When written well, references provide recruiters and employers proof of your abilities and skills and help them assess your suitability for the position you’re applying for. Nevertheless, it’s not common practice to list references in your CV unless an employer specifically requests them. When should you include references on your CV and who can you list as a reference?
What is a reference?
Your references are professionals who can vouch for your character, skills and work history to prospective employers.
The testimonial document or written declaration of your character and skills is called a ‘reference’ and the person supplying it is referred to as the ‘referee’. This is someone you have worked with and who is happy to be contacted by recruiters to answer questions about your skills and your performance in previous jobs.
When to include references in your CV
For most job applications, it’s not necessary to list references on your CV as employers tend to request them in the later stages of the hiring process or just before they make you an offer.
However, there are a few situations where employers expect to see them or it may be beneficial to include them:
- You live in New Zealand
Many employers in New Zealand will ask to see references, especially if most of your work experience is from overseas.
Including references in your CV gives prospective employers a way to verify your work history, skills and that you are who you say you are.
- You live in South Africa
This is sent at the second stage of the application process after you’ve sent a ‘brief profile’ (a one-page summary of your contact details, work experience and education).
- It’s your first job or you have little work experience
If it’s your first job or you have little work experience, recruiters will usually request references or recommendation letters in the early stages of the job application process.
Including your references on your CV before recruiters request them speeds up the process and helps them to quickly assess your suitability for the job.
- The job description instructs you to include them
If the job description explicitly requires you to include references, you must include them. If you don’t have enough space on your CV, you could always add them on a separate page.
- You have impressive references from professionals in senior positions
If you have a reference from a respectable person such as a senior manager, a CEO, the director of HR, etc., this is likely to impress recruiters and increase your chances of landing an interview.
Who to include as a reference
If you choose to include references in your CV, it is recommended that you provide two: one who is your current or previous employer and one who knows you well in a professional capacity. Some examples of individuals that would make good references include:
- Current or former managers
- Business partners
Ideally, you should list references that can provide specific feedback about your work rather than give a general recommendation.
You can help your referees provide good references by sending them a checklist of the points you want them to mention such as:
- Name of the company and the length of time worked there
- Their relationship to you
- The team or department you both worked in
- Specific projects you worked on and the outcomes you achieved
- The skills you developed or brought to the table
- Specific accomplishments
It’s best to only include recent references unless the reference from a previous job is particularly relevant to the job you’re applying for.
The risk of including a reference from a position you held five years ago is that the person providing the reference may no longer remember the projects you worked on or how you performed in the job.
For this reason and so that you’re prepared for future job searches, it can be beneficial to review your references list, every now and then, to update, add or remove contacts.
Ask referees for permission
Always ask for permission before including someone as a reference. That way, they can expect to be contacted by employers and can prepare accordingly. Asking also gives you the opportunity to check whether your contact’s details are up-to-date.
When contacting your references, it’s a good idea to frame the request in a way that allows them to decline:
“Would you mind if I put your name down as a reference? I enjoyed working with you and feel that you have a good overview of abilities”.
If your contact takes too long to reply or shows any hesitation, avoid pressuring them and move onto the next one. If your reference is not someone who speaks enthusiastically about your skills and expertise, it’s better to include no reference rather than a lukewarm one.
How to list references on your CV
The ‘References’ section usually goes at the very end of a CV, so that priority is given to your work experience, education, skills and achievements.
Include the following details so that employers know who the referee is, how to contact them and what their relationship is to you:
- Referee’s first and last name
- Job title
- Company name
- Referee’s work phone number (extension code, if applicable)
- Referee’s professional email address
- Relationship to you, e.g. manager
You don’t need to list more than two references, unless the job description specifically requests it.
It’s important to note that prospective employers are not allowed to check without your permission. This means that they are not allowed to approach your LinkedIn connections to try to elicit information about you.
The same anti-discrimination laws that apply to employment also apply to reference checking – employers are prohibited from requesting information about your age, marital status, ethnicity, sexuality or anything else that does not relate to how you performed in a previous job.
That said, by listing references in your CV, you imply that you have provided consent. Therefore, you may not want to add your current employer as a reference if you haven’t notified them about your job search.
If in doubt, leave them off your CV
The average CV is usually only 2 A4 pages long. Therefore, if you’re in the UK or Ireland and you’re in doubt about whether to list references on your CV, the best course of action is to leave them off your CV and use the space to talk about your skills and experience.
Usually, in the early stages of the application, references will usually not be requested. It can also take a lot of time to find two referees who can provide relevant references. You may find that the time is better spent working on your job applications.
However, as discussed, if you’re based in New Zealand or South Africa, it’s good practice to include two references in your CV. If you have run out of space on your CV, then it’s fine to include a note along the lines of ‘References available upon request’.