recruiter has to constantly go up and down to understand what’s what.
Now try and figure out what’s wrong with the following example:
Director of Marketing - We Make Ads Inc.
Randolph, New York 14722
Relationship: A good friend.
Have you guessed it already? Even though the entire reference is flawless, both in terms of content and formatting, it’s not a professional one since it features a candidate’s friend.
Alternative Ways to Include CV References
One of the main benefits of having references on your CV is that it highlights your connections with figures of authority in the industry. If that’s your main goal, there’s a better way of going about it than adding a whole new section to your CV, especially if you have more important content to include.
Also, you might want to protect their privacy by not sharing their contact information with your hiring managers unless specifically asked to.
In that case, you can use your key responsibilities in the work experience section to show your relationship with important figures. For example, some of the bullet points might feature information similar to this:
Ran regular meetings with the leadership team to devise and implement new marketing strategies
Provided a senior marketing director with regular updates on the campaign progress
These bulleted lists, in combination with the rest of the information in the section (such as the company’s name and dates of employment), will give recruiters an idea of your professional circle. They also demonstrate your ability to effectively work with senior staff.
5 Expert Tips on Adding References to Your CV
To end this guide on a high note, here are five tips from experts to ensure you get the best CV reference section possible:
If there are good reasons not to include references on your CV but you have some that you’d love recruiters to see, write “references available upon request” at the bottom of your application.
Ask the referees for permission before adding their contact information to your CV, and ensure that they are comfortable with it.
Send listed referees copies of your CV before submitting your job application so that they have a better idea of what to say.
Follow up with your referees after the recruiters have contacted them. Properly thank them for their help—maybe even treat them to lunch!
Think twice before adding a person to your list of CV references. Unrelated references, people you’ve confronted, or family members are all no-gos.
References are a powerful tool in the CV-building process, and you now know everything there is about adding them to your application. Even though it’s an optional part, do it properly, and you’ll be ahead of the competition right from the start.
This comprehensive guide is here to stay, so be sure to come back to it and brush up on your knowledge whenever you feel like it. Study the guidelines, analyze the examples, and use the template, and you’ll have a captivating list of references that no recruiter will be able to resist!